Project Team


Shani Heckman (Director & Editor): Shani is an award-winning filmmaker and  former foster youth who emancipated from foster care in the late eighties in Newark, Delaware. Born and raised in Philadelphia, she was adopted at two weeks old, but her adopted parents both passed away by the time she was thirteen. After a few stints with different foster parents, she was eventually placed in a professional foster home in Newark, Delaware from 1984-1988. She researched, shot, and edited AMERICA’S MOST UNWANTED after realizing many of her successful friends were former foster youth.

Shani did not identify as LGBTQ during her time in foster care, but she experienced homophobia anyway. Six months after emancipation she escaped her past and created a new future by driving across the country from Delaware to California with a paper map. She has never looked back, and only recently visited the location of her foster home while making this film.

Prior to filmmaking, Shani worked as a pizza delivery driver, a burger flipper, a math tutor, a bookkeeper, a publicist, an event producer, an accounting manager, and as an executive assistant to scientists and investment bankers.  Her real passion in life, other than snorkeling on tropical islands, is education, physical fitness, and art making for social justice. Her first short documentary, WRONG BATHROOM (2005) was an award-winning video project that screened in 40 festivals around the world, was broadcast on T.V. and is still a popular hit on YouTube. She works professionally in the Bay Area as a producer, art director and teacher of video and 16 mm film. AMERICA’S MOST UNWANTED is her M.F.A. thesis film from San Francisco State University. The self-funded project took six years of production, with interviews of 10 different foster youth.


Lauren Greene (Producer, Grant Writer, Transcriptionist): Lauren is a former foster youth and adoptee. She initially got involved with AMU as a grant writer and transcriptionist, and has since established herself as Producer. Lauren has also acted as emcee and panel moderator for two San Francisco screenings of America’s Most Unwanted. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley, volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for foster youth for 2.5 years, and spent five years working professionally as a social scientist for a non-profit academic research institute. She also has experience working as a freelance book editor, in addition to a variety of other endeavors. Lauren has spent most of her life dedicated to social justice and firmly believes that: You are important, worthy, capable of being loved, have power, have valuable dreams, and deserve to create and contribute to the space, community, and world around you.

savanna roderick-deffee


Savanna Roderick-Deffee aka Savi (Main Documentary Subject): We met Savi when she was 17 years old and living in a group home in Watsonville, California. Since moving into foster care at age 7 ½ she has changed homes 52 times.

She is a poet and volunteer, involved in a queer youth advocacy group, and was president of the Santa Cruz chapter of California Youth Connection, a foster youth advocacy group. Despite the challenges of being a foster child and staying motivated without a permanent home, Savi continues to strive towards success throughout her life.  She has been mostly homeless since emancipation in early 2010.

Teruko Dobashi


Teruko Dobashi (Main Documentary Subject): Teruko grew up in the housing projects of Hunters Point, San Francisco, CA with a drug addicted ex-prostitute mother and “a father who made her feel like a mistake.” As a teenager, she left home to live on the streets and ended up in foster care, and eventually moved into a transitional housing group home program. Despite this, she stayed on the honor roll at her high school in Daly City, stayed active in extra curricular activities such as the Gay Straight Alliance, the Black Student Union, volleyball, basketball, peer assistance, student government, and softball. Teruko says that school and work are shelters from storms and situations she can’t face. At the beginning of filming, Teruko worked two jobs at The Center for Young Women’s Development and Kentucky Fried Chicken/Taco Bell to support herself. She also made time to attend the first ever U.S. social forum in Atlanta, GA in June 2007; the Cricket Island Research Conference in Chicago, IL in July 2007; a 5-day media training at UC Berkeley to produce her own short film; and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1st Women’s Health Conference in Long Beach, CA in October 2007. Throughout filming we followed Teruko through all four years of her attendance at UC Berkeley, where she focused on peace and conflict studies as well as social welfare. She graduated with her B.A. in May, 2012. Click here to read Teruko’s Personal Statement for admission into UC Berkeley. Click here to watch her graduation speech from UC Berkeley.

connor baba

Connor Baba

Connor Baba (Main Documentary Subject): We met Connor when he was 17 and living in the same group home as Savi in Watsonville, California. He grew up in foster care since age 3. An extremely smart person, like most foster youth, Connor was accepted into many universities in his senior year of high school, including the University of Chicago, UC-Santa Cruz , UC-Davis, and Reed College. He chose Reed College and moved to Oregon within months of emancipating from foster care. He left Reed and is currently living in Santa Cruz and attending Cabrillo College.




Dr. Valerie Mason-John aka Queenie (main documentary subject): Queenie grew up in orphanages, foster homes and in the streets. She is an award-winning author of six books.

She is a playwright, author, and performance poet. She worked as an international correspondent covering Australian aboriginal land rites. Her writing has included articles for various national publications, including The GuardianThe Voice, and The Pink Paper. She has done freelance research work for the BBC, Channel 4, and the Arts Council. She is also a former editor of Feminist Arts News, has directed Pride Arts Festival for four years, and was the former artistic director of London Mardi Gras. She is also part of a team of trainers designing anger management programs for schools.

She was an actress with the Talawa Theatre Company and in 2001 was Artist in Residence for PUSH 2001 at the Young Vic, the National Theatre and the Jerwood space in London. She has undertaken other residencies at Holloway Prison and Elizabeth Garret Anderson School. In 1998, she wrote and produced her first play, Sin Dykes. Since then her theatre writing credits have included Brown Girl in the Ring, a one-woman show which toured nationally, The Adventures of Snow Black and Rose Red, a family pantomime, and most recently, You Get Me.

Her first novel, Borrowed Body (2005), is told in the voice of Pauline, a young black girl of Nigerian descent, growing up in white foster homes and orphanages, then reclaimed by her mother. It won the 2006 MIND Book of the Year Award.

Her book Detox Your Heart (2006) is a non-fiction book dealing with anger, hatred and fear. Her latest book is Broken Voices: ‘Untouchable’ Women Speak Out (2008).In 1997, Valerie Mason-John was named Britain’s Black Gay Icon and in 2000 won a Windrush Achievement Award for her contribution to the Black British community.  She lives Canada with her wife.

Mark Leno (Documentary Subject): In 2008, Mark Leno was elected to the State Senate, representing California’s 3rd Senate District encompassing all of Marin County and parts of Sonoma and San Francisco Counties. Senator Leno chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee and the Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. He is also a member of five other standing committees, including Budget, Appropriations, Health, Judiciary and Labor and Industrial Relations.

From 2002-2008, Senator Leno served in the California State Assembly, representing the 13th District, which encompasses the eastern portion of San Francisco. Prior to his election to the Assembly, he served for four and a half years on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

During his tenure in the Legislature, Senator Leno has fought for better schools and access to higher education, foster youth, a cleaner and sustainable environment, single-payer universal health care, improved transportation, renewable energy, safer streets and equal rights for all Californians.

Jules Tortolani (Titles & Animations): Jules designs award winning motion graphics including commercials and titles for feature films and will be assisting America’s Most Unwanted with post-production titles and animation.

Dan Olmsted (Sound Mix for Trailer): Dan Olmsted is a Berkeley-based sound mixer and designer. Olmsted’s sound credits are extensive and varied. Documentary films include The Daughter From Da Nang (Gail Dolgin, Vincente Franco), The Devil and Daniel Johnston (Jeff Fuerzig), and Lynn Hershman’s Strange Culture. John Waters, Joan Chen, Cade Burcell, and Lynn Sachs are among many other filmmakers he has worked with in genres ranging from narrative features to short experimental works. An alumnus of SF State’s Film Production program, Dan honed much of his craft at Berkeley’s Saul Zaentz Film Center, where he served as a re-recording mixer for many years. He also performs music in a variety of local bands. A friend and former professor of the director, Olmsted has already assisted for some sound challenges.

James Flynn (Dialogue Editor): James is a graduate of SFSU’s Cinema Department.

Chase Keehn (Sound Score): Chase is a graduate of SFSU’s Cinema Department and an award-winning musician and has designed soundtracks for features and shorts.

Barbara Grandvionet (Trailer Editor): Barbara has edited several feature length documentary projects including Children of the Trains.

Andrew Bridge (Advisor): Andrew is the author of Hope’s Boy and is the principal lawyer for The Child Welfare Initiative.

Andrew  spent 11 years in Los Angeles County foster care, then went on to earn a scholarship to Wesleyan, became a Fulbright Scholar, and graduated from Harvard Law School. Andrew’s memoir Hope’s Boy is the true account of his life with his mother, a young mentally ill woman, of her efforts to keep and care for him, and of his life in foster care without her. As an adult, Andrew has spent his career bettering the lives of our nation’s most vulnerable children. His work has garnered coverage in Time Magazine, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Reader’s Digest, PBS, as well as in additional newspapers, radio, and television across the country.

Andrew began his legal career representing children throughout the State of Alabama as a staff attorney at the Judge David L. Bazelon Center – a national civil rights organization in Washington, D.C. In 1996, Andrew became Executive Director of the Alliance for Children’s Rights in Los Angeles where he worked to expand the availability of legal services to children in foster care, children in poverty, children with HIV/AIDS or whose parents were dying of AIDS, and children with mental or physical disabilities.

Under Andrew’s leadership, the Alliance successfully sued Los Angeles County over its practice of not reviewing the safety of children in its care. The victory guaranteed foster children the right to see and speak with a social worker at least once a month. The Alliance also successfully challenged restrictions that forbid foster children and their families from openly discussing their experiences in the child welfare system.

Pat Jackson (Story Consultant & Advisor): Pat is an award-winning sound designer and editor as well as an Associate Professor in Cinema at San Francisco State University. Jackson is chair of the thesis committee for America’s Most Unwanted.

Greta Snider (Story Consultant & Advisor): Greta is an award-winning experimental filmmaker and professor at SFSU. Her films are available via Canyon Cinema.

Lidia Szabko (Story Consultant & Advisor):Lidia is the co-director of Girl Trouble and the chair of City College of San Francisco’s film department and on the board of Groundspark.

Kyna Morgan ( Web 3.0 Promotions).

Marie Moore, MSW (Story Consultant and Outreach Coordinator): Marie is a Child Welfare Worker in Alameda County while completing her PhD at UCSF.

Therese Noel Allen, MFT (Story Consultant and Advisor): Therese is a Private Psychotherapist & Expressive Arts Therapist and a Clinician at Edgewood Center for Children & Families she has worked with youth, particularly foster youth for the past sixteen years.

James Buck (Transcriptionist): James Buck is an award-winning American photojournalist and multimedia producer who has reported on and photographed the Egyptian blogosphere and social movements. A graduate of UC-Berkeley’s prestigious Graduate Journalism program, Buck works for the Washington Post.

Sophia Emigh (Transcriptionist)

Charlotte Dick (Grant Writer)

Stephanie Krol (Grant Writer): Stephanie is a former foster youth and a graduate of UC Berkeley. She volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for a foster youth in San Francisco and is currently attending law school with the hopes of changing the foster care system.

Will Tsang (Producer’s Assistant): Will is a graduate from San Francisco State University and is currently studying for the pmp certificate. He is a freelance producer and video editor.

Katherine Gorringe (Producer’s Assistant)

Lukas Blakk (Web Hosting & Website Support)

Audrey Driver (Web Design)