A jury consisting of veterans and notables of the film and entertainment industry will judge all entries for creativity, quality and originality.

2023 Jury

Mark Amin – Jury Chair

Mark Amin is currently the CEO of Sobini Films, a motion picture production and financing company. Through Sobini Films, Amin has produced a diverse slate of feature films, including THE PRINCE & ME, PEACEFUL WARRIOR, and his directorial debut, EMPEROR, which was nominated for two NAACP Image Awards, most notably Outstanding Independent Motion Picture. Upcoming projects include NELLIE BLY, starring Chloe Grace Moretz in the leading role, and ZORRO 2.0, a futuristic reboot of the lucrative Zorro franchise starring Gael García Bernal. Mr. Amin served as Vice Chairman and member of the board of directors of Lionsgate Entertainment from 2000 to 2009. Prior to his work with Lionsgate and Sobini, Amin founded Trimark Holdings, Inc. and served as the company’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. Under Amin’s leadership, Trimark soon developed into one of the entertainment industry’s leading independent production and distribution companies. Amin’s past credits include the critically acclaimed EVE’S BAYOU and FRIDA, which was nominated for five Oscars and won two. In addition to film production, he is actively involved in the acquisition and development of pistachio and almond orchards in central California, with more than 8,000 acres under management. Mr. Amin holds a BA degree in Economics from the University of Kansas and an MBA from UCLA.

Desiree Akhavan

Desiree AkhavanFilmmaker Desiree Akhavan is best known for her feature debut APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR as well as THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST, which won the 2018 Sundance Grand Jury Award. More recently she co-wrote, directed and starred in the Hulu original series, THE BISEXUAL. As a television director, Akhavan’s worked on a breadth of shows including HACKS, RAMY and the upcoming TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS.

Lily Amir-Arjomand

Lily Amir-ArjomandLily Amir-Arjomand, is the visionary founder and champion behind one of the most progressive institutions for the culture, education and creativity of children and young adults, known as Kanoon in Iran.

The Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, commonly referred to as Kanoon, was involved in various cultural and artistic activities. Ms. Amir Arjomand was also at some point the Director of the National University Library of Iran, the National Iranian Oil Company Library, and an associate professor at Tehran University; she formed Kanoon by building a network of permanent and mobile libraries across Iran to promote culture and education to children and young adults.

Created in 1965, Kanoon had become a prolific cultural producer by 1969, involving itself in everything from book publishing and book illustration to film making, animation, theater, film festivals, and conferences. The organization was at the center of the vanguard of cultural production in Iran through the 1970s, serving as the platform through which many of Iran’s most highly regarded creative minds launched their careers. Kanoon quickly became a creative incubator that offered unprecedented freedom and support to an incredible group of artists, many of whom worked across different media, including filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, graphic designer Morteza Momayez, animator Noureddin Zarrinkelk, and painter Ali Akbar Sadeghi. Kanoon remains the single most important cultural and educational network for children in Iran.

Maryam Keshavarz

Maryam KeshavarzMaryam Keshavarz is an Iranian-American writer, director, and producer.

Her first narrative feature, CIRCUMSTANCE, won the Audience Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, best debut film at the Rome Film Festival, the Audience Award at Outfest, and a dozen other awards. The critically acclaimed film was released by Participant Medic and Roadside Attractions. Maryam’s sophomore feature VIPER CLUB starring Academy Award Winner Susan Sarandon had its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival 2018 and was released theatrically by Roadside Attractions. THE PERSIAN VERSION, an epic dramedy of migration, family, and the secrets we keep, that traverses decades and toggles between the United States and Iran, is Maryam’s third feature premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival in Main US Competition. THE PERSIAN VERSION won rave reviews as well as the Audience Award and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, making Keshavarz the only director in Sundance history to win the Audience Award twice. THE PERSIAN VERSION was acquired by Sony Picture Classics and will be distributed theatrically in Fall 2023.

Roya Rastegar

Roya RastegarRoya Rastegar is a curator and award-winning filmmaker. Her retrospective film series on the “Black New Realism” wave in the 1990s is currently on at the American Cinematheque through May 2023. Rastegar is the writer of QueenMaker (2023), in collaboration with director Zackary Drucker, and magical realist documentary Wildness (2012), in collaboration with MacArthur Genius fellow, director Wu Tsang. Her producing credits include Cypher, a hybrid documentary/fiction starring Tierra Whack (World Premiere, Tribeca 2023); romantic comedy fiction feature Venus as a Boy (Tribeca Film Festival 2021); docu-series The Legacy of Black Wall Street (OWN 2021); and Gaga: Five Foot Two (2018) the acclaimed documentary portrait of Lady Gaga. With over two decades of programming experience from Sundance to Tribeca, Rastegar has collaboratively curated the film debuts of the most celebrated directors working today. She serves on the editorial board of SEEN, a journal of film and visual culture focused on Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities globally, published by BlackStar Projects. Rastegar earned her Ph.D. from the History of Consciousness under the guidance of Angela Y. Davis, Jacqueline Bobo, and B. Ruby Rich. She is a first-generation Iranian-American raised in Atlanta, Georgia.

Necar Zadegan

Necar Zadegan

Necar Zadegan is a versatile actress known for a career on stage and screen. She made her Broadway debut in the original cast of Rajiv Joseph’s Pulitzer Prize nominated and multi Tony award accoladed “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” opposite Robin Williams. She is well known to audiences for her beloved roles in American television, most notably “24”, “Girlfriends Guide to Divorce”, “NCIS:New Orleans” and “Masters of Sex” to name a few. She currently stars opposite Jeremy Renner in the critically acclaimed series “Mayor of Kingstown” streaming now on Paramount Plus and is also starring in the upcoming Miramax feature film “Inheritance”.

Ms. Zadegan has worked at some of the worlds most prestigious theaters including The Richard Rogers Theater NY, The Mark Taper Forum LA, the Royal Dramatic Theater of Stockholm and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival among others.

She was born in Heidelberg, Germany to Iranian parents and raised in San Francisco. She attended the University of California, Santa Barbara on a performance scholarship and graduated with honors and a BA degree in English Literature. She also studied at the Sorbonne University in Paris. She speaks Persian, French and German and has learned Arabic, Hebrew and Spanish while working in those languages.

Necar is currently an ambassador for and travels with them around the world building schools for children.