M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust

Are you an emerging storyteller whose independent voice brings compelling narratives to life?

In partnership with the Windrider Institute, The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust’s Ignite Film Showcase seeks to honor emerging filmmakers with original and existing films that illuminate and explore the human condition with creativity, compassion, and respect.

We are looking for themes that may include resilience, social justice, equality, diversity, freedom, spirituality, peace, dignity, purpose, the triumph of the human spirit, redemption, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Any category of film may be submitted—narrative, comedy, drama, documentary, animation, etc. Films will be chosen more for authentic storytelling and narrative than for production quality. Submissions must be made by individual filmmakers, not organizations.

Six winners will be selected:


2017 Ignite Film Showcase

In partnership with the Windrider Institute, The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust’s Ignite Film Showcase seeks to honor emerging filmmakers with original and existing films that illuminate and explore the human condition with creativity, compassion, and respect.

The following six films were shown at the Leadership Advance Conference, Telling THE Story: Telling YOUR Story, along with a brief interview with each of the filmmakers. The winning filmmakers received a cash prize and will have their films screened at the Windrider Forum, which takes place during the Sundance Film Festival, January 2018.

Gold Medal – Red Folder | Ben Kallam, Director ($3,000 cash prize)

Red Folder is the story of a high school student who has set out to find his teacher’s red folder. Over the course of a single class period, he moves from one classroom to the next, increasingly adrift, until another student forces him to confront the implications of his search.

Ben Kallam is a filmmaker living in Los Angeles, CA. Before pursuing his MBA/MFA in film at NYU, he worked as a high school math teacher in Richmond, CA. These experiences and observations served as the inspiration for much of Red Folder. He is currently working on the script for a feature adaptation and planning to shoot another short film in 2018.

Silver Medal – Riding Grace | Aria Swarr and Dane Christensen, Directors ($2,000 cash prize)

Tony Monroe rides his horse, Grace, five days a week through the most dangerous streets of Fresno, California, in the hope of being a presence for change. His peculiar pursuit began twenty-five years ago with a vision he had of himself riding a dark horse through a gang-controlled neighborhood.

Aria Swarr (www.ariaswarr.com) and Dane Christensen (www.srndpts.com) are filmmakers who joined forces during their studies at Stanford University’s Documentary Film and Video MFA Program. They each have varied experience creating documentary films in such places as Jerusalem, Cuba, Southern Africa, and Denmark.

Bronze Medal – Night Lights | Isabella Issa, Director, and Martha Fellbaum, Producer ($1,000 cash prize)

The director, Isabella Issa, was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. She is passionate about telling true stories that bring awareness and hope to her audience. Night Lights was shot in Sydney Australia and centers around the mystic min min lights. After the loss of their son, a young Australian couple takes a camping trip in an effort to heal, and in the process, finds themselves being haunted by the night sky.

Honorable Mention – The Kite Maker | Brian Wertheim, Director ($500 cash prize)

The Kite Maker (Sona’a Al-Ta’ara Al-Waraqiyya) is the story of a teenager named Peter, told against the backdrop of Egypt’s infamous Garbage City – an innovative community of Coptic rubbish recyclers on the outskirts of Cairo that is often mislabeled as a slum.


Born in 1989 in Los Angeles, Brian Wertheim is a photographer and film maker focusing on documentary work in the Middle East and the Muslim world (www.brianwerthe.im). Since 2014, he has been creating an ongoing body of work centered on Cairo’s Coptic rubbish recyclers. Outside of the Arab world, Brian also focuses on long-term projects in South Central, DTLA, and Northeast LA. He was educated at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Honorable Mention – The Pants Society | Brandon Deepwell, Director ($500 cash prize)

Find out what happens when Reginald shows up to the Pants Society wearing capris.

Brandon Deepwell lives in Langley, B.C. with his beautiful wife, Karina. His love for videography started in middle school when he first borrowed his dad’s old Sony handycam. After high school, he attended Capilano University and graduated with an advanced diploma in motion picture production. Since then he has filmed many weddings, produced one award winning short film along with receiving nominations for others, created corporate pieces, and mini documentaries. He is currently the Creative Video Director at Broadway Church in Vancouver, B.C.

Honorable Mention – Wondrous | Sebastian Rogers, Director ($500 cash prize)

Made for a 2016 Advent service at Imago Dei Community (Sebastian’s home church), “Wondrous” juxtaposes the business of human creativity with the transcendence of God’s creation. It was the second in a series of 3 collaborations with poet Vandoren Wheeler. Music by Michael Blake.

Sebastian Rogers spent 15+ years as a professional record producer before a radical conversion led him to pursue full-time ministry. While working as a communications director at a church, he discovered a talent for telling stories through film. Rogers’ now runs a non-profit film company (pvpdx.com) which makes promotional films for non-profits and ministries, as well as social justice documentaries and liturgical films. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife Catherine and their three foster children.

Full List of Semi-Finalists:

Thank you to all the filmmakers who submitted short films! We had a fantastic response with a lot of wonderful, creative, and powerful films, and are excited to announce the list of semi-finalists.

  • The Advocate | Sean Taylor
  • Bedtime Story | Colin Cabalka
  • Finding Beauty in the Rubble | Paul W. Nethercott
  • The Ghost Next Door | Christopher Bringhurst
  • Humanized | Taylor Bickel
  • Joseon’s Bride | Eleanor Cho
  • The Kite Maker | Brian Wertheim
  • Litterbugs | Cosmo Spada
  • Liv | Josh Weigel
  • Neighbor | Tony Gapastione
  • Night Lights | Isabella Issa, Martha Fellbaum
  • On the Fence | Jared Callahan
  • The Pants Society | Brandon Deepwell
  • Red Folder | Ben Kallam
  • Riding Grace | Aria Swarr, Dane Christensen
  • States of America – Oregon | Brad Barber
  • Stranger Moments | Matt Mead, Laurel Justice, Allison Moix
  • Thanks a Lot | Jared Callahan
  • When the Game Changes | Ashley Young
  • Wondrous | Sebastian Rogers

Submission Information

Anyone may submit a film for consideration. Videos must adhere to the following submission guidelines.

Winning filmmakers agree to send an electronic video file to the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, which may be uploaded and embedded on the Trust’s website for viewing free of charge by the Trust’s network of nonprofit organizations. Filmmakers retain all rights of ownership to their films.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding this contest, feel free to contact us.

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