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2023 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival Awards Jury Announced!

May 9, 2023

We are pleased to announce our #LAAPFF2023 Awards Jury! We’re glad to be in community with these artists! Get to know our individual jurors below:

Estella Owoimaha-Church
Estella is the first-generation of her family born on Tongva Land (for now known as Los Angeles). While identifying as an Angeleno, deeply connected to the lands that raised her, Estella’s roots burrow deep beyond the asphalt of South Central L.A.. Her maternal grandparents are from the villages of Satufia of Savai’i and Saleilua of Upolu, Samoa; her paternal grandparents are from Calabar, Cross River, Nigeria. She transitions into the role of Executive Director at Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC) post nearly two decades of service as an educator. Estella was the first Samoan to be named a finalist for the Global Teacher Prize in 2018 and awarded California Theatre Teacher of 2020. As a Black-Pacific Islander (PI), mother to a Black-PI child, and eldest sister of two Black-PI young men, she holds dear her responsibility to serve generations of past, present, and future. So long as she is capable, Estella will advocate for all those who look like her, step up as co-conspirator for others in the margins, and forge clear paths for young people where there once were none.

Ova Saopeng 
is co-artistic director, producer and theatremaker with Los Angeles based TeAda Productions. He is an accomplished actor, teaching artist and playwright. He is a refugee from Laos and is passionate about elevating the refugee and immigrant experience. Stage creations include: Masters of the Currents, Refugee Nation, Global Taxi Driver and Native Immigrant. Film credits: Pirates of the Caribbean:World’s End, Love is Good, Burmese Refugee, Go to Sleep: A Lao Ghost Story, Warsol, Susu More info or IG:teadaproduction or IG:og_ova

Madeleine Hakaraia de Young (Ngāti Kapu)
is the incoming festival director for Māoriland Film Festival – New Zealand’s International Indigenous Film Festival held each March in Ōtaki, Aotearoa (New Zealand). Māoriland Film Festival is the largest International Indigenous Film Festival in the Southern Hemisphere and is the showcase event of the Māoriland Charitable Trust – a centre of excellence for Māori and Indigenous film and creativity. Located on New Zealand’s Kāpiti Coast, Ōtaki is a vibrant seaside town where Māori culture and language thrives. Māoriland is celebrated for its manaakitanga and community spirit. It is a place where creatives come to heal.
Madeleine is a founding member of Māoriland and leads festival programming. Year-round she supports the work of the MCT as a producer. Supported by a team of rangatahi, she has spent the last 10 years developing and overseeing the implementation of Te Uru Maire – the Māoriland Rangatahi Strategy. Te Uru Maire nurtures rangatahi to find their voice through film and develop the practical skills to tell their unique stories. Over 200 short films have been made through this programme over the last 10 years with over 2,000 participating rangatahi, both in New Zealand and internationally. Madeleine’s work with Te Uru Maire was recognised at the 2021 New Zealander of the Year awards where Madeleine was a semi-finalist for Young New Zealander of the Year.


Kitty Hu
Kitty Hu is a queer Chinese diasporic documentary filmmaker and co-founder/head of development at Shoes Off Media, an intergenerational Asian women-led production co centering storytellers with lived experiences both in front of and behind the lens. As the daughter of immigrants, Kitty’s work applies community-centered documentary tactics to amplify stories at the intersection of justice and human relationships, looking at topics like labor, housing, culture, migration and climate. Her work has been featured on HBO Max, Hulu, CNN+, PBS and her personal short, Golden Boy, played in festivals nationally including DOC NYC and LAAPFF (her fave). She also supports impact and advocacy opportunities at Brown Girls Doc Mafia and is a proud member of the Asian American Documentary Network.

Laci Dent
Laci Dent is a writer/director based in Los Angeles. She is originally from New Orleans, Louisiana. She is a storyteller who builds atmospheric worlds through her passion for unique tales, uncanny characters and dark undertones. Her work has been recognized by many prestigious film and art institutions around the world including The Black List, SFFILM, The California African American Museum and the Museum of Modern Art to list a few. In addition to her filmmaking endeavors, Laci is an assistant professor of Screen Arts at Pepperdine University.

Yasir Masood
I’m a Texas raised and Pakistani born filmmaker creating work that explores migration, masculinity, and identity in Muslim-American communities.
My goal as an artist is to redefine the Muslim image in popular culture, to one that is nuanced, human, and more honest to our experience. I believe in a collaborative approach to filmmaking and I try to apply the working class mentality that I inherited to everything I do.


Maha Chehlaoui
is a classic multi-hyphenate of Filipina-Syrian descent. Raised all over the place, she eventually landed in NY as an actor. In the aftermath of 9/11, the need for empowered Arab and Muslim American voices propelled her into writing, directing, producing and community and institution building. She is now a consultant and producer of award winning theatre and film, as well as Program Director for the Think Tank for inclusion and Equity.

Marie-Reine Velez 
is an arts leader working towards systemic anti-racism and equity through radical empathy, resource sharing, and questioning the status quo. Marie-Reine is the assistant director at USC Visions and Voices where she works with deans, faculty, and students from across the university to produce events, workshops, and programs in the arts and humanities; and a board member of California Presenters. A theatre and music events producer since 2005, Marie-Reine previously worked with TeAda Productions as a producer and general manager, and at Center Theatre Group in the literary department. She has served on both national and regional committees, including the Consortium of Asian American Theatres and Artists ConFest host committee in Los Angeles, the Western Arts Alliance Professional Development Committee, and the California Presenters Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) Committee. Twitter and IG: @mariezpz

Shu Zhu
is a graduate from American Film Institute’s MFA Directing Program. With a special interest on rebellious expressions regarding intersectional identities, Shu has created works that have been showcased at prestigious festivals and institutions around the world, such as Telluride Film Festival, Chinese Young Generation Film Forum, National Museum of Art in Mexico, National Film Archive of India, Jia Zhangke Art Center, among others. As a first generation Chinese Canadian immigrant, Shu aspires to amplify unique AAPI stories and experiences through representation behind and in front of the screen.

Xin Li
Born and raised in China, Xin has lived and studied all over the United States in the past decade, from the Midwest to both coasts. After earning her MFA from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, she has produced documentaries and narrative films that have screened at SXSW, Hot Springs, Aspen Shortfest, DOC NYC, and distributed on The New Yorker, and Short of the Week. A short film she produced, “DEAR MAMA…” won NAACP Image Awards as Outstanding Short-Form in 2023. Xin is a recipient of Film Independent’s Project Involve Producing Fellowship, the Los Angeles Media Fund Fellowship, Visual Communications’s Armed with a Camera Fellowship, and the Netflix Nonfiction Directing/Producing Fellowship. She was part of the inaugural HBOMax x WBD Access Animated Shorts Program. SANTA ANITA, a narrative feature film she’s producing, has been supported by the SFFILM Rainin Grant, ARRAY, Gotham Week Project Market, and the Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Program.

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