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Class of 2021


Noura Al Sabboury Al Khayat is from Lebanon, however, they grew up in Douala, Cameroon. As such, they are fluent in French, English, and Arabic. Noura left Cameroon to attend high school in Denver. After high school, Noura graduated with a B.A in Studio Arts from Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan. While there, Noura focused on promoting social justice on campus working with queer students of color and students from religious minorities. This work, inside and outside academia, and their experience as a queer muslim student of color in the United States, has shaped Noura’s artistic vision. Meanwhile, their previous work at the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College as social media manager and event photographer helped them understand the power of art and media when it comes to spreading awareness and engaging people.

Mizani Ball is a New Orleans native who has grown to have a passion for storytelling and videography. She has recently earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communication with a minor in Entrepreneurship from the illustrious Xavier University of Louisiana. She  has gained over three years of experience in videography and editing from working as a production intern at Court 13/Department Of Motion Pictures, a production/social media intern at the New Orleans Video Access Center and a student director of ‘Strangers’ (XU Media TVshow). In addition, to traveling to Trinidad and Tobago to conduct ethnographic research and to film a documentary centered around consent and sexuality during the Carnival season. Throughout her college career Mizani has been apart of organizations such as the Gold Star Dance team, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Association for Black Journalist, Peer Dean Association and Student Government Association.

Chris Churchill is a teacher, tour guide, and veteran of local, no-budget theatre and comedy. His absurd comedy, “Chair” (2007) was “highly recommended” in the Chicago Reader. In 2018, his play, “Dénouement” sold out all four Saturdays at Second City’s DeMaat Theatre. He holds an MA in communication, media, and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. His thesis project, a feature length documentary, “Tell Me About My Mother” about  his mother’s extreme bouts with mental illness, served as his thesis project, got into a few festivals and won some awards. He teaches at Harper College in Palatine, both a college level public speaking course and theatre/film/improv camps for kids.

 Resita Cox is a freelance journalist and filmmaker based in Chicago, IL. She graduated from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in Broadcast Journalism and Political Science. Resita launched her career in journalism at WTVD-TV in Raleigh, NC and WCTI-TV in New Bern, NC as a multimedia journalist and news reporter. Shortly after leaving the South, Resita joined Dose Media in Chicago as a producer, reporter and on-air talent for the nationally-syndicated morning news show, Morning Dose.  With a wide range of journalistic skill ranging from in-front to behind the camera, Resita transitioned her know-how and passion for storytelling into her current role as editor and producer at Local Legend Films. She is currently directing a film on the West Side of Chicago through a Restorative Narrative fellowship with IVOH, an organization focused on empowering filmmakers to tell stories of resilience and hope. Resita has also worked with Kartemquin Films, one of the leading documentary film houses in the Midwest.



Alessandra El Chanti is from Lebanon but was born and raised in Qatar. She speaks English and Arabic fluently and can understand just a tiny bit of French. She attended Northwestern University in Qatar for her undergraduate studies and majored in Media Industries and Technology, with a minor in media and politics. During her 4 years at NU-Q, she explored different types of fields within the media industry through various and internships.  Her internships include Al Jazeera Arabic, Vogue Arabic, Qatar Foundation, and different production houses in Qatar. Alessandra graduated from NU-Q as the recipient of the Dean’s Award, which is the highest form of recognition a graduating student can be granted from the university. She was also the student union president during her final year at NU-Q. She is currently working on a documentary about middle eastern tradition of coffee cup readings!



John Haley (pronouns he/him/his) is an aspiring filmmaker originally from Mankato, Minnesota. John graduated from the University of Notre Dame in May of 2018 with a degree in Film, Television, and Theatre and Peace Studies. John has completed work with ART WORKS Projects, CBS News, and on the documentary film Free Solo. He has spent the past year serving as an Americorps volunteer at New Avenues for Youth in Portland, where he helps to connect youth experiencing homelessness to resources. John is interested in the intersection of documentary art and social advocacy as well as queer approaches to filmmaking, which he hopes to develop as a MFA candidate at Northwestern University. He has directed two short documentaries: Respectfully, Tony, telling the story of one man who spent 12 years on death row, and OUT on the Streets, which centers on the lives of homeless LGBTQ+ youth in Chicago.



 Anvar Hassanpour is a Kurdish filmmaker from Iran. Anvar started writing short stories and poetry from a very young age, and literature eventually led him to the cinema. Anvar believes in the power of story, and he sees cinema as a tool for economic, political, and social changes. He believes that cinema can always play a leadership role to create the right path for societies. Anvar has been working as an independent filmmaker in the last ten years and he’s directed several documentaries, commercials, and a few fiction projects. Anvar has received his Bachelors in Fine Arts, Cinema Art – Science with a concentration on film directing from Columbia College Chicago. Anvar hopes that Northwestern will create more opportunities for some new collaboration.




Marilyn Oliva is an emerging independent filmmaker, artist, activist, and daughter of Salvadorian Civil War refugees. She was born and raised in San Francisco, CA where she received her B.A in Anthropology and minor in Latino/a Studies at San Francisco State University. Throughout her years in college, she developed her passion for documentary filmmaking and created documentary projects on gentrification, oral histories, the arts, and community-driven stories. After college, Marilyn continued her freelance career in the Bay Area. One of her favorite gigs was documenting a revolutionary moment in Silicon Valley for the Immigrants in Tech Hackathon hosted at Netflix HQ. As a Northwestern documentary media candidate, Marilyn will further expand her knowledge on documentary filmmaking and use it as activism to better serve the stories of misrepresented communities. Her current interests are animation and experimental documentaries.



Sean Moore graduated from the University of Michigan with a BA in Film, Television, and Media and Anthropology. This summer he worked on a documentary about a Buddhist commune/organic farm in Ann Arbor, MI.  Because of his experience working on that doc, the commune hired Sean  to work at their stall at the local farmer’s market. For Sean, filming helps him to see the world more lucidly. He wants to share that insight with others and hopes to sharpen his craft as a filmmaker while at Northwestern and to meet inspiring and hard-working individuals that will push the form of documentary to new directions. He is interested in ethnographic film within the tradition of Anthropology. The idea of collaboration between subject and filmmaker, like what happens in Jean Rouch’s Chronicle of a Summer, is a personal inspiration.




Class of 2022

Mbayi Aben is a Cameroonian American poet, actress, and aspiring filmmaker who graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. She has a B.S.A in Human Development and Family Sciences and a Minor in African American and African Diaspora studies.  She was a Spring Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy interdisciplinary scholarship and public symposia to develop an interactive model of history that fosters a civic dialogue through performing arts. She also was on the Texas Speech where she developed her skills of creativity, poetry, and interpretation. She studied at The University of Ghana in Accra and used art as a means of investigating ethnography and exploring the relationship between identity and social development. This is where she developed her first documentary called “Abena – The Year of Return.” Mbayi hopes to use this program to mature her storytelling abilities and amplify Black voices in a world that systematically eradicates Black history.

Oluseyifunmi Akinladeis a first generation Nigerian and uses they/them pronouns. They’re from Atlanta, GA and graduated with a double major in Journalism and Film from Georgia State University. Oluseyifunmi is passionate about their community and political organizing. They want to use documentary as a tool to amplify Black Queer voices. They have been heavily involved in the Black Lives Matter movement centered in Atlanta. Oluseyifunmi is currently at work on a film detailing their housemate’s top surgery and their relationship with gender. Oluseyfunmi’s goal is to make a contribution to their community through film and is hoping to expand their storytelling and documentary filmmaking skills in this program.


Lily Freeston grew up in a vibrant and diverse patch of Manchester, in the north of England, surrounded by people with different backgrounds, cultures and life experiences. To this day, the place she’s from informs the films she makes, which explore what life is like for people whose stories often go unheard in mainstream media. After graduating from University of the Arts London, she trained as a youth-worker, supporting young people to run social justice projects in communities around England. She co-directed a short animation for Channel 4 and British culture magazine Dazed, and then went on to work as a current affairs journalist, filmmaker and reporter at the BBC. It’s here she focused on telling stories about and for young women, which is an area she wants to continue pursuing whilst studying her Master’s degree. Freeston is a Fulbright BAFTA scholar. 

æryka j. hollis o’neil (they/she)is an interdisciplinary scholar, writer, and artist. hollis o’neil is currently a Ph.D. student in the African American Studies Department and a Mellon Cluster Fellow in the Critical Theory program at Northwestern University. hollis o’neil also holds a Master of Arts in American Studies and a Graduate Certificate in Documentary Filmmaking from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and a joint-Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude, from The University of Arizona in Film & Television Studies and Gender & Women’s Studies, with a designated emphasis in Sexualities and Queer Studies. Their interdisciplinary scholarship spans the fields of Black queer and trans studies, Black feminism, Afro-pessimism, visual culture, film and media, and performance studies. hollis o’neil comes to the Documentary Media program with an investment in poetic, experimental, and performative modes and is excited to explore related subjects and themes of racialized gender, sexuality, desire, identity formation, kith & kinship within a collective context of structural anti-Blackness in their work.


Nely Montinawas born and raised in Aux-Cayes, Haiti and immigrated to the United States in 2005. Since coming to the US, Nely has learned from community members who pushed him to pursue a critical lens on society through an interdisciplinary artistic practice. In 2019, Nely graduated from Muhlenberg College with High Honors in Media and Communications with a double minor in Africana Studies and Documentary Story-making. He is currently pursuing his MFA from Northwestern University with the goal of becoming a professor/filmmaker dedicated to civic engagement through creating works that unearth and question (re)productions of negative discourses surrounding Black bodies and other marginalized identities.


Desiree Schippers grew up in the rural community of Colby, Kansas and graduated with degrees in English Creative Writing and Gerontology from Kansas State University. She discovered her passion for storytelling while working as a CNA in a long-term care facility and wants to use her work to reflect aging and the experiences of older adults accurately and honestly. During her undergraduate years she spent time researching sexuality and aging, living in a long term care facility as part of an immersive anthropology course, and publishing non-fiction essays, Hands, Those Who Can Pay,andit b like that, in literary journals, as well as directing her first documentary, Hungry Heartland: The Cuba Story. She is in post-production on 850: Stories of Survival, a documentary about the impact of Hurricane Michael. Desiree is a Kott Gerontology Scholar and will begin her internship at North Shore Senior Center in August.


Alicia Soller is passionate about using her platform as a Filipina storyteller to inspire social change. She earned her B.S. in Journalism and minor in Asian American Studies at the University of Florida, where she developed her vision by working at the intersection of art and activism. Alicia was a Reporting Fellow for Everyday Feminism, breaking down mental health issues in Filipinx and Southeast Asian communities, and a Social Justice Writer for The Tempest, covering sociopolitical stories for millennial women of color. Alicia is currently a Digital Media Producer for Spectrum News 13 in Orlando, FL. She and her team were awarded the Edward R. Murrow and Florida Association of Broadcast Journalists awards for excellence in digital journalism. Alicia wants to create documentaries that illuminate the stories of communities of color and how they reclaim their power in oppressive spaces and thrive on their own terms. She’s confident her experience at Northwestern will help define her voice and effectiveness as both a documentarian and changemaker.


Yanyi Xie is originally from Chengdu, a southwestern city in China. She came to the U.S. to attend the  University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and graduated with a degree in Media and Cinema Studies and a minor in Economics. While in college, Yanyi was involved in Urbana-Champaign’s filmmaking community and made narrative and documentary shorts about LGBTQ identity and the experience of Chinese international students in the Midwest, some of which were featured at Illini Fest.Xie also worked as an associate producer at Illinois Public Media, and as a camera assistant and post-production intern on the Kartemquin Films documentary, Finding Yingying, about the missing and murdered Chinese exchange scholar Zhang Yingying, which has been awarded the 20202 SXSW Jury Prize. Xie is excited to acquire more techniques and insights for documentary as a media art form from the program!


Guanyizhuo Yaois from a snowy oil city in northeast China. She graduated from Renmin University of China with a degree in journalism and then continued her postgraduate program of film studies in London for a year. Throughout her studies, she has developed a love for experimental and documentary films. After college, she worked as a film editor on numerous documentary projects. Her work focuses on people with physical and mental illness, with an emphasis on the dynamic between patients, their families, and society. Her current work is about the impact of the explosive growth of the Internet industry in China. As a documentary media MFA candidate at Northwestern University, she hopes to explore how critical and emerging incidents may affect and change a city and its youth.