A still from This Body Is A Shell" directed by Ashley Eakin

Kombucha that gives people superhuman powers and woman hiding her secret addiction from her sister were among the highlights of NewFilmmakers Los Angeles’ (NFMLA) monthly film festival and InFocus: Disabilities program.

The April event also featured April Shorts and a double block of mid-length documentary features, including Rachel Epstein’s The Anarchist Lunch and Hidde de Vries’ Hunting Jack. 

The festivities began with April Shorts, a collection of comedy, drama and documentary short films that explore connection, fitting in, memory, grief, addiction, fetish performance, dangerous racial disparities and self-definition in complicated cultural contexts. 

Then the event moved on to InFocus: Disabilities, which spotlighted disability both in front of and behind the camera. It featured a blend of storytelling through the lens of visible and invisible disability, centering work made by disabled filmmakers and stories of disability told in close collaboration with their subjects or protagonists. From family dramas to romantic comedies to experimental narratives, the program showcased a range of work from emerging talent.

The night concluded with the world premiere of Epstein’s The Anarchist Lunch, which offers the viewer a seat at the table at a weekly lunch meeting of activists and academics — including Epstein’s own 99-year-old father — that have been gathering for 35 years. It is a celebration of friendship, commitment and advocacy. Then they screened Hunting Jack by de Vries for its Los Angeles premiere. The film takes audiences inside the process of 91-year-old Dutch Nazi hunter Jack Kooistra, who has been rigorously cataloging the fates of both Nazis and their victims since his childhood and whose work has helped in the capture of fugitive war criminals. 

NFMLA showcases films by filmmakers of all backgrounds throughout the year in addition to its special InFocus programming, which celebrates diversity, inclusion, and region. All filmmakers are welcome and encouraged to submit their projects which will be considered for all upcoming NFMLA festivals, regardless of the InFocus programming. 

Also Read: A Beloved Sex-Ed Teacher and a Secret Boyfriend Highlight NFMLA’s InFocus: Counter-Ageism Program

NFMLA InFocus: Disabilities Program

Here is some information on the filmmakers and their films, as well as their video interviews with NFMLA Board Chair Danny De Lillo.

“[subtext]” directed by Erin Brown Thomas

About Erin: Erin Brown Thomas is a writer-director who creates evocative narratives. Her directing portfolio includes recent wins at Hollyshorts, Cinequest, and Catalyst Story Institute. She is the artistic director of Salute Your Shorts film festival. Curation has deeply impacted her curiosity and voice as an artist.

About Olivia: Olivia Haller writes heartfelt, earnest stories with a healthy dose of the surreal. She is a DC-raised, nationally-produced playwright and award-winning filmmaker. Most recently, her short film “[subtext]” which she wrote, produced, and starred in, has been accepted to 30 festivals and counting, including the Austin Film Festival, SCAD, Indy Shorts, Evolution Mallorca, and FilmQuest. 

About “[subtext]”: Two people on a first date mask and ignore their insecurities until an event forces them to say what they’re really thinking.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Erin Brown Thomas the director, and Olivia Haller the writer and producer of “[subtext]”:

“Kombucha!” directed by Jake Myers

About Jake: Jake Myers is a filmmaker and creative director based in Chicago. His films have been featured on FOX’s A-Studio-Digital, Blumhouse’s CryptTV, and Alamo Drafthouse’s PUP. Jake also creates Motion Graphics for films like Kartemquin’s Dilemma of Desire, Vera Drew’s The People’s Joker, and Kris Jenner’s Masterclass. 

About “Kombucha!”: A disillusioned office drone reluctantly tries the kombucha that gives his coworkers superhuman focus, but he quickly discovers some grotesque side effects.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Jake Myers, the director of “Kombucha!”:

“Dosh” directed by Radha Mehta 

About Radha: Radha Mehta (she/her) is an Indian-American award-winning director and artist. She’s compelled by themes of motherhood, disability, and womxn empowerment. She’s a recent George Starks Spirit of Slamdance 2024 award-winner for her live action short, DOSH, she is a voting member of The Recording Academy, an Entertainment Fellow of RespectAbility, a Netflix/Tasveer Film Fund Finalist, a WrapWomen/ STARZ/ Lionsgate Finalist, and holds an MFA in Directing from American Film Institute. 

About “Dosh”: When her son’s life is put at risk at their family’s pre-wedding ritual, a hard-of-hearing mother must decide how to seek help for her husband in order to keep her family safe.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Radha Mehta the director of “Dosh”:

Anarchist Lunch directed by Rachel Epstein

About Rachel: Rachel Epstein grew up in a secular Jewish household imbued with politics, social justice and the music of Pete Seeger, Tom Lehrer and the Wobblies. Her work and activist life have included 10 years working with migrant domestic workers, 25 years as a 2SLGBTQ+ parenting activist and 5 years as Executive Director of a community-based secular Jewish organization. She currently works as a workshop facilitator, mediator, coach, wedding officiant and filmmaker. Her first short film, “Hi Mrs Friedman!” is about the awkward hijinks that ensue when a mother and daughter show up at a queer sex club on the same night. The Anarchist Lunch is her first documentary. 

About Anarchist Lunch: A group of leftists have been gathering for a weekly lunch for over 35 years. With love and humor, the film explores their friendship, lifelong activism and the process of aging.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Rachel Epstein the director of Anarchist Lunch:

“Thirstygirl” directed by Alexandra Qin

About Alexandra: Alexandra Qin is a French-Filipino-Chinese screenwriter and director with a background in software engineering and prison reform activism. She is the founder of Emergent Works, a nonprofit that teaches formerly incarcerated people to code to help them secure well-paying jobs after prison. Alexandra’s first feature screenplay, “Thirstygirl”, was the 2022 Page Awards Grand Prize Winner as well as a 2022 Nicholl Fellowship Semifinalist. Her first short film, the “Thirstygirl” proof-of-concept, was an official selection of Sundance 2024, among many other festivals. 

About “Thirstygirl”: On a road trip with her younger sister, Charlie struggles to hide a secret addiction. 

Watch the NFMLA interview with Alexandra Qin director of “Thirstygirl”:

“What Happened To You” directed by Alec Goldberg

About Alec: Alec Goldberg is a director/editor with a focus on stories that have potential positive social impact, most of Alec’s documentary and narrative work centers around contexts of trauma and transformation. Also working on campaigns for brands such as Porsche, Chevron, Jordan, and Off-White, Goldberg explores different types of projects within the medium. In the past year, Alec’s feature documentary Sitting in the Fire was released, as well as short films: “What Happened to You”, a Semi-Finalist at the Cannes Indie Shorts Awards, and “Movers”, a winner at the Copenhagen Film Festival — all with trauma and transformation at the core of the stories.

About “What Happened To You”: Two childhood friends, both now stand-up comics, explore their past trauma together. 

Watch the NFMLA interview with Sebastian Scales, and Alec Goldberg the director of “What Happened To You”:

“Butterfly/Bataplai” directed by Veialu Aila-Unsworth

About Veialu: Veialu Aila-Unsworth is a Los Angeles-based, Papua New Guinea/New Zealand screenwriter/director specializing in female-driven dramas.  Growing up the only Papua New Guinean in a small town with a single mother has given her an unrelenting curiosity about identity.  She was a 2023 Armed With A Camera Fellow, her screenplay made The Black List’s 2021 CAPE List, and her two short films have screened at numerous festivals including Berlinale. For more than 15 years, Veialu was a television creative producer, promo director, and copywriter with Australia’s largest commercial networks (NINE, TEN), launching primetime shows. She has two master’s degrees.

About “Butterfly/Bataplai”: A Papua New Guinean/American woman challenges her father’s strict religious rules to find her voice as a makeup artist.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Veialu the director of “Butterfly/Bataplai”:

“Floater” directed by David Harring 

About David: David Harring is a writer/director based in Los Angeles. He was an executive story editor on ABC’s freshman drama series, The Company You Keep. He previously wrote for FOX’s Rosewood. He has developed projects for CBS, Warner Bros TV, Electric Somewhere, and Basset Vance Productions. He has allso written and produced short films that have amassed over 4 million views on Youtube. Since 2017, he has studied theater directing under legendary director Howard Deutch. “Floater” is his cinematic directorial debut.

About “Floater”: After his abusive father’s death, a troubled man builds a mausoleum to the relationship they never had…in his parents’ bathroom, while his grief-stricken family attempts to rescue him from his madness. 

Watch the NFMLA interview with David Harring, the director of “Floater”:

“Project & Serve” directed by Espie Randolph

About Espie: Espie is a director/writer originally from South Texas. After moving to Los Angeles 10 years ago, Espie cut his teeth acting in film roles with Jessica Biel and guest starring on shows like Black Jesus on HBO Max. Espie also worked in writing, producing and starring in projects for people like Wayne Brady. Espie got his BFA in Filmmaking from the New York Film Academy and has written and directed more than 10 shorts, including a winning pilot in the New York Television Festival that was optioned by Comedy Central. He has recently been working on finding funding for his first feature film.

About “Project & Serve”: When a Black teen is pulled over by an angry cop, he must use his father’s advice to navigate the struggle and quiet his own rage in order to survive the traffic stop that threatens to put an end to his night and possibly his life. 

Watch the NFMLA interview with Espie Randolph, the director of “Project & Serve”:

“This Body Is A Shell” directed by Ashley Eakin

About Ashley: Ashley Eakin is a WGA/DGA writer-director. She has directed projects for Disney+, Apple TV+ and Netflix. Her AFI Directing Workshop for Women short film “Single” won the 2020 SXSW Special Jury Recognition Award and is being developed into a TV show with FX. Prior to working on her own content, Ashley was the assistant to Jon M. Chu, and worked on his film Crazy Rich Asians. Having over 14 years of experience in the TV and film industry, Ashley is passionate about diversifying the narrative of how disabled people are portrayed in the media.

About “This Body Is A Shell”: Wandering through a desolate internal world, disabled women wrestle with self-image and fight to uncover meaning beyond what is skin deep. 

Watch the NFMLA interview with Ashley Eakin, the director of “This Body Is A Shell”:

“Krush The Wrestler” directed by Alex Megaro

About Alex: Alex Megaro is a filmmaker best known for producing andediting Driftwood, winner of the Slamdance Grand Jury Prize for Narrative Feature and the Virginia Film Festival’s Programmer award for Best Feature. He produced the Sheffield Doc Fest & AFI Docs official selection 8:08 How We Respond and produced/edited the VICE documentary series Source Material. “Krush The Wrestler” is his first documentary as director.

About “Krush The Wrestler”: Exploring the innate intimacy of submission wrestling, a lifelong wrestler turns his talents into an on-demand fetish video service.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Alex Megaro, director of “Krush The Wrestler”:

 “Picture Day” directed by Kelly Pike 

About Kelly: Kelly Pike is a recipient of the DGA Award of Outstanding Directorial Achievement, was included on Austin Film Festival’s 25 Screenwriters to Watch, and is a graduate of the AFI Directing Workshop for Women. She holds an M.F.A. in Directing Film & Television from UCLA. Her films have screened around the world, winning awards at the Cannes Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, Palm Springs Int’l Film Festival, Warsaw Int’l film festival, and more. Her work has also earned recognition from PBS, Vimeo, NATO, and the Caucus Foundation.

About “Picture Day”: A young tomboy coming of age on military bases faces a new school and a small act of rebellion with big consequences..

Watch the NFMLA interview with Kelly Pike, director of “Picture Day”:

Hunting Jack directed by Hidde de Vries

About Hidde: Hidde de Vries, born and raised in the Netherlands, relocated to Los Angeles in 2013, earning his degree in Directing for Television and Film from UCLA. During his studies, he interned with ImageMovers, the production company founded by Academy Award-winning director Robert Zemeckis. A recipient of the Kurnitz Screenwriting Award, his comedy short “LIKE” depicting a person trapped in their social media account, won Best Concept at The Palm Springs International Comedy Festival. Hidde recently directed his first documentary, Hunting Jack, spotlighting 91-year-old Dutch Nazi Hunter Jack Kooistra. 

About Hunting Jack: Documentary about 91-year old Nazi Hunter Jack Kooistra from the Netherlands.

Watch the NFMLA interview Hidde de Vries, director of Hunting Jack

Main Image: A still from “This Body Is A Shell” directed by Ashley Eakin, courtesy of NFMLA