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Class of 2023


Zaki Al Abdullah is a Saudi filmmaker and Arabic is his first language. He received undergraduate and graduate degrees in Psychology and a Certificate in Filmmaking from the National Film and Television School in the U.K.  He is a former professional tennis player and his travelling has influenced his world view. Zaki is interested in topics related to inequality, racism, injustice and existential issues such as death, meaning, love, and isolation. Currently he is working as a freelance filmmaker and is focused on cinematography. Zaki hopes to listen to all of his classmates’ stories and be inspired by them. It’s a privilege to be trusted to be told personal stories. Good stories are what he lives for.


Laura Gede was born and raised outside of Baltimore, Maryland, but moved to the city in 2016 after attending The Film and Television School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. She received her degrees in Theatre and Electronic Media & Film with Honors from Towson University. Studying these two disciplines, she discovered her love for experimental and hybrid modes of creation. She was an artist in residence at Rhizome in Washington, D.C. where she completed a short collection of writing and developed an immersive performance piece that she continues to cultivate. After working for six years in freelance commercial filmmaking and arts non-profit work, she became a full-time producer at an ad agency in Baltimore. She worked with numerous Baltimore agencies to help foster the creation of The Red Desk project; a public art installation that aims to bring awareness and resources to child homicide and its survivors. Laura’s hope is to combine her love and commitment to community activism and education with her passion for filmmaking and creation. In this, her goal is to create content that pushes the boundaries of what is deemed academic and stretches beyond our comfort zones; to create movies that demand people to ask questions and dig deeper.


Ella Harmon is a filmmaker from Connecticut who has spent most of their adult life in New York. Ella is interested in blurring genre lines as a means to explore how the reductive narratives we tell ourselves might impact the material world. As an undergraduate, Ella studied film and philosophy at Sarah Lawrence College and The University of Oxford (Wadham). During this time, Ella also worked as a freelance production assistant, development assistant, 2nd AD, and production coordinator. After graduation, Ella became a co-producer at a nonprofit production company called Groundswell Media where they developed short documentaries centered around health and social justice. Ella is currently the head of video at Carrousel Dreams and occasionally works for-hire as a video director and editor in the NY area. In addition to Ella’s Documentary MFA, they are pursuing a certificate in Critical Theory. 




Ian Kelly (he/him/his) is a filmmaker and animator from Boston, MA. He graduated with a B.A. in Cinema Studies from Oberlin College. After graduating he worked for director Marshall Curry on two Academy Award nominated short films; including as assistant-editor on the Oscar winning short, The Neighbors’ Window. Since then, Ian has worked as an editor and animator for RLMG, a digital design studio specializing in museum media. He has edited videos about dinosaurs for the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, and films on Oprah for the National Museum of African American History and Culture. At Northwestern, Ian will continue to integrate his documentary and animation practices. As a director of animated documentaries, he is interested in using what is distinct about the animated form — including its inherent subjectivity, and ability to render undocumented events — to enliven stories of personal and historical memory.


Jacob Kessler comes to Northwestern’s Documentary Media program with an interest in producing work at the intersection of docufiction and sensory ethnography. He completed his BA in Philosophy and English Literature at Pace University and Certificate in Filmmaking at New York University. During this time, he synthesized his film practice with his studies in critical theory to produce work conducting inquiry through experiments in performance and documentation. These two lines of research intersected most directly in his latest film Supernova, a docufiction following an aged ex-Club Kid’s re-entrance into contemporary queer nightlife, and his undergraduate thesis on race, representation, and sexuality in literature and film. He has worked in research and development for several documentaries and docuseries and currently produces film and video content for non-profit organizations. Along with his MFA, he will be pursuing Northwestern’s Certificate in Critical Theory.


Zemin Li is from Guangzhou, China and earned his bachelor’s degree from Shih Hsin University in Taipei.  He is passionate about film curation and has gained curatorial experiences at different film festivals.  Zemin planned and executed “MasterClass with Apichatpong Weerasethakul: In Conversation with Jia Zhang-ke” at the 2021 Shanghai International Film Festival. Zemin served as the assistant of the content director at the 2020 Guangzhou International Documentary Film Festival and assisted the festival exhibitions at the 2018 Taiwan International Documentary Festival. Zemin participated in the CNEX Chinese Doc Forum for three consecutive years from 2017 to 2019 as a Doc Academy student, and has also worked as a program assistant and photographer at Lung Yingtai Cultural Foundation in Taipei for three years. Through this program, Zemin believes he will learn how to bridge the gap between business and creativity in documentary filmmaking.


Rasheed Peters was born and raised in Spanish Town, Jamaica, and moved to the US in 2016 to attend Brandeis University. Since then he’s graduated with a Business degree and minors in Studio Art and Social Transformation. His struggles and growth as a Black man with a foreign accent since being in the US have inspired his love for storytelling and film. These experiences motivate his work as a ‘conduit’ for the journeys, experiences, and activism of those often overlooked and unheard by society. To date, he’s made several art pieces, created and hosted a web series, directed a few short films, and produced smaller multimedia storytelling projects all with the motivation of amplifying the voices of those who look and sound like him. He is excited to continue doing this and is equally passionate about working to shape a creative industry and academic environment that is more reflective and conducive to the inclusion of marginalized folks and their messages.


Maya Wanner is from Cleveland, Ohio. She attended Kalamazoo College where she earned a B.A. in English (with emphasis in Film Theory and Criticism and Nonfiction Writing) and Religion, with a minor in Media Studies. As the daughter of an immigrant and as a mixed-race woman, she hopes to tell stories of “in-between-ness,” and give voice to underrepresented people and stories. Maya has a range of experience in film, from being a high school film teacher, creating her own independent documentaries, freelancing, and working as a production assistant for a range of production companies.


Jiaxin Wei was born in Guangzhou, a coastal city in South China, but spent her childhood moving between different areas and learning four different dialects.  Intending to be a linguist, she entered Renmin University of China and gained her B.A. in French Language and Literature.  In 2017, she transferred to Sorbonne University in Paris where she earned hersecond B.A. in French, and it was there that she came across documentaries of Agnes Varda and found her passion forfilmmaking. During her gap year, she finished her documentary on Chinese traditional Guqin culture. She loves meetingpeople while traveling and spending time with animals especially dogs, all of which offer her new perspectives to betterobserve the world. Believing in serendipity, she hopes to break the traditional limits of the medium to convey sincerity andemotional richness in documentaries.


Meghan Wells is a filmmaker and actor based in Los Angeles. She graduated from Chapman University with double degrees in News & Documentary and Psychology. Meghan enjoys pursuing stories about the intricacies and intersectionality of social issues which she intends to further pursue at Northwestern and one day teach others to do as well. Her film Group addresses domestic abuse by following three convicted abusers through a court-mandated group therapy program. Group was shown at the London International Women’s Day 2019 and can be found as a Vimeo Staff Pick or in the Atlantic Selects. Additionally, through Chapman and the Sikhlens Foundation, Meghan was selected to make two Sikh-centric films in England which addressed the intersectionality of Southeast Asian women with sports and mental illness with culture. Meghan has performed and recorded almost the entire canon with Shakespeare Project LA.



Xi Ye is from Shanghai, China and recently graduated from Shanghai International Studies University with a degree inJournalism.  Her internship experiences included working on a feature-length documentary and a docuseries.  Fascinatedby the process of forming intimate, long-lasting bonds with her interview subjects and recording their heart-felt stories, Xidecided to specialize in documentary. She firmly believes in the power of documentary to evoke empathy and inspire conversation. While at Northwestern, Xi hopes to hone her skills in cinematic storytelling and produce work that’sengaging in terms of both content and aesthetics.


Naomi Zidon is a writer, researcher, and filmmaker from Nigeria. Naomi graduated from the University of Houston with a BA in English with a concentration in literature and a minor in Creative Works. Naomi has been fascinated with film since high school and that fascination built into a theoretical and practical curiosity for film. During her junior year of college, Naomi was awarded the Mellon Research scholarship, which gave her the opportunity to research and write a thesis on how Agnes Varda blurs the lines between documentary and narrative film. This motivated Naomi to practice documentary filmmaking, using both documentary and narrative film techniques to highlight the immigrant experience. As a Northwestern MFA Documentary Media candidate, Naomi plans to expand on her documentary and narrative practices and use that to better illuminate the lives of immigrants.


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 is a British documentary filmmaker working across film, art and journalism to tell stories about contemporary feminist topics. Shaped by her experiences growing up; Lily’s work has a focus on violence, consent, sexuality and bodily autonomy, and centers voices that are often deemed unimportant in mainstream media. Lily spent the formative years of her career working as a journalist, reporter and producer for the BBC. She has had her ideas commissioned by Channel 4 and British culture magazine Dazed, and her films screened at BAFTA and The Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. In 2020, Lily was awarded the first ever Fulbright-BAFTA scholarship and moved to the US to begin an MFA in Documentary Film.


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.