Meet the Judges

Current Judges

Tiffany Alexander

Tiffany Alexander

Tiffany Alexander is an award-winning journalist and screenwriter. She is also the author of six children's books and a coming-of-age novel.

Her work focuses on social justice issues including prison reform, the education achievement gap, and generational poverty.

Judging: Screenplays

BJ Colangelo

BJ Colangelo

BJ Colangelo is a Cleveland-based film journalist and actress turned filmmaker, co-founding the production company Sickening Pictures. Known for her provocative real-life storytelling and hot-take analyses on gender and LGBTQ+ representation in horror films, BJ's work has been featured in numerous trades including, Fangoria Magazine, Bloody Disgusting, Vulture, Medium, Birth.Movies.Death. and Playboy, in addition to speaking on the topic at San Diego Comic-Con. A lifelong cinephile, she refers to herself as the lovechild of Christopher Sarandon in FRIGHT NIGHT and Susan Sarandon in THE HUNGER. Her feature film debut is currently in distribution development and her film LABRYS is currently playing festivals across the country, as is her and co-director, Zach Shildwachter's contribution to the international horror anthology DEATHCEMBER. Most recently, BJ sat on the jury for the FearNYC International Film Festival. She wrote and produced the series So Far, So Close for the Dekkoo streaming service.

Judging: Animation, Experimental, Fan Fiction, Horror, LGBTQ, Local, Student

Alec Greenwald

Alec Greenwald

Alec Greenwald is a graduate of Cleveland State Universities film program and has since worked as a Production Assistant on Netflix’s “Team Kaylie” and “The Big Show Show”. Alec has also reviewed Screenplays for Imagine Entertainment’s “Imagine Impact 2 Program”.

Judging: Screenplays


Cyprian Piroch

Cyprian Piroch is a lifelong Cleveland area resident. He is a graduate of Ash Ra Tempel University. As a film buff, writer and filmmaker, he has been an ardent supporter of independent and world film genres since the early 1970s. In the Fall of 2013, he co-produced the documentary “a Tribute to the Fallen”, which explores a Filipino man’s journey to uncover WWII artifacts from battlegrounds and share them with the world. His future home puts him in Negros Oriental, Philippines, where he will continue to write and produce films, showcasing the rich and vibrant stories and culture.

Judging (Lead Judge): Animal, Documentary, Drama, Experimental, Fan Fiction, Horror, International, LGBTQ, Music Video, Student


Mehrdad Sarlak

A graduate of MIT, Mehrdad Sarlak has enjoyed a successful and prolific career in engineering and management at Fortune 100 companies in parallel with being a SAG-AFTRA actor, television host/producer, and film producer.  His films have premiered at world-class Oscar qualifying festivals such as SXSW, Palm Springs ShortFest, HollyShorts, Cleveland International Film Festival, Indy Shorts by Heartland, DocNYC, Urbanworld, and LA SHORTS, during which time he's produced 2 films for an Oscar winning director, Oscar-qualified 2 of his own short films, and secured distribution for his last 3 short films through HBO, Oscilloscope, and Omeleto. While open to different genres, his deepest interest lies in producing narrative films with deep emotional impact and thought-provoking elements that are based on true stories as well as on documentaries that uplift, inspire, and warm the heart.  His areas of passion continue to be science, engineering, filmmaking, and acting, and through all of it, his overarching goal is to use the universal paradigms of understanding and expression to bridge gaps among people and achieve understanding, awareness, and harmony.

Judging: Local


Alex Sherman

Born and raised in Mentor, Ohio - Alex Sherman has been working in Hollywood for over 10 years. From editing to writing, he’s a jack of all trades. Currently, he’s a Co-EP on HBOMax’s Our Flag Means Death where he gets to play with pirates and blow things up. A graduate of Baldwin Wallace University, before moving to LA, Alex got a job with Current TV producing short documentaries all around the world. He didn’t get to blow things up, but he got to play with snakes in Thailand while filming with the Red Cross. His past credits include Yo Gabba Gabba, The Avengers, People of Earth, Final Space, Upload and Bless This Mess. Find him on Twitter @CapitalWLD.

Judging: Animation, Comedy, Documentary, Fan Fiction, LGBTQ, Local, Pilot/Series, Student


David Tarbert

David Tarbert is an Emmy Award and 8-time Telly Award-winning producer/director/cinematographer/editor/talent who began his television broadcasting career as NewsChannel 5’s Man on Music, the first feature reporter covering exclusively music and entertainment for a major-market station. He’s still active on Cleveland’s airwaves, most recently as the host/producer for the popular series, Dave’s Big Fun on a Small Budget on WKYC 3News. As Executive Producer of new-media production company, Tarbert Television, David has created acclaimed digital video projects for MetroHealth, RTA, Ford Motor Company, Key Bank, Cleveland Clinic, and Ronald McDonald House among others. He’s currently the Workflow Coordinator and Adjunct Professor at Cleveland State University’s School of Film & Media Arts. In his free time, he enjoys traveling, photography, tennis, golf, and cheering on the Indians, Cavs, Browns and his alma mater’s University of Kentucky Wildcats.

Judging: Animal, Drama, Comedy, International, Horror, Pilot/Series, Music Video


Andrew Aaron Valdez

Andrew Aaron Valdez (he/him/his) is a Chicanx educator, administrator, poet and theatre artist from Donna, Texas. Andrew is a C.A.R.E. Teaching Artist at Cleveland Playhouse, educator for the Indigenous Cultures Institute, Steering Committee Member of the Latinx Theatre Commons, a 2019-2020 Americans for the Arts Arts & Culture Leaders of Color Fellow, a 2019-2020 Cleveland Public Theatre Premiere Fellow, a 2019-2020 Artist in Residence at the Julia De Burgos Cultural Arts Center and a 2021 Baldwin House Urban Writing resident at Twelve Literary Arts.

Andrew is a Terry Foundation Alumni and received his bachelor's degree in Fine Arts - Theatre Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Find him on Twitter @drewzymandias and online at

Judging: Animation


John P. Vourlis

John Vourlis has 25+ years’ experience working in the entertainment industry. He is currently an Instructor in the School Film and Media Arts at Cleveland State University. Before teaching, he was a VP/General Manager at the Academy Award-winning and Emmy Award-winning Hollywood specialty lighting company, Luminys Systems Corp.

Through his company, Hometown Media Productions, John produced and directed the documentary Breaking Balls, about the cultural impact of the game of bocce on the Italian-American community of Northeast Ohio. The film was an official selection of the 2017 Cleveland International and Chagrin Documentary Film Festivals, where it played to sold out crowds.

Vourlis has also served as a judge/jurist for the Western Reserve Historical Society’s National History Day, the Orange Schools PTA Reflections Program, and the Greater Columbus Arts Council Media Fellowship.

John has an M.F.A. in Film Production from the highly acclaimed USC School of Cinematic Arts, as well as an M.A. in English and a B.S. in Engineering from Case Western Reserve University.

Judging: Animal, Comedy, Drama, Experimental, International, Pilot/Series, Music Video


Michael Walters

Michael Walters graduated from Cleveland State University in 2017 with a degree in Film and Digital Media. Following graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film. After a few years of working as a freelance editor and production assistant, Michael now works as an Associate Producer for Omnia Media, working on a variety of web shows across YouTube, SnapChat, and Facebook. He also writes for a gaming website, and continually works on his own spec scripts in hopes of having one produced some day. Michael comes back to visit Cleveland all the time, and still regularly roots for Cleveland sports teams, for better or worse.

Judging: Screenplays


Mike Wendt

Mike Wendt is an award-winning director, producer, and location manager/scout. He currently is the Production Coordinator for the Greater Cleveland Film Commission.

His credits include Captain America: Winter Soldier, Fate of the Furious, My Friend Dahmer, and White Boy Rick. His first feature-length documentary The End Of The World As We Knew It was a selection of the 33rd Cleveland International Film Festival and his short film Goodbye, Ohio played numerous film festivals. He is in post production on a second feature-length documentary Robert Banks: We'll Talk About That Later.

Judging: Documentary

Past Judges

Linda C. Ehrlich

Linda C. Ehrlich—writer, teacher, editor–has published extensively about world cinema and about traditional theatre in such journals as Film Quarterly, Cinema Journal, Senses of Cinema, Film CriticismEthnomusicology, Cinema Scope, Framework and Journal of Religion and Film, among others. Cinematic Landscapes, her first book (co-edited with David Desser), is an anthology of essays on the interface between the visual arts and cinemas of China and Japan (University of Texas Press, 1994; reprint in 2008). Her second edited book, The Cinema of Víctor Erice: An Open Window, appeared in the Scarecrow Press Filmmakers’Series (#72) in 2000 (with an expanded paperback edition in 2007).

Philip J. Skerry

Philip J. Skerry is Professor Emeritus at Lakeland Community College and adjunct instructor at Cleveland State University. He has taught courses in English and film for over forty years. Dr. Skerry is the author of Psycho in the Shower: The History of Cinema’s Most Famous Scene (Continuum Press, 2009); Dark Energy: Hitchcock’s Absolute Camera and the Physics of Cinematic Spacetime (Bloomsbury Press, 2013); and Defining America: Ten Essays on the Western Film (Sidestreeet Press, 2015). He lives with his wife, Amy, a therapist, in Beachwood.

Alberto Zambenedetti

Alberto is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies and an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Cinema Studies at Oberlin College. He is the editor of World Film Locations: Florence and his scholarship has appeared in journals such as Short Film Studies, Studies in European Cinema, and Journal of Adaptation in Film and Performance. Since 2001, he has been writing reviews and essays for Gli Spietati, Italy’s premier online film magazine. Alberto has collaborated, in front and behind the camera, with filmmakers Soren Bailey, Karen Wang, Dan Kinber, and Chiara Armentano.