Announcing the 2023 Dear Producer Mentees

By Rebecca Green

What a year it is to be a producer. 

Just as COVID protocols lifted and gave some relief to our budgets, the strikes began and froze all momentum. A contraction of the industry is happening all around us, from the studio level to non-profits and film festivals and the usual ways in which we finance and distribute our films are no longer reliable. But producers understand that despite this pressure, original stories need to be told, new perspectives need to be seen and risks need to be taken. 

There could be no better time to have a mentor. 

When I launched the Dear Producer Award, it was important to me to build a mentorship program into the Award to be able to impact the producing community in a broader way. To create a structure of support for the next generation of producers who are entering the business at such a volatile time. 

Each recipient of the Dear Producer Award (Diane Becker, Sarah Kim, Kellen Quinn and Sarah Winshall) was asked to choose an emerging producer to mentor and commit to providing consistent and reliable mentorship for one year. 

I am thrilled to shine a light on the four talented producers who were chosen for this year’s mentorship program. Below you can read more about them and get a glimpse of why their mentor felt drawn to them for this opportunity. 

And I encourage all my fellow producers with a few films under their belt to reach back to emerging producers to offer your support and share your knowledge every now and then. Think of the people who helped you when you were getting your start and and continue that generosity. The future of independent film depends on it.

BRIT FRYER is a New York–based queer and trans producer and director from Chicago’s South Side. His recent credits include Lydia Cornett’s BUG FARM, Maya Cueva’s A REBEL WITHOUT A PAUSE, and Crystal Kayiza’s REST STOP, winner of the Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. He has received essential support from organizations, fellowships, and residencies such as The Sundance Institute, PBS, Creative Culture, Yaddo, GLAAD, Film Fatales, and The Gotham Film and Media Institute. 

Why Kellen Quinn chose Brit as his Mentee…
Brit and I only met recently, but the ease, liveliness and humor in our very first conversation gave me an immediate gut-felt sense of connection. I’m interested in mentorship that involves reciprocity – a chance for growth for everyone involved – and I see in Brit a fellow filmmaker driven by compassion, curiosity and generosity, all of which mean a great deal to me. That we’re in distinct career phases and have plenty of differences in our lived experiences simply makes the possibilities of mutual learning much richer. We’re working with and through many of the same kinds of questions in our respective projects and careers and I’m excited and grateful that the coming year will allow us to dig and explore together.

Detroit born and New York made, FELICIA HARDEN makes films that inspire her as a black woman. Trained as an occupational therapist at the prestigious Howard University many moons ago, Felicia volunteered as an actor for directors taking a master level directing for film class with the esteemed Ethiopian Filmmaker Haile Germia. Feeling like she won the lottery for so many reasons, she started to pursue a career as an actress in DC. Discontent with options behind and in front of the camera, she formed a production company with two of her best friends and she started to produce their work.

In 2014, Felicia was diagnosed with breast cancer and decided to go to film school at City College of New York where her focus became more clear. Felicia is most proud of her thesis film, JANUARY 30TH that she uses as an opener to talk to black women about health. She is currently teaching Film Producing at her alma mater, CCNY. Felicia has been working on a feature documentary, HAPI — falling in love with Egypt and learning about her history, which has opened pathways to herself that she never knew existed.

Why Sarah Kim chose Felicia as her Mentee…
I’ve known Felicia for ten years now and have always admired her approach and zeal for life. She’s an incredible woman and mother of two, breast cancer survivor and talented filmmaker. She’s embarking on producing her first feature and I’m excited to support her in the inevitable ups and downs of this filmmaking journey. We share similar values of bringing work to our communities and doing so in creative and independent ways.

EJ LYKES is a rising film and television producer. She is a captivating storyteller with ten years of experience creating content that resonates with diverse audiences. Originally from New York City, EJ started her career at HBO then relocated to Los Angeles in 2017 to continue to develop her career. Some of her credits include the documentary SOUL OF A CITY, Kevin Garrett’s PULLING ME UNDER music video, and the web series MAX OUT.

Why Diane Becker chose EJ as her Mentee…
I really wanted to find a mentee who is at a point in their life and career where they needed someone to see all the potential and value they have as a storyteller and a producer, but maybe haven’t quite met their community yet or had the chance to really flex their skills fully into the industry yet because I know that I would not be where I am today without a few people who saw that potential in me. EJ is someone who has a fascinating background, has lived a lot of life, and has been in and out and around the industry but is now looking to sharpen her skills as a producer and take all of those seeds of inspiration and experience and plant a creative garden. I’m looking forward to helping her bridge all her experience into a life and career path so she can fly.

LEXI TANNENHOLTZ is a producer based in NYC. Lexi most recently produced Shudder’s BAD THINGS by Stewart Thorndike starring Gayle Rankin and Molly Ringwald which premiered at the Tribeca Festival 2023. She also produced Utopia Films’ CHESTNUT by Jac Cron starring Natalia Dyer (NewFest 2023) and BOOGER by Mary Dauterman (Fantasia 2023). She is also an executive producer on Grace Glowicki’s sophomore feature DEAD LOVER. Lexi participated in the invite only Tribeca Festival Creators Market in both 2022 and 2023 and is a 2022 Film Independent Producing Lab Fellow. 

Her films have screened at Sundance, SXSW and Outfest and she has worked in partnership with Netflix, FX, Comedy Central and Adult Swim. Other work includes THE DREAM on Hulu, Chris Gethard’s docu stand-up special, HALF MY LIFE on Amazon and a BROAD CITY documentary which premiered at the 92nd Street Y in conversation with Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobson and Whoopi Goldberg. 

Why Sarah Winshall chose Lexi as her Mentee…
Lexi and I met through mutual friends and collaborators, and it was a fast friendship – she and I have a shared language and relate to each other easily. I wanted to mentor someone who makes films I want to see, and the films and collaborators she is drawn to are as funny, strange, and exciting as she is. I also was looking for someone who understands the large commitment required of a producer, but still wants to do the job anyways, and who, like me, is interested in finding balance in this career. Lexi is hardworking, thoughtful, discerning, and exactly the kind of oddball this industry needs.