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R. J. Daniel Hanna
R. J. Daniel Hanna

“I want the viewer to feel Virginia’s anger at a system that refuses to change, her passion as she decides to take on the powers that have denied her a say in her child’s education, her fear when she understands the influence of those who wish to stop her, her pride in herself and her community as they rise to the occasion, and ultimately, her joy when she achieves her goals.” — Director R. J. Daniel Hanna

R. J. Daniel Hanna is a Toronto-born, Arkansas-raised writer, director, and editor. He has directed commercials for Coca-Cola, Subway, Cole Haan, and numerous other brands, but his true passion is independent cinema that can ignite social change while delivering a powerful human story.

His feature screenplays have received dozens of awards and accolades, with his script SHELTER ANIMAL making the Top 50 Scripts (out of 8,000) in the Academy of Motion Pictures’ Nicholl Fellowship. His short film SHELTER, starring Clea DuVall (ARGO, ZODIAC) and April Grace (WHIPLASH, MAGNOLIA), played at the SAG Short Film Showcase and won the Audience Award from the NewFilmmakers LA festival, among other accolades. His most recent award-winning film, EVERYTHING, is based on a true story of a mother searching for a bone marrow donor for her daughter. It was featured in the Wall Street Journal and is spurring reform in the marrow donation industry.

Working both in narrative and documentary form, Hanna also brings an editor’s eye to his sets. Films he has edited have won awards from the Emmy Foundation, the Director’s Guild of America, BAFTA, the USC Editing Faculty, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, and dozens of film festivals. Hanna is repped by the Gersh Agency and Luber-Roklin Entertainment.

Dan says…

“I’m thrilled to have directed the film adaptation of Virginia Walden Ford’s inspiring struggle to bring educational opportunity to the most disadvantaged children in Washington, DC. This is an important story that I feel privileged to have brought to the screen.

“For me, the most exciting and rewarding aspect of making a film is putting the viewer in the place of the protagonist and allowing them to live vicariously through her. My goal is to show the audience an empathetic character in Virginia, making them feel the hopes and dreams she has for her son, as well as her pain when she realizes that a better life is not ahead of him.

“It’s the emotional ride that is most fascinating to me, but it has bigger rewards. By focusing on this one woman and her cause, we will tell a universal story that sparks questions in scores of people across the U.S. about why they don’t have more of a voice in their children’s education.

“Through empathy and strong storytelling, we can change people’s minds by touching their hearts.”

Erin O’Connor

Erin O’Connor is a screenwriter with extensive experience in developing, producing, and marketing independent film. She has contributed to a number of independent films that have screened nationwide, earned critical acclaim, and premiered at prestigious festivals. Her credits include MAMA RWANDA,  INCARCERATING US, and the Webby Award-winning WE THE INTERNET TV.

Erin holds a BA in English from the University of California at Berkeley and a PhD in English language and literature from the University of Michigan. She is a former executive vice president at the Moving Picture Institute. Prior to that Erin was Associate Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, and also spent a transformative year teaching high school.

Erin says…

“When I first met Virginia Walden Ford, she drove me all over Washington, DC, in her beat-up old Volvo, telling stories, cracking jokes, and talking philosophy. We stopped for coffee and ate leftover pizza in her kitchen. She was open and warm, more like an old friend than an icon. Which of course is why she’s an icon.

“Virginia introduced me to families participating in the scholarship program she founded. We also toured some of the urban private schools participating in the program. I met parents on fire to see their children getting the chance they never had. Young kids so excited about school that they cried when they had to stay home sick. Poised teens graduating and going on to college. Innovative teachers and principals getting amazing results.

“Optimism, determination, cooperation, and real accomplishment were everywhere. And Virginia was at the heart of it. Wherever we went, she was met with hugs, kisses, and shouts of delight. Not all of those shouts were from little kids, either. I’ll never forget it.

“I left DC dying to tell Virginia’s story. Hers is a story of incredible perseverance, surprise, and hope. It also underscores an important but neglected truth: that education is the civil rights issue of our time.”

Virginia Walden Ford
Executive Producer

A native of Little Rock, Arkansas, Virginia was among the first 130 students chosen to desegregate Little Rock’s high schools in the mid-1960s. Beginning in 1998, she helped organize Washington, DC, parents to bring greater educational opportunity to inner-city children. She and her fellow parents succeeded in persuading Congress to create one of the nation's first opportunity scholarship programs, which enables low-income children to attend private schools while also boosting federal funding for traditional public schools and public charter schools. Since that time, thousands of students have received scholarships, and those who use them have a 91 percent graduation rate from high school.

Nick Reid
Executive Producer

Nick Reid,  the  Moving  Picture  Institute’s senior  vice  president,  is  responsible for  shaping  and  executing  the fundraising strategy for MPI Original films;  he  also  serves  as  a  member  of MPI’s executive team. He is a graduate of Indiana  Wesleyan  University  and  holds  a certificate in management from Georgetown University.  Prior  to  joining  the  Moving Picture  Institute,  Nick  was  the  executive vice  president  of  a  nonprofit  organization.  He is also an executive producer on MPI’s forthcoming Original feature documentary, 3 Dimensions.

Rob Pfaltzgraff

Rob Pfaltzgraff is a producer and executive producer with almost 15 years' experience in the world of independent film. He has served as president of the Moving Picture Institute since its founding in 2005, leading the organization from a small startup to a dynamic production house and key talent incubator. Pfaltzgraff has raised and overseen millions of dollars in financing for MPI's award-winning productions; his executive producer credits include MAMA RWANDA, INCARCERATING US, and the Webby Award-winning comedy news channel WE THE INTERNET TV. He graduated from Tufts University.

Stacey Parks

Stacey Parks has many years of experience in film, television, and digital media as a distribution executive, producer, executive producer, and consultant. A former sales executive, she runs the online education and consulting business, as well as Media Sparks Entertainment, where she focuses on producing and executive producing film, television, and multimedia projects for global platforms and audiences.

M. Elizabeth Hughes

M. Elizabeth Hughes has made her career producing a wide variety of films and series with a wide variety of filmmakers and financiers. She has produced everything from independent films (SHORT TERM 12) to docuseries (LORENA) to studio features (GIRLFRIEND’S DAY). She attended Wesleyan College and earned her MFA in Film and Television Producing from Chapman University.

Maurice Black

Maurice Black, PhD, holds a PhD in English literature from the University of Pennsylvania and is a former executive vice president of the Moving Picture Institute.

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