Skip to main content

Winter 2019

MFA in Documentary Media closes out 2018 and rolls into 2019 with Sundance news, alumni success stories, more to come from the Class of 2019 and Class of 2020, and the unfortunate losses of two of our community members. 





It is with great sadness that we inform our community of the losses of two Chicago filmmakers and members of the MFA in Documentary Media team.  In November, Todd Lillethun, Assistant Director of External Programs, Internships and Career Services who worked extensively with our RTVF MFA in Documentary Media passed away after a long illness.   Please see this lovely and moving obituary posted on Reel Chicago with information about Todd‘s extensive career as a filmmaker, non-profit program director, social worker and tireless advocate for our student’s needs. We were lucky to have had him in our midst.


In December, Bill Siegel, an acclaimed documentarian who deeply connected with our students when he taught a course as visiting faculty in our MFA in Documentary Media program unexpectedly passed away. Bill was inquisitive, inventive, and compassionate – his body of work includes the Oscar-nominated THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND and the Emmy award winning THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI. He was very supportive of young filmmakers, genuinely listened, and was always generous in inviting creative collaboration. He will be greatly missed. Our heartfelt condolences go to Bill’s family and friends.,amp.html?fbclid=IwAR3utx2y-qmFUd4SY5VHlu3EL6wFW27wOmFu8CwFzBUAgtrXW7QdM-uaJ3g


Sundance News

Huge congrats to alumni co-directors Shuhan Fan (Class of 2016) and Luther Clement (Class of 2017), plus producers Ashley Brandon (Class of 2017) and Nevo Shinaar (Class of 2017) for their doc short STAY CLOSE being accepted into competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival!!!

New Docs At The Block

This fall, MFA in Doc Media and NU’s Block Museum have partnered for another installment of the New Doc series.  In October, the critically acclaimed documentary MINDING THE GAP by filmmaker Bing Liu played to a packed audience.  Liu met with the MFA Doc Media students for a masterclass and met with a few of our students for one-on-ones to discuss their own film projects.

In November, Filmmaker Assia Boundaoui screened her acclaimed film FEELING OF BEING WATCHED.   THE FEELING OF BEING WATCHED follows a filmmaker’s personal journey to discover the truth about why her community fell under blanket government surveillance and asks: is it still happening?

And director PJ Raval screened his doc CALLING HER GANDA at Block Cinema.  The screening was a co-presentation by Doc Media, the National Alliance of Women and Julian Glover from NU’s Gender & Sexuality Studies program.


Faculty & Alumni News

Newcity‘s Film 50: Chicago Film Gems was packed full of NU Doc Media! Big congrats to Acting Director Kyle Henry, Associate Director Ines Sommer, Professor JP Sniadecki, Professor Spencer Parsons, and affiliated faculty professor AJ Christian for all making the list. And a huge congrats to current MFA Naeema Torres (Class of 2019) for making the list with her Scrappers Film Group team.



DocNYC announced their inaugural 40 under 40 documentary filmmakers.  Included on the list is Mentorship Board member and Northwestern graduate, Rachel Pikelny.


At the 2018 Kartemquin Films Empowering Truth Benefit it was announed that Debra Tolchinsky would be receiving funding for her film TRUE MEMORIES AND OTHER FALSEHOODS from the Sage Foundation –



Sebastián Pinzón Silva (Class of 2017) was featured on Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film.  Also included on the list is affiliated faculty AJ Christian and adjunct faculty Meredith Zielke.  Meredith Zielke will continue at Northwestern with her filmmaking partner Yoni Goldstein as part of the Kaplan Institute residency.…/25-new-faces-of-independe…/…

Sebastian Pinzon was also named a 2018-2019 Sundance Documentary Development Fellow.  In September, Pinzon’s film PALENQUE screened at Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as part of the Cortadito: Panorama Latinx short film showcase.

Sebastian Pinzon Silva‘s PALENQUE was also nominated for a David L. Wolper Student Award by the International Documentary Association Awards. Winners will be announced December 8th.

Sebastian also earned an assistant editor credit on the highly acclaimed documentary feature MINDING THE GAP. 

Class of 2020

Milton Guillen took part in the North Star Residency at the Camden International Film Festival


Class of 2019

Jennifer Boles screened her film HALL OF FISHES at this year’s Great Lakes Environmental Film Festival at Marquette University.

In August, ON THE RINK, by Benjamin Buxton screened along with 7 other films, as part of the Chicagoland Shorts Vol. 4 series.



Class of 2018

Pam Austin (Class of 2018) and her thesis film WHIMPER premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival. After completing the MFA program in June, Austin is now working on a project about the last run of the Greyhound bus in Canada.

Joyy Norris took on the role of Programming Assistant and Head Programmer for the After Dark section of the Chicago International Film Festival. 

Sandeep Pamulapati and Elodie Edjang were profiled by the Big Ten Network’s BTN LiveBig for their thesis film work.


Kai Allen Blakley has been traveling across the country with Kindling Group’s Veterans Coming Home, a cross-platform public media campaign that aims to spark a dialogue about veterans’ experiences by sharing personal stories from veterans around the country.

Class of 2017

Mina Fitzpatrick’s WANDERVOGEL was featured  at the Hyde Park Art Center as part of GROUND FLOOR, a Biennial Exhibition of New Art From Chicago. The exhibition featured work by selected artists that recently graduated from Chicago’s top-ranked Master of Fine Art programs.

WANDERVOGEL was also in competition at Winchester Film Festival, Bogota Short Film Festival (Bogoshorts) and San Jose International Film Festival.


Weichao Xu’s CHARMING STRANGERS screened as part of Chicago Onscreen, a Chicago outdoor screening series.  The film follows Xu, a Chinese student in Chicago, and his discovery of photography as a way of connecting and communicating with elementary aged students at a local school.


Ashley Brandon’s short doc, MICKEY’S PETS screened at the Midwest Independent Film Festival, part of 2018 Female Filmmakers Night..  Mickey’s Pets was nominated for Best Doc Short at The Midwest Independent Film Festival‘s 2018 Best of the Midwest Awards!


Iyabo Kwayana’s film PRACTICE continues a festival run and is scheduled to screen at the San Diego Asian Film Festival, and the London Short Film Festival



Class of 2016

Jesseca Ynez Simmons and Justin Reifert’s film, I Can Only Be Mary Lane Documentary, screened at the Santa Cruz Film Festival, winning the Director’s Award for Merit.  The film had its international premiere at the Doc N’ Roll Film Festival in London and screened at London’s Women of the Lens Film Festival.

 Brittany Shyne took part in the North Star Residency at the Camden International Film Festival.


João Queiroga’s OUR SKIN was nominated for the 2018 Iris Prize.


Carlos Cova earned an assistant editor credit on the highly acclaimed documentary feature MINDING THE GAP.