Film Festival Breakouts

Meet the New Award-Winning Directors from LA Film Festival ’17

Last month’s Los Angeles Film Festival saw a new crop of filmmakers awarded in an important Hollywood-based event that is known for shining a light on fresh screen talent, particularly in independent cinema.

As part of our ongoing Festival Breakout series, New Machine Magazine editors profiled the main jury and audience award winners.

Hosted by Film Independent, the festival ran this year from June 14-22. For the full list of awards visit the festival website.




los angeles film festival winners 2017
From left, Andrea Sisson, Peter Ohs, Christian Sorensen Hansen, Elizabeth Rohrbaugh, Bruce Thierry Cheung, Daniel Powell

Elizabeth Rohrbaugh and Daniel Powell – Becks (2017)

Country: USA

Award: Best U.S. Fiction Award

Synopsis: After a crushing breakup with her girlfriend, a Brooklyn musician moves back in with her Midwestern mother. As she navigates her hometown, playing for tip money in an old friend’s bar, an unexpected relationship begins to take shape.

About the filmmakers

  • Elizabeth Rohrbaugh is writer and director based in NYC
  • She earned a BFA in Film and Television from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University
  • She won the Best Documentary Award and the Adam Balsano Award at NYU’s First Run Film Festival for her short documentary There She Is
  • Elizabeth spent ten years as a director, writer and editor at MTV Networks, where she won an Emmy Award and multiple CTAM Awards
  • She is now the creative director of Outer Borough Pictures
  • Her feature documentary, The Perfect Victim, screened as part of the PBS series America Reframed after premiering at the Hot Springs International Film Festival
  • Daniel Powell is from Los Angeles, California
  • Previously, Daniel was an executive producer and writer on the cult-animated series Ugly Americans, which ran on Comedy Central from 2010-2012
  • He was the executive producer on the first season of Important Things with Demetri Martin
  • Dan was an associate producer on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, a contributing writer to Robert Smigel’s TV Funhouse segments on Saturday Night Live, and a house performer at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre

Follow Elizabeth on Twitter or see her portfolio on Vimeo.

Follow Daniel on Twitter.

Christian Sorensen Hansen and Pete Ohs – Everything Beautiful is Far Away (2017)

Country: USA

Award: U.S. Fiction Cinematography Award

Synopsis: On an isolated desert planet, a man who is looking for parts to fix his robotic companion teams up with a young woman who is searching for a mythic lake.

About the cinematographers

  • Pete Ohs is Ohio-born, L.A.-based filmmaker
  • In 2005 he graduated from DePauw University, where he was a computer science major
  • He won two regional Emmy awards in 2007
  • Pete also co-directed the film with his wife Andrea Sisson
  • For Pete and Andrea, collaboration is at the heart of everything they do, from their own relationship to the shared work they make as filmmakers for their LA-based production company Lauren Edward
  • Christian Sorenson Anderson is a photographer, cinematographer and editor from Seattle, Washington
  • He has travelled extensively through India, working on Bollywood films
  • Christian previously directed the short film Kama ‘aina, a documentary

Follow Pete on Twitter or Instagram or see his portfolio on Vimeo.

See Christian’s portfolio on Vimeo or follow him on Instagram

Bruce Thierry Cheung – Don’t Come Back From The Moon (2017)

Country: USA

Award: Special Mention for Directing

Synopsis: Fathers in a small California desert town abandon their children one by one leaving behind a wake of anger and crime as their sons and daughters come of age, based on the book by Dean Bakopoulos.

About the filmmaker

  • Bruce Thierry Cheung was born in California
  • He is a cinematographer and director, with a background in architecture
  • Before pursuing film, Bruce was an architect at Studio Daniel Libeskind
  • As an MFA student in Film at NYU, he served as a Department Fellow and a Teaching Assistant for director Spike Lee
  • His previous feature The Color of Time (2012) was nominated for CinemaXXI Award at Rome Film Festival in 2012; previous to that, his short film, Each Moment Is the Universe (2010) was nominated for a Student Visionary Award at Tribeca Film Festival
  • In 2010, he helped launch Opening Ceremony TV, an award winning fashion film company
  • Bruce is also a frequent collaborator of James Franco, serving as his cinematographer on numerous commercials and feature films

Follow Bruce on Twitter or see his portfolio on Vimeo.

LA film festival award winners 2007
Clockwise from left Amanda Kopp, Aaron Kopp, Diego Ross, Amanda Evans, Savannah Bloch

Diego Ros – The Nightguard (El Vigilante) (2017)

Country: Mexico

Award: World Fiction Award.

Synopsis: Salvador works the night shift as a security guard in a construction site located near the outskirts of Mexico City, amidst surrounding vacant lots. One night, a van is abandoned across the street from the site and a body is found inside it the following day.

About the filmmaker

  • Diego Ros was born in Mexico in 1977
  • He began a career in filmmaking as an editor of documentaries and television commercials before moving on to feature film post-production and visual effects supervision
  • The Nightguard is his first feature as a writer, producer and director
  • The Nightguard was also nominated for Grand Prix at Fribourg International Film Festival 2017 and won Feature Film Competition Award for Best Film at Morelia International Film Festival in 2016

Aaron Kopp and Amanda Kopp – Liyana (2017)

Country: USA

Award: Documentary Award

Synopsis: An incredible group of orphans in Swaziland dive into their imaginations to create their own modern African fairytale.

About the filmmakers

  • Aaron Kopp is an award-winning filmmaker and national Emmy-nominated cinematographer
  • He was born in Swaziland but now based in Denver, USA with his wife and co-director Amanda
  • Aaron’s short film Likhaya (2009) won the People’s Choice Award for Best Short Film at the Denver International Film Festival in 2009
  • Aaron was awarded grants from the MacArthur Foundation and the Doha Film Institute for Liyana, which is his feature directorial debut
  • Aaron shot and co- produced the documentary Saving Face, which won an Academy Award
  • He was also cinematographer for the Sundance audience award-winning and Academy Award nominated film, The Hunting Ground
  • He has worked extensively around the world on films for HBO, Netflix, National Geographic, Discovery, UK Channel4, CBS, CNN, and PBS
  • Amanda Kopp is an award-winning photographer and artist
  • Amanda’s photographic work has been published in the UK, US, Sweden, Germany, Russia, Pakistan, and Italy
  • Her photographs won the Grand Prize in the Photo District News Top Knots photography competition
  • She has traveled to Swaziland regularly over the past 14 years and directed her first feature length film, Liyana, with funds from Shine Global and Fork Films

Follow Aaron on Facebook.

Follow Amanda on Facebook.

Savannah Bloch – And Then There Was Eve (2017)

Country: USA

Awards: LA Muse Fiction Award and Jury Prize

Synopsis: A woman grapples with the loss of her husband while learning to love someone new.

About the filmmaker

  • Savannah Bloch South African-born filmmaker, now based in Los Angeles
  • She graduated of the USC school of Cinematic Arts
  • Her thesis film, No Time For Holiday, was distributed by Shorts International HD
  • Savannah’s short drama Lights Out (2016) won the Festival Award at California Women’s Film Festival in 2016 and Jury Award at Big Easy International Film Festival in 2017
  • In addition to powerful storytelling, Savannah is passionate about social innovation, feminism, surfing and veganism

Follow Savannah on Twitter of see her portfolio on Vimeo.

Amanda Evans – Serpent (2017)

Country: USA

Award: The Nightfall Award

Synopsis: A romantic escape into nature turns into the ultimate moment of reckoning when a husband and wife are trapped in a tent with a deadly snake. Betrayed, the couple finds themselves spiraling into a dark and dangerous space of which only one can survive.

About the filmmaker

  • Amanda Evans is a director and screenwriter with a talent for performance
  • Her work has been featured on Shots, an International creative showcase, Ad Critic and nominated for a number of international accolades
  • Amanda continues to develop her own body of work, with a focus on narrative film

Follow Amanda on Twitter.

Los Angeles Film festival award winners 2017
Emily Kai Bock and Bradford Young

Emily Kai Bock – A Funeral for Lightning

Country: Canada

Award: Best Short Film

Synopsis: Seven months pregnant and stuck in a sleepy corner of Tennessee, a young woman begins to see through the promises made by her charismatic husband.

About the filmmaker

  • Emily was born in Toronto, Canada and is now based in Montreal. She was raised by a single mother with 3 other sisters
  • She earned a degree in fine arts, specializing in sculpture and painting
  • Emily directs music videos, working with performers such as Arcade Fire, Lorde and Grizzly Bear
  • She has shot commercials for brands including Coca Cola, Gap and Coach
  • Emily served as second unit director on Phil Noyce’s The Giver
  • She won the Prism Prize in 2014 for directing Arcade Fire’s music video Afterlife
  • A Funeral for Lightning was named as one of Canada’s best 10 short films of 2016 by The Toronto International Film Festival
  • Prefers to shoot on film. Uses a technique that mixes 35mm with 65mm stock
  • She is represented by WME in the U.S

Follow Emily on Twitter or see her portfolio on Vimeo.

Bradford Young – Black America Again

Country: USA

Award: Best Documentary Short

Synopsis: With beautifully captured black-and-white scenes, the film features portraits of various people of all ages. It also includes a powerful song in front of a Freddie Gray mural and stunning dance sequences.

  • Oscar nominated cinematographer of films such as Arrival, Selma and A Most Violet Year
  • Black America Again stars musician and actor Common
  • Grew up in Louisville Kentucky and studied film at Howard University
  • Was the first African American to be nominated for a best cinematography award for Arrival in 2017
  • Bradford is currently shooting the untitled Han Solo origin film in the UK
  • He won the best cinematography award for Pariah (2011) at Sundance

Karen Moncrieff – The Keeping Hours

Country: USA

Award: Audience Award for Fiction Feature Film

Synopsis: A lawyer sees the ghost of his dead son, which leads the man’s estranged wife back into his life.

About the filmmaker

  • Karen grew up in California and graduated in performance studies at Northwestern University
  • She has worked as a model and actress before turning her hand to directing
  • Karen has acted in shows such as Guiding Light, Days of Our Lives, The Bold and the Beautiful, and Santa Barbara
  • Her debut film Blue Car (2002) won the Best Feature Film Award at the Woodstock Film Festival and nominated for major accolades including at the Chicago Film Festival and the Film Independent Awards. Karen’s follow up feature as a director The Dead Girl (2006) won the SDFC Award by the San Diego Film Critics Society

Follow Karen on Twitter

Mark Hayes – Skid Row Marathon

Country: USA

Award:  Audience Award for Documentary Feature Film, LA Muse Award.

Synopsis: From his seat as a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge, Craig Mitchell hands down sentences to convicted criminals. But at the Midnight Mission on LA’s Skid Row, Judge Mitchell trades his robes for running shoes, leading a long-distance running club that gives its members a sense of purpose and pride.

About the filmmaker

  • Mark studied documentary at New York University
  • He met his future wife Gabrielle Hayes and co-producer on Skid Row Marathon while hitchhiking in Germany in the 1980s
  • Mark’s previous documentary was Red State to Golden State (2013). He also collaborates with his wife Gabrielle Hayes as a producer
  • He read about Judge Mitchell and his running group in the local LA newspaper

Mari Walker – Swim

Award: Audience Award for Short Film
Synopsis: As summer draws to a close, a young trans girl finds freedom in a secret midnight swim.

  • Mari studied film at Emerson College in Boston
  • She is an experienced editor as well as a director of short films
  • Swim also won an honorable mention at the Indie Gathering International Film Festival
  • Her previous short The Soul of a Tree won the Festival Prize at the Reelheart International Film Festival