Announcing the 2020 Diverse Voices in Docs (DVID) Fellows

2020 Diverse Voices in Docs (DVID) Fellows

Kartemquin Films and the Community Film Workshop of Chicago today announced the eight new 2020 Diverse Voices in Docs (DVID) fellows. 

Now in its 8th year, DVID is a professional mentorship program for Midwestern documentary filmmakers of color, created by Kartemquin Films and the Community Film Workshop of Chicago. Fellows are chosen from a pool of applicants with a demonstrated commitment to social issue documentary.

The 2020 fellows are: Zanah Thirus, Vianca Fuster, Adewole A. Aboiye, Oli Rodriguez, Tommy Franklin, Samuel Rong, Eric D. Seals, and Suja A. Thomas.

As of 2018, completion of the fellowship makes fellows eligible for the newly established Diverse Voices Accelerator Fund, providing crucial grants of up to $20,000 for works-in-progress. 

Recipients of the grants in 2019 included Alive in Detroit, directed by Shiraz Ahmed; The Mask that Grins and Lies, directed by Martine Granby; On the Move, directed by Milton Guillén; and Teaching While Black, directed by Latesha Dickerson. The Diverse Voices Accelerator Fund was initiated with founding support from the Sage Foundation and is being supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation through 2020.

In the DVID program, Fellows receive hands-on support from experienced Kartemquin and Community Film Workshop staff, award-winning filmmakers, and invited experts before pitching to a panel of major funders, which in previous years has included representatives from ITVS, Sundance Institute, Doc Society, POV, Black Public Media, and WTTW Channel 11. The program culminates with a graduation showcasing the fellows’ work and and featuring a keynote speaker.

Founded in 2013, DVID aims to inspire collaboration and skill-sharing among its fellows, and among the larger Midwestern independent documentary filmmaking community.

Previous DVID fellows include Bing Liu, director of Sundance award-winning and Academy Award nominated, Minding the Gap; Kelly Richmond Pope, director of award-winning All the Queen’s Horses, which held the #1 spot for most-streamed documentary on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon Video for a week after its VOD release; and Jiayan “Jenny” Shi, director of Finding Yingying, winner of the 2018 Paley Center DocPitch Competition.

2020 support for Diverse Voices in Docs is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Voqal Fund. 2020 support was also provided by The Field Foundation of Illinois, The Chicago Community Trust, and The Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.


The 2020 Diverse Voices in Docs Fellows and projects in their own words:

Zanah Thirus (Matteson, IL) is an independent producer & director. Since 2015, she has produced 14 films, 7 of which she has directed. Since launching her brand, Zanah Thirus Productions LLC, Zanah has shifted her focus to merging arts and activism through documentary and narrative storytelling. Her films surround subjects such as gender, race, politics, and mental health. In 2019, her feature documentary- Black Feminist - was an official selection at the Bronze Lens Festival of Atlanta. That same year, her short film surrounding mental and emotional trauma, Demons, was nominated for Best Short Film at the Content Creators of Atlanta Awards. Her project, A Survivor’s Story, documents the filmmakers six months of sexual trauma therapy. Featuring interviews with sexual trauma therapists, advocates, sexual education instructors, and sexual health instructors viewers will gain an intimate understanding of sexual assault, trauma, and healing, as Zanah takes the journey in real time.

Vianca Fuster (Milwaukee, WI) is a Puerto Rican documentary filmmaker who began her career as a Multimedia Producer where she co-directed, produced, shot, and edited two award-winning documentary web series. She co-directed her first feature-length documentary Invisible Lines, which premiered at the Milwaukee Film Festival in 2018. Fuster's passion for documentary stems from her desire to share the untold, underrepresented stories from her Latino community. She believes in using documentary to inspire dialogue and empathy, educate communities, and spark social change. Fuster is a recipient of the Marquette University No Studios Emerging Filmmaker Fellowship and the Brico Forward Fund. Her project The Warrior Princess, is a short documentary following five-time national boxing champion and 2024 Olympic hopeful Violet ‘The Warrior Princess’ Lopez’s journey while she navigates and works to inspire gender equity within the sport.

Adewole A. Abioye (Chicago, IL) is a filmmaker whose cinema seeks to examine the social conditions of the underrepresented through the prism of race, identity, history, and place. His project, My Father Lives Here tells the story of an accomplished artist feeling the pressure to provide for his young family who creates a once in a lifetime painting series celebrating Black fatherhood.

Oli Rodriguez (Chicago, IL) is an interdisciplinary artist working in video, photography, performance, installation and writing. His intersectional research and interdisciplinary projects reference historical movements in gender, racial and feminist histories. His forthcoming publication, The Papi Project, archives the AIDS pandemic through his queer, POC family in Chicago during the 1980s. He also just finished his short documentary film, LYNDALE, exploring toxic masculinity, cyclical familial trauma and queerness. LYNDALE is currently distributed by Video Data Bank (VDB). Rodriguez has screened, performed, lectured and exhibited his works internationally and nationally. Their project, Papi’s Pregnant, chronicles the filmmakers conception and navigation of getting pregnant as a transmasculine identified person. This feature length film visualizes queerness and a burgeoning medical field of trans pregnancy. 

Tommy Franklin (St. Paul, MN) is a writer, filmmaker, producer, performer, creator of the art-meets-activism interview show Weapon of Choice Podcast, and Founder and President of Special Menu Productions, an independent production company with an eye toward art that disrupts. Tommy collaborates in philanthropic and grassroots organizing communities to produce content he believes in, indiscriminate of form or medium. As a survivor of incarceration (born in prison and having served time as an adult), Tommy works to radically re-imagine power structures across issue work while focusing his advocacy efforts in criminal justice reform and visions for liberation. In his project You Don’t Know My Name, a son searches for a life-altering truth as he uncovers deep ancestral bloodlines after being separated from his incarcerated mother at birth.

Samuel Rong (Lakewood, IL) In China, I’m the “kid with Western habits.” In the US, I’m the “Asian guy who speaks Spanish.” In South Africa, I’m Chinese until I open my mouth to speak. Then people just stare, confused. Living as both an immigrant and expat makes me crave connection because I’m always part of the minority. It also makes me curious because I’m always venturing into unknown territory. The two go hand-in-hand, and when I’m back, it’s no wonder I became a documentary filmmaker. My project Plastic Self examines the rapid growth of a multibillion-dollar cosmetics industry in Turkey that draws from the influx of cheap and available labor: Syrian refugees. Under the pressure of uncertain legal status and patient demands, how do they reconcile memories of war with the commercial pursuit of beauty?

Eric D. Seals (Chicago, IL) has spent the past 10 years telling diverse stories across the nation. Eric is the founder and creative director of Digife (formally Digital Cafe), a video production company based in Chicago. Eric and Digife have netted numerous awards, produced multiple commercials and TV shows, and have developed a variety of branded content. Eric’s discography includes ‘On Tour With The Foreign Exchange,’ which gave fans a behind-the-scenes look at the Grammy-nominated band ‘The Foreign Exchange’; ‘Making Skybreak,’ a film that follows Grammy-nominated musician Zo!; and ‘The Takeover,’ a film about the first Black student protest on Northwestern University’s campus. His project, Bike Vessel, explores health disparities within the Black community through the lens of his father, Donnie Seals Sr., who almost died after 3 open-heart surgeries. Nearly 20 years later, Seals’ makes a miraculous health recovery after discovering his love for bicycling.

Suja A. Thomas (Urbana, IL) produced the animated video What Happened to Trial by Jury? With TED. She wrote The Missing American Jury (Cambridge 2016) and was co-author of Unequal: How America’s Courts Undermine Discrimination Law (Oxford 2017). This research has been featured in the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, among other outlets. After graduating from Northwestern and NYU Law School, she practiced law in NYC. She currently serves as a professor of law at the University of Illinois. Her project 1 Angry Man, is a comedically-presented documentary film showing the devastating social consequences of the disappearance of juries.

Learn more about Diverse Voices in Docs (DVID) here.