Most of the documentaries mentioned in this story are available for purchase, rental or download through Amazon, Netflix, iTunes or ShopPBS.org, where you can also find films made by these other notable Northwestern alumni:
Timothy Ferris (C66), professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, called on his decades of experience as a science writer and journalism professor to write, host and produce three space-themed documentaries for PBS: Seeing in the Dark (based on his book of the same name), Life Beyond Earth and The Creation of the Universe.
Ted Kay (C70) is president and owner of TMK Productions. He received two Emmy Awards for the internationally acclaimed PBS documentary Choosing One's Way: Resistance in Auschwitz (1994), hosted by Ellen Burstyn.
Many of Kay's documentaries have focused on major health care issues, including Alzheimer's, attention deficit disorder, autism and general mental health. Recently Kay wrote and produced There Is a Bridge (2007), a PBS documentary that explores a different side of Alzheimer's disease. In 2012 Kay produced The Heart of the Matter (2012), an Emmy Award–nominated documentary that examines the No. 1 birth defect in the world, congenital heart disease. Hosted by Chris O'Donnell, The Heart of the Matter has been broadcast on PBS in more than 400 cities.
Kay is currently producing The Journey to a Miracle: Freedom from Insulin, a documentary that explores a very rare form of diabetes known as monogenic diabetes.
Kay lives in Marysville, Calif.
Mark Siegel (G68, 72), a partner at the lobbying firm Locke Lord Strategies in Washington, D.C., co-produced the documentary Bhutto, drawing on his personal friendship with Benazir Bhutto, the former Pakistani prime minister who was assassinated in 2007. The film was awarded a Peabody Award in 2012.
Sherry Jones (GJ71) is an investigative filmmaker with dozens of television documentaries to her credit. Her works — including special reports with Peter Jennings for ABC News and programs for the PBS documentary series Frontline produced with Bill Moyers — have won numerous Emmy, duPont-Columbia, Peabody and Edward R. Murrow awards.
Her documentary Torturing Democracy uses exclusive interviews, controversial documents and rare archival footage to reveal the inside story of how the U.S. government adopted torture as official policy. The film, which won a 2009 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, can be viewed online at www.torturingdemocracy.org.
Ally Acker (C76) has produced and directed 11 documentaries. She is finishing her 12th film, Reel Herstory: The Real Story of Reel Women, hosted by Jodie Foster. The film, based on her two-volume book, Reel Women: Pioneers of the Cinema: The First Hundred Years (CreateSpace), documents the extraordinary achievements of women in the film business since 1894. Acker runs Reel Women Media, which has been in business for 20 years. She lives in Roslyn Heights, N.Y.
John Scheinfeld (GC78) directed, wrote and produced the documentaries The U.S. vs. John Lennon and Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?). He also directed We Believe, a celebration of the Chicago Cubs and the city that loves them. Fellow Northwestern alumni involved in the production were producer and director of photography Rich Christian (WCAS75, GC78), founder of Sedgwick Productions in Chicago, and producer and editor Chris Claeys (C77).
Steve Cohen (L79) plans to direct an independently produced documentary focused on exonerees and life after exoneration. Cohen aims to complete a rough cut by the end of the year and hopes to submit it to the Sundance Film Festival in 2015. Cohen, principal of Chicago-based Cohen Law Group, is a partner with Impact Partners Film, which finances and produces independent documentaries addressing pressing social issues. Cohen has served as a co-producer and co-executive producer of numerous award-winning documentaries, including Hell and Back Again (2011), The Island President (2011) and How to Survive A Plague (2012).
He is also one of the co-organizers of Good Pitch Chicago, a one-day event that brings together documentary filmmakers with foundations, NGOs, campaigners, philanthropists, policymakers, brands and media around leading social and environmental issues to develop coalitions and campaigns.
H. D. Motyl (GC90) is an associate professor at Southern Illinois University, where he teaches media production and writing.
His feature-length documentary Cowboy Christmas (2012) won the best feature documentary prize at the Madrid International Film Festival in July. The film focuses on four cowboys as they travel the professional rodeo circuit in the two weeks before the Fourth of July, when there are more than 90 rodeos in 35 states, all awarding big cash prizes. Motyl and his crew followed the cowboys in summer 2009, traveling more than 2,000 miles to capture them at 18 rodeos in their event of steer wrestling.
Motyl lives in Carbondale, Ill.
Joshua Grossberg (C96), senior writer for the website E! Online, made the Hurricane Katrina–themed documentary A Bridge Life: Finding Our Way Home, profiling a good Samaritan who helped survivors start new lives in Florida — with some unintended consequences.
Stephanie Wang-Breal (WCAS99) has been producing stories for television since 1999. She has worked with various media outlets, including CNN, MTV, the Biography Channel and UNICEF. Her 2010 film, Wo Ai Ni Mommy, won the Sterling Award for best U.S. feature at the American Film Institute-Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Festival. Wo Ai Ni Mommy (translated "I love you, Mommy") explores what happens when an older Chinese girl is adopted into an American family. This film reveals the complicated gains and losses that are an inherent aspect of international, transracial adoption.
In 2006 Wang-Breal produced and directed her first short, independent film, From Infirmity to Firmness, about the beneficial aspects of yoga for individuals living with HIV. This film screened at the San Francisco Short film festival in 2007 and it helped the Iyengar Yoga Institute of New York receive a grant from the Walt Disney foundation for their free HIV positive yoga class.
Maria Finitzo (GC08), a film producer and director, has made films for public and broadcast television for more than 25 years and is an associate at Chicago-based Kartemquin Films (the production company behind documentaries such as Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters and 5 Girls). Finitzo’s film Mapping Stem Cell Research: Terra Incognita, for which she won a Peabody Award in 2008, examines the stem-cell controversy through the eyes of noted neurologist and Feinberg School of Medicine professor Jack Kessler, whose own daughter suffered a spinal cord injury in a skiing accident. Finitzo’s current project, In the Game, is a documentary that follows the ups and downs of an inner-city girls’ soccer team to reveal the very real obstacles that low-income students confront in their quest for higher education. — E.C.B.