East of the River
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East of the River is a short coming-of-age film about Teonna, a teenage girl, who is unexpectedly suspended from school and is faced with figuring out what to do with a day on the streets of the nation’s capital. It is an unflinching portrait of the education and lived experience of teenagers finding their way through an overburdened public school system.

We are launching a Kickstarter under the Projects of Earth campaign, a group of projects that offer unique perspectives on humanity, culture, and life on Earth. East of the River highlights the experiences of young students of color who are often misunderstood by schools and pushed out by the very institutions that we expect to help them flourish. Our film highlights how, despite a disproportionate amount of obstacles placed on these young people’s paths, they still find ways to educate themselves and grow amidst a glaring absence of social and economic opportunities to pursue the lives they want to lead.

We couldn’t be more excited to make this film and need your support in bringing it to life. We made the decision to go all or nothing on a Kickstarter campaign because we believe East of the River features untold stories about the experiences of resilient young people that deserve to be heard. Every contribution will help us to extend this project beyond the screen and into a tool to open up a critical dialogue and bring attention to the very real experiences of teenagers of color in the United States.

Why Tell This Story Now?


This is a story we have not heard: East of the River takes place in parts of the nation's capital that rarely receive coverage in media, yet we believe if heard, would resonate deeply with a wide audience. We are choosing to highlight the experiences of young, black female and gender non-conforming students and to cast actual DC youth attending public schools.

To expand the school-to-prison pipeline dialogue: In Monique Morris' book “Pushout,” she explains that “black girls are 16% of the student population, but nearly one-third of all girls referred to law enforcement and more than one-third of all female school-based arrests. The criminalization of black girls is much more than a street phenomenon. It has extended into our schools, disrupting one of the most important protective factors in a girl's life: her education." This film offers a nuanced view of the normalization of zero-tolerance school discipline practices that have profound implications and too often funnel students into the delinquency/criminal systems.

Film Should Be Inclusive: Movies belong to everyone, but not everyone’s story gets featured on the screen. In films, low-income neighborhoods and the people who live in them are not often portrayed with dignity and respect and instead are often represented through violence and two-dimensional characters. We are all equally important, and drama should not be the preserve of the middle and upper class. We wanted to make this a narrative fiction film because we believe that gives audiences a chance to share in the experience of young people pushed out of schools rather than to see them as stark statistics. 

To make is to take action: If you’ve read this far, there is a good chance we are on the same page in saying that the current political situation is really scary. Action can come in all forms, including the way we represent people, places, and circumstances in media. By contributing to this film, we entirely count you as collaborators in this effort.

What is School Pushout?

School pushout refers to policies and practices that push students out of schools and into the delinquency/criminal court systems. Sometimes pushout is literal—when you see students being arrested and handcuffed in schools or shoved outside of doors and picked up by truancy offers; however, pushout takes many other forms – including, zero tolerance policies, overcrowded classrooms, police presence in schools, and failing schools with extremely low rates of proficiency.

Why Does This Matter?

Two of the ten school districts with the highest secondary school suspension rates in the country were located in the greater Ferguson, Missouri area where Michael Brown was fatally shot. Brown’s school issued at least one in-school or out-of-school suspension to 60 percent of the student population. Suspensions and Expulsions increase the likelihood of substance abuse, failing, incarceration, and contact with the criminal justice system. What’s more, research has found that it is a harmful and ineffective practice.

Who Is Affected by School Pushout?

Three million students are suspended from school each year. The vast majority of suspensions are for minor, subjective infractions. Nationally, Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students. Additionally, 70% of students arrested or referred to police at school are Black and Latino. While Black students represent 16% of enrollment, they represent 31% of school-related arrests. In DC, African-American students are nearly seven times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students

meet our cast

Our method of casting has been essential to the making of East of the River. We decided to hit the streets of DC to find real youth to collaborate with. East of the River is about individuals whose opportunities have been taken away from them, and it was important to us to give opportunities back to DC teens. That means providing paid opportunities, giving in-depth acting workshops, and hands on experience on a professional set.

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Ayiana T. Davis as Teonna

Ayiana is a sophomore in the music dept. at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in DC. What we love about Ayiana is her intuitive grasp on the character, her inquisitiveness and readiness to collaborate.

Instagram @ayiana_taina

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Malachi Mack as Malik

Malachi is 14 and loves to sing and meet new people. Malachi was one of the first people we auditioned and we have adored his charisma, sense of self and fashion, and humor ever since.

Instagram @savejiirealness

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Steloni Mason as Sara

Steloni was born and raised in the DC area. She is an upcoming senior this year and recently started a business called Paws n Found. While she is an entrepreneur in school, she has always had a huge dream of becoming a big time actress and model.

Instagram @milangirl_

meet our crew


Hannah Peterson completed her BFA at the New School in New York where she studied documentary and experimental film theory. She worked as an apprentice to Alex Gibney on the feature documentary Going Clear, the Amazon series the New Yorker Presents, and the Netflix series Cooked prior to coming to California. Additionally, she served as a staff member for the 2015 Flaherty Film Seminar. Most recently she worked with writer and director Sean Baker on his forthcoming feature, The Florida Project which had it’s world premiere at Cannes Director’s Fortnight and was recently acquired by A24. She also worked with Baker on his award winning short film, Snowbird. In addition, she has worked in various roles such as cinematographer, AD, DP and producer in several short films. Currently, Hannah is completing her MFA in Film Directing at the California Institute of the Arts, School of Film/Video. 


Stacey Eunnae is a Clinical Instructor and Supervising Attorney in the Juvenile and Special Education Law Clinic at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC- DCSL). Prior to joining UDC-DCSL, Stacey worked for two years as a staff attorney for Advocates for Justice and Education, Inc. where she provided direct advocacy and support to more than 150 students and their families on critical cases involving educational placements, and she successfully represented clients in school discipline hearings before charter school boards and administrative law judges. Stacey has testified before the D.C. Council Committee on Education on legislative and policy matters and she has conducted multiple community trainings on representing families in school discipline cases. Stacey received her bachelor's degree in Women Studies at the College of William & Mary, and her Juris Doctorate degree from Georgetown University Law Center. 

Executive Producer

Nasreen Alkhateeb is an award-winning Producer / Director, whose content has broadcast internationally for over 11 years. By motivating audiences, and empowering new voices, Nasreen thrives as a leader on diverse storytelling projects that include broadcast, digital, and film.

Nasreen has curated and created original content for NASA, BBC, NPR, The Atlantic, UNITED NATIONS, TED, SXSW, AMC, Coachella, Discovery Networks, American Film Institute, and IFC Films. In 2016, Nasreen was awarded Cinematographer of the Year by NASA.

Creative Producer

Sinah Ober was born in Germany’s Black Forest to a carpenter and a tailor. She recently received her MFA in Film Directing from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). Last fall she participated in the 2016 Telluride Student Symposium and taught a semester long seminar class, Social Media and Storytelling, at CalArts.

Sinah has worked on over 40 short films. Her films as a director have screened at several venues, including the Student Experimental Film Festival at SUNY, the International Academic Video Festival in São Paulo, and the International Kansk Video Festival in Russia, among others. She is the producer of numerous short films, including The Sacred Disease and The Creature, and her films as a producer have recently screened at the Viennale, Portland Film Festival, Baltimore Film Festival, and elsewhere. Blanco Orejinegro will be her first feature.


Costume Designer

Raised in the vibrant city of Miami, Fernando A. Rodriguez has become an established film costume designer and fashion stylist. Throughout his eight years in the industry he has been mentored by Danny Santiago, Amanda Frieldand, Bic Owens, & Caroline Eselin; to name a few. During this time he has been able to work on high budget productions ranging from Ballers and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to photo shoots with Vogue Italia and Elle Mexico to series like Graceland and Burn Notice and most recently to being part of the three time Oscar winning best picture movie Moonlight.

Fernando continues to push his creativity and perfect his design eye as he makes his mark in the fashion industry.

Director of Photography

Christopher Messina is a filmmaker and cinematographer, making experimental, narrative, and documentary films. His work has been programmed in festivals and galleries around the world. His feature film credits include For The Plasma (dir. Bingham Bryant & Kyle Molzan), If There's A Hell Below (dir. Nathan Williams), and the documentary features The New Radical, and Hot Sugar's Cold World (dir. Adam Bhala Lough). His recent short film work includes Dear Renzo (dir. Agostina Gálvez and Francisco Lezama), Dead Water (dir. Andrew Gilchrist), and The Clean Up (dir. Jesse Allen). Additionally, his work as a camera operator can be seen in Josh and Benny Safdie's Heaven Knows What and Good Time, which recently had it’s world premiere at Cannes. Chris also writes and directs films, including Beijing which won the first prize for best documentary short at the Rhode Island Film Festival. 



Juan Pablo González was named one of the Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” for 2015. Juan Pablo González is an emerging Mexican filmmaker whose work includes documentary, fiction and experimental films. His work and collaborations have screened at film festivals such as Cannes, Locarno, IDFA, Edinburgh, Slamdance, Morelia, Full Frame, among others. He has been a grantee of the Mexican National Fund for Culture and Arts (FONCA), the Austin Film Society, and received a Jesse H Jones Fellowship for his thesis project at the University of Texas at Austin. Juan Pablo currently teaches at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in the MFA in Film Directing.

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Assistant Director

Ryan Daniel Browne is an Australian-American filmmaker living in Los Angeles. He is a musician and has directed over a dozen music videos. His most recent narrative film, Napalm, was successfully funded through a crowdfunding campaign, and explores teenage friendship, violence, and pyromania. It will be released in late 2017. Ryan recently received his MFA in Film Directing from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). 



Sean Baker is a writer/director known for the Spirit Award nominated films Take Out (2004), Prince of Broadway (2008) and Starlet (2012) (winner of the Robert Altman Spirit Award). His film Tangerine (2015) premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was released by Magnolia Pictures in the United States. Baker’s most recent film, The Florida Project premiered at Cannes Director’s Fortnight and will be distributed by A24. He is also one of the creators of the long running comedy television show entitled Greg the Bunny (2005) and its spin-off Warren the Ape (2010).



Rochanda Hiligh-Thomas is the Executive Director for Advocates for Justice and Education where she has spent over the last eleven years representing hundreds of parents/students in school discipline, special education and other educational matters. She manages all legal services provided to AJE families and its legal programs. In addition, Ms. Hiligh-Thomas provides training on educational matters involving school discipline, special education and other educational rights to parents, youth, school staff and other professionals. Rochanda is a native Washingtonian and graduate of a District of Columbia public high school.


Youth Advisors

Our Youth Advisory board is group of DC youth that will meet a total of 3 times before production to assist in the research process in order to ensure that the plot and characters are an honest representation of teenagers growing up in the DC Public School system. 

What your funds help support

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Your support will make it possible for us to work at the standard expected at A-list film festivals. 

Your support will help us fund equipment rentals, insurance costs, location fees, compensating the cast and crew, post-production and distribution. East of the River has the support of the California Institute of the Arts where Hannah is studying for her Masters in Fine Arts, and they will help us get a good amount of the equipment and insurance. Now we need your help to complete our finance plan. Please give what you can, share our links, and help us reach our goal. Every little bit helps!


Contributions made to Kickstarter count towards our all-or-nothing goal. However, they are not tax-deductible. If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation, you can do so through one of our fiscal sponsors.

Please contact us here if you wish to make a tax free donation.

(Note: donations made outside of Kickstarter will not count toward our all-or-nothing goal but are very much appreciated!)