GRANT PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATORS
Elizabeth M. Daley has served as Dean of the USC School of Cinematic Arts for 32 years, the longest tenure of any Dean at the University of Southern California. Under her leadership, the school has added three new divisions in Animation and Digital Arts, Interactive Media and Games, and Media Arts + Practice; built the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts; established 33 endowed positions; and formed successful partnerships with a variety of entertainment and technology companies. Before coming to USC, she served as director of the film and television subsidiary of the Mark Taper Forum and was a producer for MGM/Television. She serves on the boards of Avid Technology and the Benton Foundation, and is a former chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Media, Entertainment and Information. She is a member of the Directors Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She holds a Ph.D. in Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin, M.A. and B.A. degrees in Theatre from Tulane University, and an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Hong Kong Baptist University.
Michael Renov is Co-Principal Investigator of the American Film Showcase, Haskell Wexler Endowed Chair in Documentary and 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 Director of International Programs at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. She oversees two major U.S. State Department grant programs and several global media partnerships for the school. She is the Program Director of the American Film Showcase (AFS), the premiere film and TV diplomacy program of the American government, and the Co-Founder of the Middle East Media Initiative (MEMI), an innovative exchange program training top Arab TV writers and producers. She has initiated educational partnerships for the school with the teams at Netflix’s Grow Creative and Walt Disney’s Global Public Policy. Previously, 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.
Sr. Program Manager
Annie Small is the producer of the Oscar® winning documentary short Colette, directed by Anthony Giacchino and released by The Guardian. Annie co-produced Marvel Studios’ documentary feature Director by Night, the award-winning PBS feature documentary Before You Know It and Hulu’s documentary feature Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George’s Creators. She’s also the producer of the Oscar® qualifying New York Times film, OpDoc Dulce, which played at Sundance Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, IDFA and Doc NYC. Annie is the Senior Program Manager of American Film Showcase (AFS) and an Administrative Advisor for the Middle East Media Initiative (MEMI) at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.
Sr. Manager of International Exchanges
Steffan is the American Film Showcase Senior Manager of International Exchanges. Prior to joining the AFS team, Steffan worked for Participant Media, where he worked on such films as Spotlight, The 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 Master’s degree 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.
Curation and Distribution Manager
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. After graduating, he worked at 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. As the Program Coordinator Ben created the digital distribution system AFS uses today. In 2021, Ben was promoted to Curation and Distribution Manager actively scouting for AFS at film festivals, securing rights, managing localization and updating digital security protocol. Additionally, he has led partnerships with major studios to host special screening series of select narrative titles around the world. Ben is an active swimmer, tennis player, ultimate frisbee enthusiast and perfecter of the art of tiramisu.
Muna Shikaki is the Communications Manager at American Film Showcase. Prior to joining AFS, Muna was a television correspondent based in Washington, D.C., where she covered the White House, Congress, presidential campaigns, arts, and culture. Muna is also an Adjunct Professor of Journalism at USC Annenberg, where she teaches community reporting and visual journalism. Muna was a Fulbright fellow and obtained a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She enjoys running by the beach and is a certified wine sommelier.
Sayra Escobar is the Program Coordinator for the American Film Showcase. She has extensive experience in program management and administrative support within educational institutions. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Chicano/a Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles. Following her graduation, Sayra launched her career at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, where she gained valuable insights into program coordination and operational excellence. Building on this foundation, she transitioned to the University of Southern California, further honing her skills in managing diverse programs and fostering educational initiatives.
Alessandro Ago is the Director of Programming and Special Projects at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where he curates industry guest speaker events, workshops, and exhibits, and USC’s flagship screening series, Outside the Box [Office], a prolific year-round film festival dedicated to contemporary international, independent, and documentary cinema. He has taught undergraduate film courses at USC, including Transnational Nightmares, Filmmaking Italian Style, and Italian Genre Cinema and Society. He is also a founding participant of the American Film Showcase, and has traveled on 25 AFS programs since AFS launched in 2012. Both an Italian and American citizen, he grew up in Washington, D.C. and Rome, Italy.