A development lab for the next generation of black, independent filmmakers

This inaugural class was identified for their talents as well as their passion for filmmaking. We’re excited to be presenting you some of the projects they develop as members of this cohort.

EYES ON THE PRIZE CREATIVES: The Eyes on the Prize project grant recipients are New Orleans based creatives identified for their committed pursuit of their own independent projects. BFFNO is helping to make their projects a reality by providing financial assistance, in kind resources and the talents of the academy members of the Level Up collective.

Stacey L’air
Level Up Program Coordinator


Melany Cutno is a screenwriter, director, and actress born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. She is passionate about highlighting the stories of black and brown people worldwide and giving them a platform to stand on. Melany draws inspiration from her community of family members and fellow creatives. She has PA’d on several film sets and interned for the Department of Motion Pictures (DOMP) in New Orleans. Ms. Cutno understands the importance of film in history and how it can shift a generation by transforming the lens through which stories are told. She plans to continue expanding her filmmaking knowledge and diversifying her entertainment industry skillset.
Cristian Sanchez: dedicated emerging filmmaker and storyteller Immerse yourself in the story of Cristian Sanchez, a graduate of Tulane University where he majored in Communications and demonstrated exceptional athletic prowess as a baseball pitcher. Cristian’s journey is not just about academic and athletic achievements; it’s a narrative rich with passion and creativity. From the discipline and teamwork of baseball to the imaginative realms of theater and film, Cristian’s path is marked by a relentless pursuit of storytelling. In college, he displayed his natural flair for drama, not only writing but also playing the lead in a play, showcasing his ability to captivate and connect with an audience. As he forges his path in the film industry, Cristian brings a wealth of stories and ideas, eager to be brought to life on screen. His experience in acting adds a layer of authenticity to his storytelling, allowing him to delve deeply into the characters and narratives he creates. Cristian’s passion for cinema spans various genres and styles, embodying his belief in the limitless potential of storytelling. He finds inspiration in filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and Jordan Peele, who are known for their innovative approaches to narrative and film.
Joining the filmmaker collective lab in New Orleans, Cristian is set to infuse his work with the same tenacity and creativity he showed on the field and stage. He aims to explore new dimensions in filmmaking, bringing unique, emotionally resonant stories to audiences. Cristian Sanchez is more than a filmmaker; he is a storyteller at heart, ready to make his indelible mark. 
Lea Trusty is an aspiring screenwriter, producer, and director who aims to tell funny, tender, and sometimes scary stories about the complexity of Black womanhood through her filmmaking. Lea finished writing her first feature, a holiday romance set in New Orleans, last year, and is now working on her second. She also co-produced a horror short, which is currently in post-production. In her day job, Lea leads the Journalism and Power Building portfolio for Democracy Fund, a private foundation based in Washington, D.C. This work centers on investing in news outlets led by and serving communities of color, as well as supporting the leadership, collective power, and wellness of journalists from historically marginalized backgrounds. Prior to this role, Lea was a public radio reporter in Connecticut. She is from Saint Rose, a small town right outside New Orleans, and lives in the city. In her free time, she enjoys gardening on sunny days, practicing yoga, or catching a movie at The Broad.
Olivia is a storyteller, poet, theologian, diviner, and barista and filmmaker. They are from Dayton Ohio, new to New Orleans and in love with the spirit of Bulbancha. She graduated from Ohio University with a double bachelors having studied screenwriting and producing and African American studies. She obtained her Master of Divinity from Drew University. Olivia has a love for making documentaries, writing choreo poem scripts and watching time warping sci-fi.
I am an aspiring filmmaker with the ambition to capture the voice of films that audience can relate too. I have a newfound interest in storytelling that I want to show through the lens.

2024 Eyes on the Prize Scholars

The Eyes on the Prize project grant recipients are New Orleans based creatives identified for their committed pursuit of their own independent projects. BFFNO is helping to make their projects a reality by providing financial assistance, in kind resources and the talents of the academy members of the Level Up collective. 

Praheme is an American storyteller (writer, director, producer) based in of Richmond, Virginia. He realized his interest for the arts as a child and continued to pursue his passion at Howard University, earning a BA in Film Production in 2006. While at Howard, Praheme, completed a handful of short films and videos and co-founded the monthly newsletter, entitled the Freedom Papers. He was inducted into Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Phi Sigma Pi National Honors Fraternity, and was selected as 2005 Mr. School of Communications. In 2010, Praheme graduated from Florida State University with a Masters of Fine Arts in film production. There he worked on the Student Emmy winning short film Underground as Director of Photography, and served as producer and director for the award winning short films “Intercambios”, “Soap”, and “Soaked”. Praheme returned to Virginia and worked on his first professional film “Lake Effects” as the Key Set Production Assistant. The experience was invaluable and that Praheme was able to experience working on a feature Independent film from start to finish. In 2011, Praheme started his journey to write, direct, and produce his first full-length film, “Troop 491: the Adventures of the Muddy Lions”, which was completed May 2013.