Mo Scarpelli is an Italian-American director and cinematographer of mostly-non-fiction cinema. Her films have centered on the rupture of identity by rapidly changing landscapes, and the use of myth and destiny in order to survive.

Mo's films have been exhibited at the Berlinale, IDFA, Visions du Réel, Film Society of Lincoln Center, SXSW, and the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London, among other festivals and venues.

Mo is currently developing and writing her debut fiction feature, A SONG THAT SLAYS. The film has been selected for the Berlinale Talents Script Station (2022), Locarno Alliance for Development Forum (2022), When East Meets West CoProduction Forum (2022 - won EWA Award), LIM - Less is More Development Workshop (2021), Thessaloniki Agora Film Meetings (2021), and Novos Cinema #LAB Galicia (2020). The film is being produced by dispàrte and coproduced by Mo's company Rake Films.

Mo's latest film EL FATHER PLAYS HIMSELF received the Jury's Special Mention for Best International Film at the 51° Visions du Réel, the Silver Biznaga Prize for Best Direction at the Festival de Cine de Málaga, among other prizes at festivals, and was shortlisted for the British Independent Film Awards. The film was released in Europe and Latin America with support of the Torino Film Lab Audience Design Award, and is being released in North America by Grasshopper Film.

Mo’s feature-length film ANBESSA screened at the 69° Berlinale, where it was nominated for the Crystal Bear and the Glashütte Documentary Prize. The film screened at over 50 festivals, and was broadcast on ARTE and ZDF, and released online with MUBI in 2020.

Mo's first documentary FRAME BY FRAME screened at SXSW Film Festival, Hot Docs, BFI London Film Festival, AFI DOCS and 120+ other festivals. The film won more than 15 jury and audience awards and a Cinema Eye Honors nomination. It was acquired by TIME, Inc. in 2016.

Mo is twice a selection of Berlinale Talents (2018, 2022), a two-time recipient of Catapult Film Fund support, and has received fellowships from the New America Foundation, CEC Artslink, the International Women in Media Foundation, and the Cortona Visual Narratives Scholarship, for which she made the video installation I SOGNI DI ROMA about dreams had by Romans during the first lockdown days of COVID-19.

Mo's short films include ROMA CITTÀ CHIUSA (The New Yorker  2020), EL HARA (NY Jewish Film Festival at Film Society at Lincoln Center 2017) and SURVIVING KENSINGTON (Vimeo Staff Pick 2016). Her cinematography, photography and writing have been published with outlets such as The New York TimesThe New Yorker, and the BBC, among others. Mo has served as cinematographer for documentary filmmakers such as Kimberly Reed, Jennifer Steinman-Sternin, David Garrett Byars, AJ Schnack, Gwen van de Pas, Margaux Fitoussi, Emily Kassie, and Julian Brave NoiseCat, among others.

Mo founded Rake Films in New York in 2012. The company produces and coproduces her films, as well as a select number of non-fiction films by emerging authors. Rake Films has also produced over 100 short films and videos for international non-profits and brands. Before Rake, Mo directed and produced media for three years with the non-profit organization charity: water. Before that, she produced multimedia and reported for The Wall Street Journal

Mo holds a Bachelor's in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She also holds a minor degree in business, though she learned more about that from working with her family's radio station since she was a kid.

Mo is commissioned as a director and/or cinematographer independently, and through Good Story Films.

Reach out to Mo here >




A SONG THAT SLAYS - Italy / Kenya - 85 minutes - in development


FAITH - Kenya / USA - 75 min - in production

MISERABLE DISTANCES - USA - 70 min - in production

BONE STORIES - Mexico / USA / Guatemala - 70 min - in development

EL FATHER PLAYS HIMSELF - Venezuela / United Kingdom / Italy - 105 minutes - 2020

I SOGNI DI ROMA - Italy - 5-part audiovisual installation - 2020

ANBESSA - Ethiopia / Italy / USA - 86 minutes - 2019

EL HARA - Tunisia / France / USA -  16 minutes - 2018

FRAME BY FRAME - Afghanistan / USA  - 86 minutes - 2015

SURVIVING KENSINGTON - USA - 16 minutes - 2014


SUGARCANE (additional cinematography) - dir Emily Kassie & Julian Brave NoiseCat - USA - documentary feature - 2023

GROOMED - dir by Gwen van de Pas - Netherlands / USA - documentary feature - 2021

GRAMMA & GINGA - dir by Jennifer Steinman Sternin - USA - documentary short - 2021

THE LAST CRUISE - dir by Hannah Olson - USA - documentary mid-length - 2020 

FLAVIO-SHIRÓ - dir by Margaux Fitoussi & Adam Tanaka - Brazil / France - 21 min - 2019

Summer's Evening - dir by Eva Ellingsworth - Netherlands / USA - music video - 4 min - 2017

MEET A FIGHTER WITHOUT GLOVES - dir by Zack Canepari - USA - 9 min -  2017

SPEAKING IS DIFFICULT - dir by AJ Schnack - USA - 12 min - 2016

SHOPPER - dir by Zack Canepari - USA - 7 min - 2016

MAi: Life is Not Honey - dir by Gelila Bekele - Ethiopia, USA - 22 min - 2015


Special Mention for Best International Film - 51° Visions du Réel
Silver Biznaga Prize for Best Direction - 24° Málaga Film Festival 
Best Direction, Grand Jury Prize for Best Intl Feature - Festival de la Crítica Cinematográfica de Caracas
Best Cinematography Prize, Best Camera Prize - 17° Festival de Cine Venezolano
Best Documentary on Art - 37° Festival de Cine de Bogotá
Best Direction Prize & Best Actor/Character Prize - Garden Route Intl Film Festival, South Africa
Special Mention for Perso Award - Perso Perugia Film Festival, Italy
Special Mention for Best Feature Film - 22° Lucania Film Festival, Italy
Opening Night Film - Cucalorus Film Festival, USA
Torino Film Lab Audience Design Award, 2020
Doc Alliance Award nomination, 2020

— among other festivals and venues, see all here >


Glashütte Documentary Prize nomination - 69° Berlinale International Film Festival
Crystal Bear nomination (Generations K+ Competition) - 69° Berlinale International Film Festival
ECFA Award for Best Documentary
El Mirador Prize for Best International Film - MiradasDoc
Best Director Prize, Runner-Up for Best Documentary Feature - MountainFilm Telluride
Special Mention for Best Documentary Feature - 40° Durban International Film Festival
Best Cinematography Award - Sola Luna Documentary Festival
Best Cinematography Award - Social Impact Media Awards 2019
Fabrique du Cinéma Award nomination 2020
Special Mention for Best Film - Afrikaldia Film Festival, Spain
Special Mention for Best Documentary - RiverRun Intl Film Festival, USA
Opening Night Film - 60° Festival Internacional de Cine de Cartagena de Indias (FICCI) 
Opening Night film - Addis International Film Festival
Opening Night Film - Ethiopia Film Week, London

 — among additional festivals and venues, see more here >


Grearson Documentary Prize nomination - BFI London Film Festival
Spotlight Award nomination - Cinema Eye Honors
Best Documentary Film Prize - Festival de Cine y Derechos Humanos de Barcelona
Lena Sharpe Persistence of Vision Award - Seattle International Film Festival
Reel Women Direct Prize - Cleveland International Film Festival
Audience Choice Award - Movies That Matter Film Festival (Netherlands)
Best Documentary Feature - Camden International Film Festival (US)
Special Jury Prize for Best Documentary Feature - Santa Fe Independent Film Festival
Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary - New Hampshire Film Festival
Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Feature - Nashville Film Festival
Silver Heart Award - Dallas International Film Festival
Audience Award for Best Documentary - Ashland Independent Film Festival (US)
Spirit Award, Audience Award for Best Documentary - Brooklyn Film Festival
Special Jury Prize for Best Documentary Feature - Sidewalk Film Festival (US)
Best Documentary Feature - Port Townsend Film Festival (US)
Best Feature Documentary - Caymen Film Festival 
Best Documentary Feature, Best Directorial Debut - Washington West Film Festival (US)
Best Documentary Jury Prize - San Francisco Independent Film Festival
Audience Choice Award - Moab International Film Festival (US)
Best Feature Documentary - Weyauwega Intl Film Festival (US)

— among additional festivals and venues, see more here >


2021. Less is More Film Development Workshop
2021. CEC Artslink Back Apartment Residency - St. Petersburg, Russia
2020. Torino Film Lab Audience Design Fund - Italy
2020. Cortona on the Move Visual Narratives Scholarship - Italy
2017-2018. New America Foundation National Fellowship - USA
2017-2018. International Women’s Media Foundation Fellowship 
2018. Catapult Film Fund Momentum Grant - USA
2016. Catapult Film Fund Development Grant - USA
2014. Speranza Female Filmmaker Award, USA
2014. Port Townsend Film Fellowship - USA
2013. Puffin Foundation Grant - USA
2013. Awesome Foundation Fund - USA


2023. FIPADOC - International Documentary Features Jury
2022. Murray Center for Documentary, University of Missouri-Colombia - Documentary Masterclass
2022. Master International Film Festival, Tunisia - Documentary Screenwriting Masterclass
2021. Festival Internacional de Cine y Memoria Común de Nador, Morocco - International Documentary Features Jury
2021.  Centro Sperimentali Di Foto - Rome, Italy - Documentary Cinematography Masterclass
2021. Faito Documentary Film Festival, Italy - Documentary Now!  talk on documentary direction
2021. Golden Linden Film Festival, Armenia - International Feature Films Jury
2020. IDFA Industry Talk on making EL FATHER PLAYS HIMSELF
2020. Doc NYC Pro+ Days, New York - Cinematography Masterclass
2017. Murray Center for Documentary, University of Missouri-Colombia - Documentary Masterclass
2016. Arte Cinema Film Festival, Napoli - case study on directing FRAME BY FRAME
2016. University of California-Berkley, USA - Documentary Masterclass
2016. Pacific Northwest College of Art - Documentary Cinematography Masterclass
2015. MountainFilm Telluride Film Festival - Documentary Production Panel
2015. Randolph College, USA - Documentary Masterclass
2015. AFI DOCS, USA - Documentary Direction Panel
2014. MCON Millennial Impact Conference - Session Speaker


2022. Berlinale Talents Script Station - Germany
2022. Director's Lab - Lithuania
2022. Thessaloniki Agora Market Pitch Training - Greece
2021. Less is More Film Development Workshop - France/Europe
2020. Torino Film Lab Audience Design Workshop - Italy
2020. Novos Cinema #LAB film development workshop - Spain
2018. Berlinale Talents - Germany
2017. True/False Film Festival + Catapult Rough Cut Retreat - USA
2017. IDFAcademy Summer School - Netherlands
2012. Kalish Photography Workshop - USA
2009. University of Missouri-Columbia - Bachelor’s of Journalism, Minor in Business - USA


' Málaga Doc Winner Mo Scarpelli Jumps into Fiction with Dispàrte on 'A Song That Slays'" - Variety
'There is no film safe from some version of exploitation' - Mo Scarpelli on El Father Plays Himself'- Filmmaker Magazine
'El Father Plays Himself' is a tantalizing house of mirrors... - The Hollywood Reporter
'El Father Plays Himself' examines the dynamic between father and son - Sight & Sound
'El Father Plays Himself' - a rich meta-documentary - Little White Lies
'El Father Plays Himself' Trailer & Interview with the Director- Variety
Truth versus progress: Mo Scarpelli on Anbessa, her creative portrait of a creative Ethiopian - Sight & Sound
Fiction & Reality Clash for 'El Father' - interview with the director - Sounds & Colours
'El Father Plays Himself' ... 'exquisite'  - Toist
The Making of Father and Son - Dispatch Feminist Magazine
Mo Scarpelli: 'We film dreams in the way of documentary'Página12 
'El Father Plays Himself' sincerely one of the best films of 2020 CritereonCast 
'El Father' is a fantastic effortless stand-alone making of movie - de Volkskrant
Ficción y realidad se mezclan en la venezolana 'El Father Plays Himself'- EscribiendoCine
'El Father' a fascinating documentary - Trouw NL
'El Father' is shocking and moving - Filmkrant
'El Father Plays Himself,' c'eravamo tanto filmati. Intervista a Mo Scarpelli: io, tra padre e figlio - Infoogi Italy
Anbessa: heart-rending tale of a boy living on the edge - The Guardian 
‘Anbessa’ is a Beautiful Work of Sensory Ethnography - The Film Stage
Fairytales from the In-Between - Dispatch Feminist Magazine 
Ethiopian life through the eyes of a precocious and imaginative boy in ‘Anbessa’ - Little Village
 El Father Plays Himself: A Raw & Vulnerable Documentary Not to be Missed - Film Inquiry
 DOC NYC Directors: Meet Mo Scarpelli, Anbessa - Women & Hollywood
Anbessa: visions of the past and future - Página12 
'Anbessa' : gorgeous, visually arresting - Film Threat
'El Father' is a sort of electrocardiogram of the relationship between life and fiction - Duels.it
'Anbessa' : Hope and despair intermingle in a profoundly cinematic mix - Hammer to Nail
New film takes look at urban development in Ethiopia - CGTN Africa
Berlinale 2019: ‘Anbessa’ Critiques a Country through the Eyes of a Child - Goombastomp
The 50 Most Anticipated American Films of 2019 - Filmmaker Magazine
'Frame by Frame' : exquisite, emotionally searing - The Hollywood Reporter
'Frame by Frame' : sharp, soulful - Variety
Videos for Good: Mo Scarpelli on stories that liberate - Vimeo blog
'If you're not trusting yourself...' Mo Scarpelli on She Does podcast / Filmmaker Magazine
Mo Scarpelli and Anbessa (interview) - Convenzionali
Interview with Mo Scarpelli, last works, “Anbessa”and relationships between film and music - Beatz of All Nations
SIMA Filmmaker Interview with Mo Scarpelli - SIMA
‘Anbessa’ Director Mo Scarpelli On The Impact Of Modernisation In Ethiopia - Close-Up Culture
Director Mo Scarpelli on the Making of Her New Documentary - Italian Cinema Today
Anbessa: A Beautiful Story of a Child's Escape into Imagination as a Coping Mechanism for Displacement - OkayAfrica


The Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ)
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
The Izumi Foundation
The END Fund
The Luminos Fund
Lieber Institute for Brain Development
The GAP + Red Campaign
Serenbe Farms
Isaac Mizrahi
Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition
Martin Ennals Foundation Award


NATALIA (dir. Elizabeth Mirzaei, USA, 2023)
Untitled Mariam Dwedar Film (dir. Mariam Dwedar, USA, in production)
Three Songs for Benizir (dir. Elizabeth Mirzaei & Gulistan Mirzaei, USA/Afghanistan, 2021 - Oscars Nomination for Short Documentary Film)
What's Next? (dir. Taylor Taglianetti & Austin Tucker, USA, 2023)
No Man's Land (dir. David Garrett Byars, USA, 2017)

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