Announcing the 2021 DEGNZ Incubator Directors


DEGNZ is pleased to announce the participants for the 2021 Emerging Women Filmmakers Incubator. The Incubator is a year-long programme of five workshops intended to advance the projects and careers of female directors.

Established screen industry practitioners from New Zealand and Australia come into the Incubator to provide insight into forging sustainable careers as a director through interactive discussions, practical exercises and in-depth information, at the same time expanding the networks of our directors throughout the film, TV and online sectors.

After considerable discussion, a panel of four external selectors and DEGNZ’s Executive Director settled on seven participants for the 2021 Incubator. They are:

Matasila Freshwater, Ghazaleh Golbakhsh, Niva Kay, Nahyeon Lee, Hweiling Ow, Cian Elyse White and Zoey Zhao.

The DEGNZ Emerging Women Filmmakers Incubator is made possible through the financial support of the New Zealand Film Commission.


MATASILA FRESHWATER (Solomon Islands/Pākehā) is a writer/director passionate about exploring cultural complexities through storytelling. Matasila was responsible for the Solomon Islands section of award-winning feature, Vai (2019), which premiered at Berlinale, featured at SXSW and won a Special Jury Award at Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and Best Feature Narrative at DisOrient Asian American Film Festival. Her first film Shmeat (2016), was a finalist in NZIFF’s Best Shorts programme, competed at the Sitges International Fantasy Film Festival, and won Best Animation at A Night of Horror Film Festival in Sydney. Recent projects have included writing/directing on The Feijoa Club Season 2, and Prime horror anthology series, Teine Sā: The Ancient ones with her short piece Hiama. Mata is show-running her first animated series ENDLING, currently in preproduction for TVNZ HeiHei.

Mata holds an MA in Scriptwriting from Victoria University IIML with a feature film selected for Script to Screens’ 2020 Film Up programme. In 2019 she was awarded a special grant through the NZFC Annual Gender Scholarship, won SPADA New Filmmaker of the Year, and in April 2020 became one of the inaugural Arts Foundation Springboard recipients, under the mentorship of Tusi Tamasese.

GHAZALEH GOLBAKHSH is an Iranian-New Zealand writer, filmmaker and Fulbright scholar.

Ghazaleh has made various short films including the recent documentary This is Us which centred on Muslim New Zealanders for RNZ and NZ On Air. She is currently developing her first comedy feature with Ainsley Gardiner and Georgina Conder. Other upcoming projects include directing the first ever PASC funded short film Night Visions and co-producing the NZ On Air documentary series Hair Now for the Spinoff. Ghazaleh recently finished her PhD in Media and Communication.

NIVA KAY is a filmmaker passionate about storytelling, environmental and social justice. She is the co-founder of The Rebel Film Collective, which is behind the co-creation of the feature documentary High Tide Don’t Hide. Niva has built a successful career as a digital producer, creating content in various media forms, including writing, photography, videography and graphics.

She is co-author of the number one best selling book ‘The Abundant Garden’. Niva and her partner established Pakaraka Permaculture, a regenerative market garden and education centre on the Coromandel Peninsula.

NAHYEON LEE is a writer and director raised in Aotearoa with Korean heritage. Since graduating with a Master of Arts in drama directing, Nahyeon has been attached to screen and stage productions that champion underrepresented voices; engaging with the breadth of experiences in the Asian diaspora.

She created and directed the anthology short film for TVNZ OnDemand, Myth of the Model Minority, and her MA thesis short film Sixteen was selected for the San Diego Asian Film Festival and the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival’s 2020 programme. She was one of the the directors for the CNZ funded Portraits; a series of short documentaries centred on Asian creatives in Aotearoa. Current projects include writing her debut play for Proudly Asian Theatre (PAT) called The First Prime-Time Asian Sitcom that has undergone development with PAT and Auckland Theatre Company’s Here and Now Young Writer’s Table. Nahyeon has attended various directing and writing workshops with Script to Screen, DEGNZ and PASC including Story Camp, Before Fade In and Short Cuts.

HWEILING OW, upon arriving to New Zealand, was bitten by a radioactive Weta that made her fall stupendous in love with film-making. She has since developed muti-hyphenated skills in the areas of producing, writing, directing and acting, and has been taking the world by storm with her online digital series and short horror films that have garnet millions of views. She has also successfully received New Zealand funding for numerous local productions. Like a moth drawn to a flame thrower, she is attracted to telling genre stories with a migrant twist. Her quirky cheery view of the world influences the type of projects she is captivated by.

CIAN ELYSE WHITE has had an extensive career in professional theatre, TV and film as an actress. In 2017, Cian wrote her Te Reo Māori short film Daddy’s Girl (Kōtiro) which received the Fresh 30K grant in 2018 and won the 2020 NZIFF Best Shorts audience award. Daddy’s girl (Kōtiro) has also been selected for Show Me Shorts, ImagiNATIVE, Asinabka, Hawaiian International Film Festival and was the first NZ film to be selected for Geena Davis Bentonville Film Festival in August this year.

Cian has a burning desire to tell stories that uplift the Māori voice and explore themes that are topical and relevant to our current social climate. In March 2020, Cian was one of 8 selected to partake in FilmUp run by Script to Screen. Cian has been working on her next short film, PUHI, and has completed a DEGNZ TV Drama Director Attachment on Vegas, shot in her home town of Rotorua.

ZOEY ZHAO is an Auckland-based filmmaker of Chinese descent. She gained a Masters in Screen Production at the University of Auckland in 2020. Fuelled by a never-ending urge to challenge herself, Zoey not only directed but also produced her graduation film, Foods For Coping. This film was selected to screen at the Show Me Short Film Festival around the country and it also screened internationally in the Miami Film Festival, WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival and awarded a Certificate of Merit for Solo Filmmaking by the Rochester International Film Festival.

From her background of working on-set and behind the camera, Zoey is capable of giving the audience a comprehensive and fulfilling experience by focusing on a modern social issue and the relationship upheaval surrounding it. She greatly admires working with female leaders in the field and she has a passion for developing fellow women. Zoey’s imagination and dedication are her greatest strengths. She always aims to give her best – expect nothing less.