The Jewish Film Institute provides support and consultations for filmmakers in its residency program who are in various stages of completion on their projects. Our first annual Filmmaker Residency program launched in 2012 to support independent filmmakers creating work that is relevant to Jewish audiences.

The Filmmaker Residency includes:

  • Private office housed in the Ninth Street Independent Film Center
  • Access to Ninth Street’s intimate 80-seat screening room
  • Publicity through JFI’s social media marketing
  • A Meet & Greet with many of the Bay Area’s film industry professionals

If you’re working on a project that you feel might be of interest to the Jewish Film Institute, we want to know about it. To request more information about JFI’s Filmmaker Residency Program, or to submit your work for consideration, please email

2015-2016 Filmmaker in Residence

MAh_boat trimmed_crop HS (1)The 2015-16 JFI Filmmaker in Residence will be Melinda Hess, a Jewish artist, film editor and currently director and producer of documentary and hybrid interactive films. Hess comes to the JFI Filmmaker Residency program from the New Mexico Jewish Historical Society and will be working on the project Letters from Cloudcroft while at Ninth Street Independent Film Center.

About the Project:

Letter From Cloudcroft, a documentary film and it’s associated trans-media and installation project Constructed Memories, explore the intersection between the legacy of Holocaust slave labor and the celebrated American moon landing. The film examines the secret collaboration between the U.S. and captured German Nazis rocket scientists after WWII, resulting in the American space program & NASA. Revealed through two intertwined perspectives, one from a Jewish father writing letters as a 21 year old in 1946 to his parents during his Army assignment in the covert Project Paperclip. Seventy years later, the other from his daughter tracking incidents and leads from the letters, navigating through geographies of place that shape this story, unraveling the complexities of history, collective memory and personal narrative. Challenged by the writings of her father, the filmmaker confronts national & family beliefs, memories and values while questioning moral and ethical decisions of individuals and governments.

About the Filmmaker: 

Melinda Hess is a Jewish artist, film editor and currently Director and producer of documentary and hybrid interactive films. As a young filmmaker, at Kirkland Women’s College and then NYU, Melinda was drawn to documentaries believing they revealed “the truth.” Realizing the subjectiveness of “truth” and the potential to extend linear storytelling, Melinda augmented her story’s fullness by including tangential and related concepts a well as multiple POVs as storytelling threads. This understanding led to an artistic collaboration on her first interactive 16mm/ video disc project, “The Erlking,” exhibited at the 1987 Whitney Museum Biennial and The Beauborg, 1990. This seminal interactive art project ignited a deep interest in non-linear storytelling, building upon her passion for bringing hidden truths to light and shining it in potentially dark places.

From Melinda’s first documentary on the diaries of Pioneer Women of the West, she continues to tell a blend of personal compelling stories providing access to larger universal issues. Her career spans thirty years in film, video and interactive media. Beginning as a news cinematographer, Melinda became an analog film editor, editing award winning documentaries for PBS and associated independent producers. As Convivial Studio’s Director of Time-Based Media in the 1990’s Melinda dove deep into and guided all nonlinear media post-production. In New Mexico, Melinda focuses on art and cultural short-form web videos. While in New Mexico she serendipitously and ironically discovered her father’s 1946 letters from a top secret project in New Mexico to his German Jewish parents in NYC. This discovery inspired her telling a personal and national story of the American space race while connecting the dots between the Holocaust and the manned mission to the moon. This discovery ignited Melinda’s renewal of her Jewish identity and from that was born the hybrid, interactive and installation piece “Constructed Memories.”

Putting together a board of Jewish and space history advisors, Melinda Hess and Patricia Antelles have moved the project forward by participating in the NALIP Producer’s Institute in Santa Fe, professionally archived the letters which will be placed at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum and The Center for Jewish History’s Leo Baeck Institute; received a New Mexico Film Office New Visions Award for their documentary treatment script; and received an NEH/NM humanities grant to produce a filmed symposium and live streamed event, opening the one sealed letter that inspired the film and cross-media projects. This NEH project received special designation as a 2012 New Mexico Centennial Project. In the spirit of transparency they have been given unprecedented access to archives and V-2 missile sites at White Sands Missile Range for research and filming scenes. In 2013 they participated in the Tribeca Film Insitute (TFI) Hackathon in San Francisco, developing their “Illuminated letter manuscripts” prototype. Since then have participated in other TFI Hackathon’s and won the 2015 Tribeca All Access Interactive Prototype grant award with Navajo filmmaker Ramona Emerson. Filmmaker hackathons and their participation in the Coco Conspiracy App Development Group has furthered their proficiency in taking films and interactive to the mobile screen.

Melinda is a board member of the New Mexico Jewish Historical Society.

Former Filmmakers in Residence

David Santamaria

David is a filmmaker and founder of the media collaborative, Early Man Productions. He grew up in New York and currently lives in Oakland, CA. His latest film, Slide Rail Superman, premiered at the SF Indy festival and played at film festivals nationwide. Beginning in September, David began a one year film residency at the Ninth Street IFC Media Arts Incubator program to work on a feature documentary.

David Santamaria works as an editor, colorist and technical consultant on media projects. His recent work as finishing editor on the film, Return Flight will air on PBS in November. He is an Apple Certified Trainer and teaches editing and motion graphics classes throughout the Bay Area.

Meika Rouda

Meika Rouda is a writer/producer based in the Bay Area. Her articles have appeared in the Huffington Post, Underwire Magazine and The Next Family where she is a contributing writer. Meika is a consultant for the Telluride Film Festival and produced the award winning feature film Quality of Life which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival and was distributed in theaters nationwide. She has worked with directors including Robert DeNiro, Spike Lee and Robert Redford. Currently she is a resident filmmaker for the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, directing a short film based on her personal essay on adoption called My Peeps.

My Peeps are Whiteys is an exploration of identity and how we become who we are. Meika Rouda was adopted as a newborn and never knew her biological background until she was in her thirties and trying to make a family of her own. Because she has exotic looks, she often had people tell her what ethnicity they thought she might be, and in turn sometimes took on those identities to see if they fit. After learning of her ethnic background she came to realize that who she identified with was her Jewish adoptive parents more than her biological family’s ethnic make up. Her search engages audiences to consider how they view their own identity and what makes you, you.

Yael Luttwak

Filmmaker Bio: 

Yael LuttwakYael Luttwak is a filmmaker. She is the founder of Slim Peace Groups 501 (C)(3), a non-profit organization that emerged from her documentary film, A Slim Peace, portraying the drama of Israeli and Palestinian women in the first ever weight-loss group involving Jews and Arabs. Yael directed and co-produced A Slim Peace, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2007.

She graduated from the London Film School, where she specialized in directing. Her short films have been widely distributed, among them Hans Rausing and Yitzhak Rabin: 1922-1995.As the recent resident filmmaker of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, Yael completed My Favorite Neoconservative, which showed at the 34th edition of the Festival, and is currently in post-production onVolunteer Alex. She lives in Washington, DC with her son.

Exhibition History:

My Favorite Neoconservative is a documentary that portrays the surreal
power circles of Washington, DC. The main character is the filmmaker’s eccentric father, Edward Luttwak, a conservative strategist who makes a living as a political consultant and military strategist for various US administrations…

The film offers a rare glimpse of intimate Washington politics through a unique father-daughter relationship. Raised in a house overrun by her father’s associates, many of whom still reside in a one-square mile of the Chevy Chase suburb, Yael Luttwak watched Paul Wolfowitz, Michael Ledeen and Richard Perle walk the halls of her childhood home. With unique access, the film reveals the personalities behind the headlines and tells a father-daughter story with a sardonic political twist.

Applying for a Filmmaker Residency

Ninth Street Independent Film Center’s Media Arts Incubator Program offers access to workspace, knowledge sharing, outreach opportunities, networking events, meeting and exhibition space on an annual basis. A home for media arts for over a decade, Ninth Street makes workspaces and shared resources available to individual filmmakers through the Media Arts Incubator Program so that we may nurture groundbreaking independent media projects, sharing our unique collaboration with more of the independent film & media community.

With increased funding from the San Francisco Film Commission, Ninth Street is able to offer this annual (12-month) residency for a one-time enrollment fee of $500 to each participating filmmaker. A total of five filmmaker projects will be selected, with each resident filmmaker provided 100 sq ft of individual workspace, access to all shared spaces and 5 hours of free meeting or exhibition per month in the well-appointed Ninth Street screening room (particularly of value to filmmakers, in production and post-production).

Preference will be given to film projects that align with at least one of our in-house partnering film festivals. To ensure that projects have recognizable social, cultural, artistic value and a strong likelihood of completion the program has been integrated more fully with our in-house cultural film festivals, to increase cross-marketing and authentic collaborative opportunities such as co-sponsored film screenings and leveraging funding for filmmakers with our partner media arts organizations.

The Media Arts Incubator program will include an Advisory Committee with a representative from each Ninth Street film festival – Center for Asian American Media, Festival & Exhibitions Director, Masashi Niwano; Frameline, Director of Exhibition & Programming, Des Buford; Jewish Film Institute, Associate Programmer, Joshua Moore; San Francisco Green Film Festival, Executive Director, Rachel Caplan; and former Ninth Street Executive Director, Skye Christensen . These representatives will be part of the recruitment process, screening for filmmakers who will benefit most from connections with these diverse groups (i.e., Asian, LGBT, Jewish, as well as environmental), responsible for further leveraging film festival resources for resident filmmakers throughout the program period.

Past filmmakers participants have expressed that the program has elevated their status in the film community, lead to additional in-house and outside recognition and resources, aided in securing funding, and provided valuable peer-to-peer interaction.