Principal Investigators and Staff


Alan Baker

Since 2009, Alan has served as the Associate Dean, Administration & International Projects at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.  Since 2011, when Baker co-launched the American Film Showcase at USC, he has been its co-Principal Investigator as well as  a Co-PI for the Middle East Media Initiative, also funded by the U.S. Department of State.  He is the project director of the Netflix Africa project to train African filmmakers, writers, producers, and instructors, and coordinates a consulting agreement with NEOM in Saudi Arabia.  Baker has negotiated and initiated numerous multi-year consulting and workshop agreements with educational institutions and companies in China, Malaysia, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Jordan, among others. He spent more than 25 years in television programming and production at 20th Century Fox Television and earlier at Paramount Television.  Between 1982 and 1984, he was the press and publicity manager for the 10-week Olympic Arts Festival for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Mark J. Harris

Mark Jonathan Harris is the Distinguished Professor and Co-Head of Advanced Documentary Production at SCA and has taught filmmaking at SCA since 1983. Among his many works are The Redwoods, which won an Oscar for Best Short Documentary; The Long Way Home, which won the Academy Award for Best Feature Length Documentary; Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport, which also won an Academy Award for Best Feature Length Documentary; Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives, an Emmy-nominated HBO documentary; and Darfur Now, which won an NAACP Image Award. Mark is a Principal Investigator of the American Film Showcase Grant and traveled to China with AFS in 2012, and Vietnam in 2013.

Michael Renov

Michael Renov is Co-Principal Investigator of the American Film Showcase, the Vice Dean for Academic Affairs at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, and a leading scholar on theory of documentaries. In 1993, he co-founded Visible Evidence; an international and interdisciplinary documentary studies conferences that have been held on four continents. He is the author of several books, including Hollywood’s Wartime Women: Representation and Ideology, and The Subject of Documentary. In addition to curating documentary programs around the world, he has served as a jury member at documentary festivals including Sundance, Silverdocs, the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival and Brazil’s It’s All True.


Rachel Gandin Mark

Rachel Gandin Mark is the Program Director of the American Film Showcase, and the SCA Director of International Programs. She has overseen the day-to-day of the AFS grant since its inception, building the AFS team and significantly expanding the scope and reach of the program.  Before coming to AFS in 2011, Rachel was the sole producer of Disney’s first Arabic-language feature, The United, released internationally in 2013, served for many years as Creative Consultant for the Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters Lab in Jordan, and founded the Arab Film Festival in Los Angeles.  She received an M.A. in Arabic from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, a B.A. in International Development from UCLA, and lived in Cairo for many years. Rachel has spoken on film diplomacy at the Paley Center for Media, the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, and at the Writers Guild of America (WGA). Between 2012 and 2017, she traveled with AFS to Angola, South Africa, Burundi, Russia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Japan, Laos, Israel, Paraguay, Algeria, Egypt, Georgia, Canada, and Lithuania.

Steffan Horowitz

Steffan is the American Film Showcase Programming Senior Manager. Prior to joining the AFS team, Steffan worked for Participant Media, where he had the opportunity to work on such films as SpotlightThe Look of Silence, and An Inconvenient Sequel, among others. Before that, he worked for the New York African Film Festival at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, as well as in the Human Rights Program of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Indiana University. Since joining the AFS team in 2016, Steffan has traveled with AFS to Jordan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazil, the Faroe Islands, and Malaysia, among other places. 

Annie Small

Annie Small is the Senior Program Manager for the American Film Showcase. For over a decade Annie has worked as an independent documentary film producer. She is the producer of the Oscar® winning documentary short COLETTE, directed by Anthony Giacchino and released by The Guardian and the producer of Guille Isa and Angello Faccini’s Oscar® qualifying documentary short DULCE, released by The New York Times OpDocs. Skilled in distribution & marketing, Annie has helped raise nearly $1.6 million via crowdfunding for dozens of film projects. Annie is passionate about using film and storytelling to create positive social impact. She is co-founder of OUTsider Festival, Austin’s queer multi-arts festival and academic conference, and a member of New Day Films, the longest-running distribution cooperative for independent documentary filmmakers.

Alessandro Ago

AFS Programming Consultant and SCA Director of Programming and Special Projects. Alex has extensive experience and expertise in programming film screenings, festivals, guest speakers and special events. Both an Italian and American citizen, he grew up in Washington D.C. and Rome, Italy. He holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the USC School of Cinematic Arts Critical Studies division.

Nestor Vences

Nestor is the American Film Showcase Communications Manager. Nestor’s career in entertainment communications has taken him through the halls of companies such as CAA, Sony, and Fox. Nestor’s passion for media and entertainment industry has allowed him to be exposed to all aspects of production. He majored in Mass Communications at the University of California, Berkeley. Since he started working at AFS in 2015 he has traveled to Thailand, Benin, France, Algeria, Peru, Colombia, Kuwait, and Bahrain.

Ben Chance

Ben is the American Film Showcase Curation and Distribution Manager. He grew up on an almond farm in California’s Central Valley before moving to Los Angeles to attend the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Upon graduating, he began working at The Gersh Agency before moving to United Talent Agency (UTA). During his time at UTA he learned about film finance and packaging as well as motion picture literary representation. He subsequently volunteered as a videographer with the Collateral Repair Project NGO in Amman, Jordan before joining AFS.