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2019 FilmNorth Forum

September 14, 2019 @ 9:30 am - 5:00 pm

The FilmNorth Forum is our annual presentation of topics that are being discussed by industry influencers and thought leaders. The 2019 Forum features an impressive lineup, including Oscar®-winning documentarians Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt; Emmy nominee The Celluloid Closet; Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice), Samantha Buck and Marie Schlingmann (2019 Sundance hit Sister Aimee), Jessica Sanders (Director, End of the Line), Philip Gilpin, Jr. (Executive Director, Catalyst Content Festival), Emmy-nominated TV writer/producer Caissie St. Onge (Busy Tonight; Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen; The Rosie O’Donnell Show), Emmy-nominated producer/writer/director Angela Tucker (AfroPop: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange), Ryan Koo (Director, Netflix Original Film Amateur; The West Side, Webby Award-winner for Best Drama Series), Shannon Gibson, Executive Producer of the influential platform Refinery29, and producer Christine Walker (American Splendor; Howl; Thin Ice). While each panel addresses a host of topics, one recurring theme is how regional artists can create sustainable filmmaking careers in The North.

The FilmNorth Forum has been bringing acclaimed filmmakers and industry executives to Minnesota for decades. Past guests include Sundance Film Festival Director John Cooper; producers Christine Vachon (Far From Heaven), Effie Brown (Real Women Have Curves), Mynette Louie (The Invitation), Nekisa Cooper (Pariah), and Mary Jane Skalski (Wilson); directors Justin Simien (Dear White People), David Zellner (Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter), Musa Syeed (A Stray), and Anne Sundberg (Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work); film festival programmers from Sundance, Tribeca, SXSW, Montclair, and Full Frame; as well as distributors, agents, publicists, and actors. The FilmNorth Forum is the region’s premier, annual film gathering.

(Doors open at 9:30am – coffee and refreshments served.)

10:00-11:10 am: A Conversation with Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Oscar®-winning documentarians Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman discuss their astonishing careers with FilmNorth Executive Director Andrew Peterson – sharing clips, war stories, and insights into their artistic process. Rob and Jeffrey’s films have been honored with two Academy Awards®, five Emmy Awards, and three Peabody Awards. A must-see event for anyone making, or interested in, documentary films.

11:15 am-12:25 pm: Meet the Funders: Regional Grants           
A special event with leading foundations and grantors that invest in Minnesota filmmakers, featuring Eleanor Savage of the Jerome Foundation, Sherrie Fernandez-Williams of the Minnesota State Arts Board, Bethany Whitehead of the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC), and Eric Mueller, representing the McKnight Foundation. If you’ve ever had a question about grants available to filmmakers, what differentiates an emerging from a mid-career artist, or how to choose the perfect work sample you won’t want to miss this panel.

12:30-1:25 pm: Lunch

1:30-2:40 pm: Independent Series 101
More and more, independent voices are being featured and discovered through independent series, with episode run times varying between a few minutes to an hour. Sponsored by Minnesota’s newest festival, Catalyst Content in Duluth, and featuring industry veterans, this panel will dive into the rapidly changing world of independent series development and production. Panelists are uniquely qualified to share insights into trends, platforms, genres and more. Featuring showrunner Caissie St. Onge, producer/writer/director Angela Tucker, and moderated by Catalyst Content Executive Director Philip Gilpin, Jr.

2:45-3:55 pm: New Voices in Film
Every director has a first film—but how is it different when you make the transition from another film role: an actor stepping behind the camera or a documentarian creating a narrative film? What special insights into the creative process do these artists have? This panel will explore the special challenges any director faces and also addresses the unique transition from one filmmaking discipline to another. Featuring Sister Aimee directors Samantha Buck and Marie Schlingmann, End of the Line director Jessica Sanders, and executive Shannon Gibson of the influential platform Refinery29. Moderated by producer Christine Kunewa Walker.

4:00-5:00 pm: Keynote Conversation: DIY Filmmaking
No Film School founder and CEO Ryan Koo will share insights into building a successful, sustainable career—including case studies of his Netflix feature film Amateur and Webby Award winning series The West Side.

5:00-6:00 pm: Reception at Lake Monster Brewing


Forum Location: St. Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN), 550 Vandalia Street, Suite 170, St. Paul (next-door to FilmNorth – see parking/building map at bottom of page)

Price: $90 general public/$75 FilmNorth members

Registration Includes

  • Conversations and panels September 14
  • Access to industry leaders and innovators
  • Free preview screening of Sister Aimee, Friday, September 13 @ 7pm, Walker Art Center (directors Samantha Buck and Marie Schlingmann present)
  • Morning coffee and pastries September 14
  • Lunch provided by The Naughty Greek September 14
  • Free parking at Vandalia Tower


(Online registration has closed. Walkup registrations will be available on Saturday.)



Samantha Buck and Marie Schlingmann are a married writing and directing duo. Their short films The Mink Catcher and Canary have played at Telluride, SXSW, Palm Springs Shortsfest, Provincetown, and others. Samantha has a background in documentary film and directed the Peabody award-winning documentary Best Kept Secret (New York Times Critic’s Pick, closing film for the PBS series POV, nominated for a Gotham Independent Film Audience Award). She was also a recipient of the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Fund grant and The Adrienne Shelly’s Foundation Grant for Female Directors. Marie is from Berlin and has a background in photography, gender and sexuality studies, and political campaign ads. She was a recipient of the David Jones Memorial Award for Best Director and the ASCAP Scoring Fellowship. Together, Samantha and Marie co-wrote and co-directed Sister Aimee, which premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and are in development on the series The Big D with producer Bettina Barrow and Lily Rabe.

Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have been working in movies and television for over 30 years. Their work as directors, writers, producers, and editors has been honored with two Academy Awards®, five Emmy Awards, and three Peabody Awards. They have had career retrospectives at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, the Taipei International Film Festival in Taiwan, the Cinémathéque Québécoise in Montreal, and the Pink Apple Film Festival in Zurich. Film credits include The Times of Harvey Milk, Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, The Celluloid Closet, Paragraph 175, State of Pride, And the Oscar Goes to, the short documentaries The Hell-Raiser and End Game, and the narrative feature films Howl and Lovelace. They own the media production company Telling Pictures.

Sherrie Fernandez-Williams earned her MFA in Writing from Hamline University. She is an author, teacher and arts administrator who serves in the role of Program Officer at the Minnesota State Arts Board where she facilitates the Artist Initiative and Cultural Community Partnership Grants. Sherrie is a former recipient of an Artist Initiative Award through the Minnesota State Arts Board, a Beyond the Pure Fellowship and SASE/Jerome Grant through Intermedia Arts, a Loft Mentor Series winner, a Jones’ Commission Award recipient through the Playwrights’ Center, and a Givens Black Writers Collaborative Fellow. 

Shannon Gibson is the Vice President of Scripted Originals at Refinery29, the original next-generation women’s media company. Over the past four years Shannon has spearheaded Refinery29’s expansion into film and television, overseeing development and original production, including Facebook Watch’s first late-night show After After Party, Strangers (which first premiered at Sundance in 2016), and Refinery29’s award-winning female helmed short film series Shatterbox. Currently in its third season, Shatterbox continues to incubate and launch new talent with films from the first three seasons accepted into over 50 global festivals with numerous awards. Prior to Refinery29, Shannon worked alongside Morgan Spurlock at his production company Warrior Poets, bringing her passion for mission driven storytelling to life by producing three seasons of CNN’s Inside Man, Showtime’s 7 Deadly Sins, and Hulu’s A Day in the Life.

Before beginning as Executive Director of the Catalyst Content Festival (now based in Duluth, MN) in 2012, Philip Gilpin, Jr. was a Business Affairs Analyst at HBO in Los Angeles where he worked with the financial and contract components of titles such as The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and The Wire. He also recently served on the Board of Governors of the Boston/New England Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Philip was born and raised in Boston, with a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Mathematics from Boston College.

Ryan Koo’s directorial debut, Amateur, is a 2018 Netflix Original Film starring Michael Rainey Jr. (Power, Luv), Josh Charles (The Good Wife, Sports Night), Sharon Leal (Addicted, Dreamgirls), and Brian White (Ray Donovan, Scandal). Koo’s screenplay for Amateur was selected for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, multiple Sundance grants, a Tribeca Film Institute grant, and Film Society of Lincoln Center and IFP programs. For his web series The West Side, Koo won the Webby Award for Best Drama Series, and he was named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Film. Koo is also the Founder and CEO of the popular filmmaking website No Film School, which won Total Film’s Best Creative Blog award and averages millions of readers a month.

Eric Mueller oversees the McKnight Fellowships for Media Artists program at FilmNorth. He has worked in the Twin Cities as a filmmaker, producer, and photographer for 30 years. As a filmmaker he has received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Film Institute, the Bush Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, and the Minnesota State Arts Board. His 1993 feature film, World and Time Enough, won Best Picture at Frameline’s San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and is distributed by Strand Releasing. As a producer, he worked at Motion504, Splice, Gasket Studios, and HDMG; he was also director of production for the Minnesota Film Board from 1999-2001. As a photographer, his work has shown in multiple group shows, including the Plains Art Museum, The Midwest Center for Photography, Head On Photo Festival, and the Columbus Museum of Art. His first photography book, Family Resemblance, will be published by Daylight Books next spring. 

Andrew Peterson received his MFA from NYU Graduate Film School, where he was named Best Director and Best Screenwriter. His short films have played at numerous film festivals, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences (AMPAS), the American Film Institute (AFI), Directors Guild of America (DGA), and on US and British television. His first producing credit was for World and Time Enough, which won the Audience Award at the Frameline Film Festival and was distributed by Strand Releasing. From 2008-2012 he was VP of Production for Werc Werk Works where he co-produced writer/director-driven films including Howl, directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman; Life During Wartime, directed by Todd Solondz; Thin Ice, directed by Jill Sprecher; and Darling Companion, directed by Lawrence Kasdan. Andrew has dedicated his career to supporting filmmakers through his work as Executive Director of FilmNorth, Director of Programing for the Provincetown Film Festival, as a film professor at Middlebury and Macalester Colleges, and as a consultant. 

Caissie St. Onge was the Showrunner, Executive Producer and a writer of E!’s late night talk show, Busy Tonight, hosted by Busy Philipps and Executive Produced by Tina Fey. St. Onge joined Busy Tonight after nine years as Co-Executive Producer of Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen. She started her career at The Late Show with David Letterman and was a writer on all six years of The Rosie O’Donnell Show for Warner Brothers. St. Onge has been a writer and producer on VH1’s cult classic, Best Week Ever! and has worked with BBC star Graham Norton on several shows in the US and the UK. She has also written for several awards shows, including the Tonys and the Grammys, children’s television shows, including The Wonder Pets and the Sesame Street 30th anniversary special, as well as writing live material for beloved performers, including Joan Rivers and Bette Midler. St. Onge is a multiple Emmy nominee.

Jessica Sanders is an Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker and award-winning commercial director. Steve Jobs hand-picked Jessica to direct Apple’s national iPad launch campaign. Jessica directed the documentary After Innocence, a game-changer in criminal justice reform, about wrongfully convicted men cleared by DNA. The film won the Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize and was short-listed for the Academy Awards®. Jessica directed and produced her latest narrative short film End of the Line, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival for Refinery29’s Shatterbox Film Series. The visual effects-heavy film is about a lonely man who goes to the pet store and buys a tiny man in a cage, exploring themes of power and its abuse. Jessica is currently directing the scripted feature film Picking Cotton, based on the New York Times Best Seller and a story from her film After Innocence, financed and produced by Sidney Kimmel Entertainment. Picking Cotton is the riveting true story of Jennifer Thompson, a Southern white college student who was violently raped at knifepoint, and Ronald Cotton, the black man she mistakenly identified as her attacker in a lineup. After spending 11 years in prison, Ronald was exonerated and freed by DNA evidence. Jennifer and Ronald have since forged a friendship and together are activists for criminal justice reform.

Eleanor Savage is Program Director of the Jerome Foundation, which seeks to contribute to a dynamic and evolving culture by supporting the creation, development, and production of new works by early career artists. Savage has focused much of her work in the field of arts philanthropy as an advocate for racial equity and undoing racism. She is one of the founding members of the Racial Equity Funder Collaborative, a Minnesota-based learning and action cohort focused on furthering equity and justice in philanthropy. She recently authored the collaboratively developed RE-Tool: Racial Equity in the Panel Process, a discussion tool to encourage racial equity in the review and selection process. Savage is a co-chair for GIA’s Support for Individual Artists Committee and is on the GIA Board of Directors. Previously, she was the Associate Director of Events and Media Production at Walker Art Center for 16 years. As a queer, civic-minded, anti-racist producer, Savage instigated many community-focused, artist-centered programs in the Twin Cities, supporting artists in all creative disciplines. Savage received an MFA in Arts Management from Virginia Tech and a BFA in Psychology and Theater from Mercer University.

Angela Tucker is an Emmy-nominated producer, writer and director. She is in her ninth year on the PBS strand, AfroPop: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange, now as a Co-Executive Producer and is currently producing Belly Of The Beast (dir. Erika Cohn). Her directorial work includes All Styles, a narrative feature that aired on Showtime starring Fik-Shun (So You Think You Can Dance) and Heather Morris (Glee); All Skinfolk, Ain’t Kinfolk, a documentary short about a mayoral election in New Orleans that won the New Perspective Award at Indie Grits Film Festival; Black Folk Don’t, a documentary web series that was featured in Time Magazine’s “10 Ideas That Are Changing Your Life”; and (A)Sexual, a feature length documentary about people who experience no sexual attraction that streamed on Netflix and Hulu. Angela was the Director of Production at Big Mouth Films, a social issue documentary production company. There, she produced several award-winning documentaries. Her production company, TuckerGurl Inc, is passionate about telling stories that highlight underrepresented communities. Tucker was a Sundance Institute Women Filmmakers Initiative fellow and is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Tulane University. She received her MFA in Film from Columbia University and her BA from Wesleyan University.

Christine Kunewa Walker is the CEO and Executive Director of the Provincetown Film Society and an award-winning feature film producer. She is also the former President of Werc Werk Works, a finance production company specializing in independent feature film production. As a film producer her credits include: Stay Then Go, directed by Shelli Ainsworth, Darling Companion (Sony Pictures Classics), The Turin Horse (awarded the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize and the Fipresci International Press Prize at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival), the Sundance Film Festival premiere film Thin Ice, Howl directed by Academy Award®-winning directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, and the Todd Solondz directed Life During Wartime (Best Screenplay winner at the Venice Film Festival in 2010). Christine also co-wrote and produced Older Than America, Factotum starring Matt Dillon, and line produced the Academy Award®-nominated American Splendor. Awards include the National Board of Review Freedom of Expression Award for Howl, Producer’s Guild of America Diversity Award, the McKnight Feature Film Development Award, Independent Spirit Award nomination for best producer, and the Distinguished Alumni Award from The University of Utah.

Bethany Whitehead has been an engaged arts administrator for the past fifteen years, serving in a variety of roles at Twin Cities arts organizations. Since 2016 she has served as the Program & Communications Director at the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, where she manages five of the grant programs, the training program, and all communications effort for the organization. Additionally, she serves as Vice President for FilmNorth’s board. You’ll find her on Sunday nights helping lost travelers at MSP airport, and her other hobbies include travel, reading, sewing, and biking.


Past Forum Testimonials
Great topics covered by knowledgeable, credible experts. Well done!
My favorite aspect of the Forum was the diversity of participants – the inclusion of women and people of color.
The guest speakers were well-experienced and provided good insight.
I loved having access to talk with the panelists.
I liked hearing each filmmaker’s journey because it showed that there are multiple ways to achieve filmmaking goals.
The guest speakers were excellent, and each gave their own diverse spin on the topics.