FilmNorth is pleased to announce the four Minnesota artists selected to receive the 2023 McKnight Fellowships for Media Artists. This year’s fellows are Raven Johnson, Catherine Licata, Jenny Lion, (all from Minneapolis), and Benjamin Percy (from Northfield).

Out of a field of 67 applicants, the four fellows were chosen by an acclaimed national panel of media artists, writers, and curators: producer/artist development executive Rebecca Katz of Providence, RI; film programmer/arts administrator Jacqueline Lyanga of Los Angeles; producer/director/show runner Avril Speaks of Los Angeles; and filmmaker/educator Ioana Uricaru of Middlebury, VT.

“Minnesota’s media artists once again impressed a national panel of industry leaders with their distinctive work and points of view,” said FilmNorth Executive Director Andrew Peterson. “We’re thrilled to support Ben, Catherine, Jenny, and Raven during their Fellowship year—and beyond—and share the panel’s excitement to see what they create next.”

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 fellows receive professional development and educational support; consultation support from Springboard for the Arts; and will participate in a one-two week residency facilitated by the Alliance of Artist Communities.  

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

2023 McKnight Media Artist Fellowship Recipients

Raven Johnson (she, her, hers) is a Liberian-American filmmaker from Minnesota. Her work explores the realities of Black experiences in predominantly White spaces around the midwest. Raven received her MFA from NYU Tisch and is filmmaker-in-residence at Augsburg University in Minneapolis. Raven is a 2023 Jerome Hill Artist Fellow, a 2022 Locarno resident in Switzerland, a 2021 Jerome Foundation Artist Development Grant recipient, a 2021 Jerome Emerging Artist-in-Residence at the Anderson Center at Tower View, and a 2019-2020 Cannes Cinéfondation resident in Paris. Raven is currently in development on her debut feature which has already received support from SFFILM and the Kenneth Rainin Foundation.


Catherine Licata (she, her, hers) Catherine Licata is a Minnesota-based narrative filmmaker. Her films have screened at festivals such as Palm Springs Shorts Fest, SXSW, IFF Boston, the Maryland Film Festival, the New Orleans Film Festival, and the Warsaw Film Festival, among others. Catherine’s recent awards include Jerome Foundation Production Grant for her film The Lobby and an MRAC Next Step Fund Grant. She earned an MFA in film production at the University of Texas at Austin and is currently an Assistant Professor of filmmaking at Carleton College. (Photo credit: Monique Walton)



Jenny Lion (she, her, hers) works with film and video in cinematic, participatory, and gallery contexts. She frequently collaborates in groups and with individuals, and often over long periods of time. She is a 2021 Creative Capital Award recipient and is currently working with the Wexner Center Film/Video Studio Residence Program. She will be on a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2023-24, completing a body of work shot in the U.S West exploring resonant historical sites. Also an educator and curator, her book on Canadian artists’ video is published by the Walker Art Center and University of Minnesota Press.



Benjamin Percy (he, him his) is a screenwriter, novelist, and comics writer. He co-wrote the film Summering, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. He has sold projects to FOX and Starz and is currently working on an adaptation of Urban Cowboy for Paramount Plus and has scripts in development with Sony and Paramount Pictures. His audio dramas for Marvel have featured the voice talent of actors like Chris Elliot, Danny Glover, Timothy Busfield, Richard Armitage, and Vanessa Williams. He is also the author of seven novels, three story collections, and a book of essays. He writes Wolverine and Ghost Rider for Marvel Comics. His fiction and nonfiction have been published in Time, GQ, Esquire, and the Paris Review. His honors include the Whiting Award, an NEA fellowship, two Pushcart Prizes, the iHeart Radio Award for Best Scripted Podcast, and inclusion in Best American Short Stories. (Photo credit: Jessica Peterson White)

2023 McKnight Fellowships for Media Artists Selection Panel

There were four professionals who served as panelists, selecting four fellows from 67 total applications. Juror Rebecca Katz reviewed the 21 screenwriting applications, and jurors Lyanga, Speaks, and Uricaru reviewed the 46 applications from non-screenwriters.

Rebecca Katz (she, her, hers) With 15 years of experience in the entertainment industry, Rebecca Katz has worked at studios, independent financing companies, and non-profit arts organizations supporting artists. Most notably, at Film Independent, she helped run the scripted labs and oversaw the Sloan Foundation grants. Rebecca also spent 6 years at Sundance Institute in the Feature Film Program and Festival Programming department, where she helped select and cultivate emerging writing, directing, and producing talent. Rebecca received her MFA from the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC and her BA from Tufts University.



Jacqueline Lyanga (she, her, hers) founded Global Cinematheque to promote international cinema in the United States through year-round programming initiatives in partnership with arts organizations likes LACMA (LA County Museum of Art). She is also currently the US Delegate for the Berlinale (Berlin International Film Festival), working with teams across the festival on US programming and industry. Prior this, Lyanga was the Head of DEI for IMDb, where her role included developing inclusive infrastructure and creative content for IMDb and IMDbPro customers globally. She has also been the Artistic Director of Film Independent in Los Angeles, and was the Director of AFI FEST, the American Film Institute’s (AFI) annual international film festival in Los Angeles for eight years. She has been invited to serve on international film festival juries at festivals such as the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the JIO MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, the Locarno Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, SFFILM in San Francisco, SXSW (XR) and the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Jacqueline has been appointed to the rank of Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French government for her promotion of French film and culture in the United States and the Order of the Crown from the Kingdom of Belgium. (Photo credit: Michael Buckner)


Avril Speaks (she, her, hers) has been carving out her path as a bold, innovative storyteller for years, not only as a Producer and Director but also during her days as a professor at Howard University and as a film educator through Film Independent, the Sundance Institute, and Distribution Advocates.

Avril produced the award-winning film Jinn, which premiered at SXSW and won Special Jury Recognition for Writing. Jinn gained distribution through MGM/Orion Classics and continues to be seen throughout the world. Avril has also produced several films including African America, which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and is available on Netflix. She also produced the Black America Is… project, which premiered at the Afrikana Film Festival.

As a director and showrunner, Avril has worked with companies such as Now This and Vox Media Studios on docu-series such as Uprooted: The Untold Keith Warren Story and Keep This Between Us, available on Discovery+ and Freeform. She is currently a Creative and Production Executive for Vox Media Studios, where she is co-showrunner for the upcoming Untitled Mysteries Project to air on Netflix, and also helps to develop new projects.

Avril has been selected for producing labs with Film Independent, Sundance, The Gotham, Rotterdam and Cannes, was a 2020 Sundance Momentum Fellow, and is currently a 2022 recipient of the Dear Producer Award. She is one of the founding members of Distribution Advocates and of the newly formed Producers Union. She is also a board member for the Black TV and Film Collective.


Ioana Uricaru (she, her, hers) is a Romanian-American filmmaker. She is interested in stories that reconsider the historical past, focus deeply on the details of lived experience or interrogate the relationship between the US and the rest of the world. She co-directed the omnibus Tales From the Golden Age (Official Selection, Cannes Film Festival), and co-wrote and directed Lemonade (nominated for the Independent Spirit Someone to Watch Award and winner of several awards in international festivals). Her work has been part of the official selections at the Cannes, Berlin, Sundance, Tribeca and AFI festivals, and was supported by the Cannes Cinefondation Residency and the Sundance Institute Feature Film program. Ioana is a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Founded on the belief that Minnesota thrives when its artists thrive, the McKnight Foundation’s arts and culture 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 1982. The McKnight Artist Fellowships Program provides annual, unrestricted cash awards to outstanding mid-career Minnesota artists in 15 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 $2.8 million per year to its statewide fellowships. For more information, visit

The McKnight Foundation, a Minnesota-based family foundation, advances a more just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive. Established in 1953, the McKnight Foundation is deeply committed to advancing climate solutions in the Midwest; building an equitable and inclusive Minnesota; and supporting the arts in Minnesota, neuroscience, and international crop research.