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Medill students, alumni premiere documentaries at California film festival

Program offers connection to industry leaders, creates awareness about societal issues

Six Medill students and alumni pose for a photo at the AmDocs Film Festival
Pictured from left to right: Pat Nabong (MSJ17), MJ Butler (BSJ19), Dan Order (MSJ18), Nathan Ouellette (MSJ18), Aaron Rose (MSJ18), Jordan Klein (MSJ18)

In March, Medill students and alumni headed to Palm Springs, California, to see their work on the big screen. During the American Documentary (AmDocsFilm Festival, seven documentaries premiered that were produced through Medill Associate Professor Brent Huffman's undergraduate and graduate documentary classes.

"This is an incredible honor to premiere a student documentary at a prestigious film festival,” said Huffman. “AmDocs is the perfect venue to connect to industry professionals and large audiences to spread awareness about the issues explored in these films. This was truly a life-changing experience for these first-time filmmakers. I am so proud of them." 

The AmDocs Festival started in 2012 in order to create space to celebrate and promote documentary film. For some Medill students, like MJ Butler (BSJ19), this was their first time being selected to premiere their film. 

“This opportunity truly meant the world to me," Butler said. "The moment the lights dimmed before my film started, my mind immediately went to what started it all: Sitting in my parents’ living room and making my own versions of my favorite movies.” 

Finding Yingying, a documentary presented by Medill alumna Jenny Shi (MSJ17)won the Film Fund pitch competition. The documentary focuses on a Chinese family’s search for their missing daughter in the U.S. The money Shi won at AmDocs will be put toward developing a feature-length version of the documentary. "Finding Yingying" has also received to other recent honors: It was picked up by Kartemquin Films and was selected for the Tribeca Film Institute in New York.

Synopses of Medill Documentaries Presented at AmDocs 

Chicago's Youngest 

By MJ Butler (BSJ19) and Alani Vargas (BSJ18) 

Chicago’s Youngest looks at some of the biggest problems Chicago faced going into the 2019 mayoral election. Twenty-two-year-old activist Ja'Mal Green is the focus as the youngest candidate to ever run for mayor. 

Alone In The Aftermath 

By Pat Nabong (MSJ17) 

The drug war in the Philippines has claimed thousands of lives, but thousands more have suffered casualties. For surviving families, especially those who witnessed the brutal murders of their relatives, the aftermath takes an intense emotional toll. And because there are multiple barriers to accessing mental health resources in the country, many find themselves alone in the aftermath. This film, which was funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, explores puts a human face to those issues. 

To Return A King 

By Daniel M. Order (MSJ18) 

In 2017, the local government forcefully evicted residents of Otodo Gbame, a community of 30,000 people, from their homes in Lagos, Nigeria. The police burned the community's belongings and bulldozed their homes so a Nigerian king could commercially develop the waterfront property.  To Return a King follows Elijah, an evictee of Otodo Gbame, as he works tirelessly to bring his family and community back home. 

Just Another Memory  

By Mariam Al-Dhubhani (Qatar20) 

Amidst the ongoing war in Yementorn between being “safe” and “away,” weighed down by the ever-present mental and emotional baggage that still holds you back, how do people move forward and heal? How do they deal with so much suppressed pain? The filmmakers investigate these questions and explore what it feels like to be suddenly uprooted and displaced by war. 

Off The Court 

By Aaron Rose (MSJ18), Jordan Klein (MSJ18), Olivia Reiner (MSJ18) 

Kezo Brown was supposed to be Chicago’s next basketball superstar, garnering interest from the country’s top college basketball programs during his freshman year of high school. But one decision changed his life forever. Now, Brown spends his days fighting for his future, both on and off the basketball court. 

Unfiltered: Chicago's Water Crisis 

By Nathan Oullette (MSJ18) 

 For more than 100 years, lead service lines have delivered water to Chicago's homes. Today, numerous homes remain connected to lead water-service lines. The film follows three sisters from Chicago's Lower West Side bonded by a love for their family and community, and the adversity they face in the wake of Chicago's lead crisis.