The Story Lab connects regionally-based emerging storytellers and seasoned creators for a three month pre-production mentorship to nurture the art and craft of independent filmmaking. Pairing a storyteller with a clear vision, with a like-minded mentor, MSL seeks to provide the emerging filmmaker with business and creative knowledge, connection and access to the greater independent film community.

Our first Story Lab participant is Yusef Presley, from Wichita, Kansas. In his own words:

I want to raise public awareness of the racial disparities within Kansas’ foster care system, exposing how many youth fall into the foster care-to-prison pipeline. My own experiences reflect the realities: Kansas’ foster care youth lack access to timely and quality healthcare and mental health resources. This project will elevate the voices of youth directly impacted by the foster and juvenile systems through a series of short videos called “Kansas Throwaways: The Mishandling of the Most Vulnerable Youth Population” Telling one’s own story can be empowering for young people who have been harmed by these systems.  I intend to engage other systems-impacted young people in collaborative strategies for change.

Yusef’s mentor is award-winning filmmaker Chris Renteria based in St. Louis, MO. Chris has produced and directed films focusing on social and environmental challenges, and the remarkable people at the center advocating for change in communities across America.

Most recently, he served as cinematographer for the Academy Award nominated and Critic’s Choice Award-winning St. Louis Superman directed by Smriti Mundrah and Sami Kahn (MTV Documentary Films). Magnolia Pictures’ WHOSE STREETS? by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis was Renteria’s first foray as a producer into feature-length documentary films. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017 and was nominated for a Critic’s Choice award, Gotham Award, NAACP Image Award and a Peabody Award.