Announcing the 2023 JFI Filmmakers in Residence

Jewish Film Institute
10 min readFeb 16, 2023
Image 1: A Night At The Stone Burlesk, Leigh Jurecka, USA, Documentary, English. Image 2: Janis Ian and the Art of Song, Varda Bar-Kar, USA, Documentary, English.

The Jewish Film Institute (JFI) is pleased to announce that seven filmmakers from across the United States have been selected as its 2023 Filmmakers in Residence. The current Residents, who together comprise the most diverse cohort in the program to date, present a range of stories and perspectives that embody JFI’s goal of fostering an expansive lens on Jewish life.The JFI Filmmakers in Residence Program, now in its ninth iteration, is a yearlong, intensive artist development initiative that provides creative, marketing, and production support for emerging and established filmmakers whose projects explore the full plurality and complexity of Jewish history, life, culture and identity. The Residents will develop and strengthen their in-progress film projects through collaborative workshops and trainings, culminating in an online pitch forum in November 2023. For more information, visit www.jfi.org/filmmakers.

The 2023 JFI Filmmakers in Residence are: Varda Bar-Kar (Janis Ian & The Art of Song); Maya Cueva (A Rebel Without a Pause); Daniel Hymanson (Wind Up); Leigh Jurecka (A Night at the Stone Burlesk); Sergio Maza (Echoes of Foreign Films, The Talbots’ Legacy); Adam Mazo (Untitled Indigenous & Jewish Short Film Series); and Renée Wilson (The 13th Percent).

“This stellar group of filmmakers are poised to revolutionize the way that the Jewish story is expressed on screen,” said Marcia Jarmel, Director of Filmmaker Services, Jewish Film Institute. “These vital projects provide insight into unheralded Jewish contributions to American politics and culture, and little known intersections between Jewish communities and Black and Indigenous experience in the US. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to help these filmmakers bring their ideas to fruition.”

Residents participate in monthly cohort meetings, attend capacity-enhancing workshops with industry professionals and experts, consult with JFI staff on industry best practices in marketing, fundraising, production, and exhibition, and refine their project pitches to prepare for a culminating pitch forum. Residents also receive access to all JFI programs and events, support to attend a convening at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, visibility in JFI promotional materials, and access to the Ninth Street Independent Film Center’s on-site screening room in San Francisco.

The 2023 Residents were selected by the Jewish Film Institute’s leadership from a competitive pool of forty-nine projects. Building on the success of the 2022 Residency and the inauguration of an annual Filmmaker in Residence Pitch Forum, JFI received a record number of documentary applications for 2023. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the JFI Filmmaker Residency was based at the 9th Street Independent Film Center in San Francisco and served Bay Area filmmakers. Since 2020, the Residency Program has shifted to virtual convenings and has expanded to include filmmakers across the country and around the world.

2023 JFI Filmmakers in Residence

Varda Bar-Kar: Janis Ian & The Art of Song

In the mid-60s, Janis Ian, a tiny, teenage Jewish singer-songwriter from New Jersey, scores a hit (“Society’s Child,” 1966) about an interracial relationship. The song launches her illustrious career but also ignites controversy. She plunges into an emotional tailspin — only to emerge from the ashes with an even bigger hit (“At Seventeen,” 1975) about body shaming. For the next six decades, Janis encountershomophobia, record industry misogyny, and a life-threatening illness to produce an indelible body of work that continues to draw large audiences around the globe. Janis Ian and the Art of Song (working title) chronicles the singer’s epic life journey from her Jewish childhood on a chicken farm in New Jersey through the release of the disruptive Breaking Silence album, where she came out publicly about her same-sex marriage. With access to Janis Ian’s incredible body of music, her vast archive, family, friends, famed collaborators, and music journalists, the documentary balances the intimacy of a home movie against a sweeping historical — and contemporary — context.

Varda Bar-Kar is an award-winning filmmaker whose work focuses on meaningful stories that explore the breadth and diversity of the human condition. Her feature documentary Big Voice, chronicling a year in the life of a determined high school choir director, was acquired by Netflix and broadcast on PBS, winning a Bronze Telly Award. Her documentary Fandango at the Wall, about a gathering of song and dance in the 300-year-old Son Jarocho tradition at the United States-Mexico border, premiered on HBO/HBO Max. The accompanying album, Fandango at the Wall in New York, was nominated for a Grammy. She lives and works in Santa Monica, CA.

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Maya Cueva: A Rebel Without a Pause

A Rebel Without a Pause shines a light on Dr. Quentin Young, a Jewish doctor from Chicago, who teamed up with the Black Panther Party and its Chairman Fred Hampton throughout the 1960s — and fought the FBI at great personal cost — to bring healthcare to the most vulnerable Americans. Told through the eyes of his granddaughter, director Maya Cueva, the documentary explores Young’s story through animation, exclusive archival material, and new interviews with iconic voices, while drawing connections to the modern day healthcare workers carrying on his legacy. A Rebel Without a Pause asks us to consider what allyship really means in a movement fighting against white supremacy and racism within the healthcare system.

Maya Cueva is a Jewish-Latina, award-winning director and producer with a background in documentary, radio, and audio producing. She was a Netflix Nonfiction Director and Producer Fellow and her work has been featured on The New Yorker, NPR, The Atlantic, Teen Vogue, and National Geographic. Cueva received a student Emmy for her short film The Provider and her feature film, On the Divide, premiered at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival and broadcast on POV PBS in 2022. Her most recent short documentary Ale Libre was acquired by The New Yorker and has screened at Big Sky Documentary Festival, Hot Docs, AspenFilm Festival, and SFFILM. She lives and works in Berkeley, CA.

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Daniel Hymanson: Wind Up

An artist must say goodbye to her historic Chicago home of 50 years to relocate to a senior apartment complex. Her filmmaker friend moves in and helps prepare the house for sale, as his own family joins together to confront a series of health crises.

Daniel Hymanson is a documentary filmmaker. His first feature, So Late So Soon, premiered at the 2020 True/False Film Festival, was shortlisted for Best Feature in 2021 by the IDA Documentary Awards, and was distributed by Oscilloscope Pictures. Hymanson’s directing work has received support from the Sundance Institute, the Gotham, Catapult Film Fund, the Illinois Arts Council, and the True/False and Catapult Rough Cut Retreat. He was an associate producer on The Last Season (Independent Spirit Award nominee) and Western (Special Jury Prize at Sundance), as well as production designer on Other Months (SXSW). Filmmaker Magazine named him one of its “25 New Faces of Independent Film” in 2020, and DOC NYC included him on its “40 Under 40” list in 2021. He lives and works in New York, NY.

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Leigh Jurecka: A Night at the Stone Burlesk

In A Night at the Stone Burlesk, director Leigh Jurecka introduces us to her husband Matthew, a renowned child magician who performed in stadiums and on television since he was nine. Matthew knew almost nothing about a theater called the Stone Burlesk that his father and grandparents ran for over fifty years in Detroit. A Night at the Stone Burlesk chronicles Matthew’s investigation into the origins and operations of the business and the stories the family told to protect their place within the Jewish community. The result is an exploration into the unraveling of family secrets and the intergenerational effects of trauma, and of a charismatic family whose involvement in the worlds of vaudeville, burlesque, and magic served to obscure the truth from everyone — including themselves.

Leigh Jurecka is a Canadian independent filmmaker and educator whose work has been screened in festivals throughout North America. Jurecka produced the feature documentary Free Havana (released by Facets) and is a fellow of Kartemquin Films’ Diverse Voices in Docs mentorship program. She received her BA in Philosophy from Bishop’s University and her MFA in Film from Northwestern University. She lives and works in Chicago, IL.

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Sergio Maza: Echoes of Foreign Films, The Talbots’ Legacy

Echoes of Foreign Films is an intimate portrait of Dan and Toby Talbot’s personal and professional life, and a cinematic journey through some of the most influential foreign movies that the Talbots brought to the U.S. and Canada. As pioneers of film distribution and exhibition, the Talbots championed risky, thought-provoking cinema, exposing American audiences to movies from every corner of the world — Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Their work sparked a cinematic revolution, fostering a new wave of American auteurs and shaping their artistic sensibilities. In an era dominated by gentrification, mass entertainment, and new technologies, this documentary ponders the uncertain future of art-house cinema, especially after the devastating effects and consequences of the coronavirus pandemic on the theatrical film exhibition.

Sergio Maza is a screenwriter from Argentina. A graduate of the National School of Experimentation and Filmmaking, Maza has written professionally for television for more than fifteen years while teaching film and writing courses. He has taught at the University of Lanus, the Film College School, and the National School of Experimentation and Filmmaking. As a screenwriter, he has worked on several television programs, including fiction and documentary, such as Surprise and a Half, From the Bed to the Living, and We See Faces. His academic experience allowed him to become the director of the Film College School at the age of thirty-five. He lives and works in New York, NY.

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Renée Wilson: The 13th Percent

The 13th Percent is a personal documentary exploring filmmaker Renée Wilson’s unexpected discovery of her non-Jewish African American family’s 13% Ashkenazi Jewish heritage in a 2018 DNA report, which the report attributed to either a grandparent or a great grandparent. The revelation offered a tantalizing clue to a longstanding family mystery, the identity of Wilson’s paternal great-grandfather and his family. A source of shame for many years, Wilson’s grandfather never knew his father, but his light complexion and mother’s job working in the “big house” of a former plantation in Louisiana’s German Coast hinted at a painful past. Armed with this new knowledge, Wilson embarks on a journey seeking to reveal her own family history and the complex ways that Louisiana’s Black and Jewish communities have long been intertwined.

Renée Wilson is a director, writer, performer, and made her film debut portraying Raelette Pat Lyle in the Academy Awarding-winning film Ray starring Jamie Foxx. Wilson’s documentary, Crepe Covered Sidewalks, about her hometown of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, was the centerpiece film of the New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival and received Best New Filmmaker Award at the Peachtree Village International Film Festival in Atlanta. Her recent film, Ode To Joy, won the 2022 Maui Film Festival Audience Award for Stunning Short Film. She graduated from Tulane University with a BA in Communications. She lives and works in Dallas, TX.

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The Jewish Film Institute (JFI) champions bold films and filmmakers that expand and evolve the Jewish story for audiences everywhere. JFI inspires audiences through the transformative power of film and media to entertain and engage, to turn conversation into action, and to reframe understanding of Jewish cultures and identities. JFI’s annual public programs, which serve thousands of individuals in the Bay Area and United States, include the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF), the first and largest Jewish film festival in the world, WinterFest weekend series, online film offerings, and special events with filmmakers, artists, and culturally diverse thought leaders. JFI’s Filmmaker Services support emerging and established filmmakers worldwide through the JFI Completion Grants, which provide finishing funds to feature and short films of all genres, and the JFI Filmmakers in Residence program, which provides documentarians with a year-long, community-driven program to enhance their creative, marketing, business, and production skills. For more information, visit www.jfi.org.

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Jewish Film Institute

The Jewish Film Institute, based in San Francisco, champions bold films and filmmakers that expand and evolve the Jewish story for audiences everywhere. jfi.org