FilmNorth is pleased to announce the four Minnesota artists selected to receive the 2019 McKnight Fellowships for Media Artists. This year’s fellows are Shelli Ainsworth of Minneapolis, Peter Bonde Becker Nelson of Northfield, Maya Washington of Plymouth, and Jake Yuzna of Minneapolis.

Out of a field of 58 applicants, the four fellows were chosen by a national panel of media artists and curators: Jameka Autry, a New York based director and creative producer; Laura Heberton, a Pittsburgh based writer and creative producer; Sky Hopinka, a filmmaker and teacher, currently in Cambridge MA; and Jarod Neece, Senior Film Programmer at SXSW.

“Throughout this process we were continuously struck by the level of talent and creativity within the Minnesota artistic community and our decision was not an easy one,” the panel said. “We applaud everyone who submitted. The artists who stood out to us had a track record of making courageous and impactful work and we are hopeful that their voices will continue to be recognized in the years to come.”

The McKnight Fellowships for Media Artists support mid-career artists residing in Minnesota whose work is of exceptional artistic merit. The $25,000 fellowships will enable these four artists to study, reflect, experiment, and explore over a twelve month period with support and assistance from FilmNorth and the McKnight Foundation.

In addition to the cash award, the program supports its fellows by creating opportunities to meet with local and national art professionals, by organizing a year-end McKnight Retrospective featuring the fellows, by providing assistance to attend the annual Film Independent Forum in Los Angeles, and by offering special class and workshop opportunities through FilmNorth.

The fellowships are funded by a generous grant from The McKnight Foundation and administered by FilmNorth.


2019 McKnight Media Artist Fellowship Recipients

Writer/Director Shelli Ainsworth is a Minnesota-based artist whose work in experimental theater and film has earned her national recognition. She is the past recipient of grants and fellowships from ITVS, The Bush Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Jerome Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Minnesota State Arts Board. Ms. Ainsworth’s narrative films have been seen in festivals, touring programs and museums across the United States. She is currently at work on an episodic series, AUNT PHYL. 



Peter Bonde Becker Nelson is an interdisciplinary artist who works in animation, video, performance, photography, and installation. Drawing from the personal narratives of friends and family, his work explores the nuances of gender roles, relationships, memory, aging, and loss. Most recently, Peter’s work has been shown at The Walker Art Center, San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, D.C. Shorts Film Festival, Currents International New Media Festival and Truckstop Gallery in Minneapolis. He resides in Northfield, where he teaches at St. Olaf College.


Maya Washington is an award-winning narrative and documentary filmmaker (writer/director/producer), actress, writer, poet, creative director, visualist (photography) and arts educator. She received a BA in Dramatic Arts from the University of Southern California and an MFA in Creative Writing from Hamline University. Her background, on stage/camera and behind the scenes, has given her the opportunity to work on everything from public art, live theatre, commercials and print ads, to web series, films and television. Her latest films, THROUGH THE BANKS OF THE RED CEDAR, and CLEAR, are touring the United States. Maya is dedicated to projects that have a sense of “purpose” in the world, selecting social impact stories that illuminate aspects of the human experience that are untold, rarely seen, or might benefit from new approaches to issues of diversity and inclusion. Her body of work has had a global reach, including Toronto, Budapest, Hong Kong, Berlin, and Rome.

A Minneapolis native, Jake Yuzna is a director, curator, and educator.  His debut feature OPEN premiered at the Berlin Film Festival where it became the first American feature to win the Teddy Jury Prize. OPEN went on to garner additional awards at NewFest, OutFest, and TLV Fest. Yuzna’s films have been presented at the Cannes Film Festival, New Museum of Contemporary Art, British Film Institute, Oberhausen Film Festival, Walker Art Center, Red Cat of Los Angeles, Strelka of Moscow, and over 100 international film festivals as well as broadcast nationally on PBS and Arté. In addition, he has received the Richard P. Rogers Spirit of Excellence Award in Directing by the American Film Institute, a Special Jury Award for Artist Risktaking from IFP, as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Minnesota State Arts Board, Creative Capital Foundation, Jerome Foundation, and Frameline Foundation, among others.


McKnight Media Artist Fellow Profile Films


2019 McKnight Fellowships for Media Artists Selection Panel

There were four professionals who served as panelists, selecting four fellows from 58 total applications. Juror Heberton reviewed the 17 screenwriting applications, and jurors Autry, Hopinka, and Neece reviewed the 41 applications from non-screenwriters.

Jameka Autry is a New York based director and creative producer. In 2017 she was named an Impact Partners Creative Producers Fellow and she is also a 2018-19 Associate of the Investigative Reporting Program at the UC Berkeley School of Journalism. She is currently wrapping up production on Loira Limbal’s THROUGH THE NIGHT and ERNIE & JOE (dir. Jenifer McShane). She previously produced MARATHON: The Patriots Day Bombing (HBO), IN MY FATHER’S HOUSE (Showtime), MATANGI/MAYA/M.I.A. (Sundance ’18) and consulted on WE THE ANIMALS (Sundance ’18) and LOVE GILDA (CNN). Most recently, she was selected for DOC NYC’s inaugural 40 Under 40 list.

Laura Heberton is a producer of award-­winning, ground-breaking narrative features as well narrative and doc shorts that have premiered at top festivals worldwide, including Sundance, Berlin, SXSW and London BFI. Notable features include Jonathan Lisecki’s GAYBY, Matt Porterfield’s I USED TO BE DARKER, Josephine Decker’s THOU WAST MILD AND LOVELY, Lance Edmands’ BLUEBIRD, Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-­Beck’s WHEN SHE RUNS and GOD BLESS THE CHILD and Alison Bagnall’s FUNNY BUNNY. She and Jennifer Reeder are currently adapting Jennifer Reeder’s short, ALL SMALL BODIES into a feature, TODOS CUERPOS LOS PEQUENOS. Projects she has worked on have received support from numerous organizations including the SFFilm/Kenneth Rainin Foundation, IFP, the Sundance Institute, Cinemart, the Polish Film Society, the Tribeca Film Institute and Rooftop Films. She serves on the boards of Silver Eye Center for Photography and Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures. She has been on multiple film festival juries and is also a writer of screenplays and fiction.

Sky Hopinka (Ho-Chunk/Pechanga) was born and raised in Ferndale, Washington and spent several years in Palm Springs and Riverside, California, Portland, Oregon, Milwaukee, WI, and is currently based out of Cambridge, Massachusetts.  In Portland, he studied and taught chinuk wawa, a language indigenous to the Lower Columbia River Basin. His video work centers around personal positions of Indigenous homeland and landscape, designs of language as containers of culture, and the play between the known and the unknowable.  He received his BA from Portland State University in Liberal Arts and his MFA in Film, Video, Animation, and New Genres from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  He is currently a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and Sundance Art of Nonfiction Fellow for 2019. His work has played at various festivals including ImagineNATIVE Media + Arts Festival, Images, Wavelengths, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Sundance, Antimatter, Chicago Underground Film Festival, FLEXfest, and Projections.  His work was a part of the 2016 Wisconsin Triennial and the 2017 Whitney Biennial.  He was awarded jury prizes at the Onion City Film Festival, the More with Less Award at the 2016 Images Festival, the Tom Berman Award for Most Promising Filmmaker at the 54th Ann Arbor Film Festival, the New Cinema Award at the Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival and the Mary L. Nohl Fund Fellowship for Individual Artists in the Emerging artist category for 2018.

Jarod Neece has been with the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference & Festivals in Austin,TX since 2002. He is the festival’s Senior Film Programmer with an emphasis on Feature and Genre Film Programming. He has been a juror or panelist at a number of events, including Cannes, Sundance, TIFF, Fantastic Fest, Fantasia, and IFP’s Film Week. He is also the co-author of bestselling books, Austin Breakfast Tacos and The Tacos of Texas published by UT Press and co-host & co-producer of the PBS & ITVS documentary series, THE TACOS OF TEXAS.

About The McKnight Artist Fellowships

Founded on the belief that Minnesota thrives when its artists thrive, The McKnight Foundation’s arts program is one of the oldest and largest of its kind in the country. Support for individual working Minnesota artists has been a cornerstone of the program since it began in 1981. The McKnight Artist Fellowships Program provides annual, unrestricted cash awards to outstanding mid-career Minnesota artists in 11 different creative disciplines. Program partner organizations administer the fellowships and structure them to respond to the unique challenges of different disciplines. Currently the foundation contributes about $1.7 million per year to its statewide fellowships. For more information, visit

About The McKnight Foundation

The McKnight Foundation, a family foundation based in Minnesota, advances a more just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive. Program interests include regional economic and community development, Minnesota’s arts and artists, education equity, youth engagement, Midwest climate and energy, Mississippi River water quality, neuroscience research, international crop research, and rural livelihoods. Founded in 1953 and independently endowed by William and Maude McKnight, the Foundation has assets of approximately $2.2 billion and grants about $90 million a year. Learn more at, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.