Pulitzer Center Update

Journalists Mentor High School Filmmakers in Chicago


Dominic Bracco presents his reporting project to students at Free Spirit Media. His project follows Diego, a man who left his violent past in Juarez, Mexico. Image by Jordan Roth. United States, 2017.


Kathryn Carlson presents her project to the students at Free Spirit Media. Her project tells the story of Betty, a Ugandan widow, who had everything stolen from her - now she is fighting back. Image by Jordan Roth. United States, 2017.


Journalist Steve Elfers talks to his group about the themes and ideas they wrote down as potential topics for their documentary. Image by Jordan Roth. United States, 2017.


Journalist Dominic Bracco goes over a mind-map with his group. A mind-map is where the students write down any ideas that interest them and then they connect ones that have similarities. Image by Jordan Roth. United States, 2017.


Journalist Steve Elfers helps his group learn about their camera. As an exercise to familiarize the students with their equipment, each group created a fake trailer about the topic they chose. Image by Jordan Roth. United States, 2017.


Journalist Meghan Dhaliwal writes down her group's ideas as they discuss them. Throughout the six-week program, the journalists will act as mentors to the students and check in each week. Image by Jordan Roth. United States, 2017.

For the eighth year in a row, Pulitzer Center journalists traveled to Chicago to kick-off Free Spirit Media’s summer documentary film program. This year, grantees Dominic Bracco, Kathryn Carlson, Meghan Dhaliwal, and Steve Elfers visited Chicago on June 27 and 28 to begin work with 15 student filmmakers.

During the six-week program, the students are divided into groups and each group is mentored by one of the journalists. The end results: short documentary films produced by the students on a topic they choose after spending these first two days with their journalist. 

Over the two days in June,  the journalists presented their international reporting projects with students. On day one, Bracco shared his experience reporting on violence in Juarez, Mexico, and Carlson talked about her video following a widow in Uganda. In addition to discussing his process, Bracco explained to the students, "even if you’re working in your own space, where you feel comfortable, just always be aware of your surroundings."

Then the journalists broke off into their groups and worked with the students to help identify potential topics for their documentaries. They started with wider themes such as violence and positive expression, then pared them down to more specific topic ideas including art creating safe spaces from violence and the history of fortune tellers. 

During day two, Dhaliwal shared her project on cholera in Haiti, and Elfers talked about his project that explores vanishing groundwater in several different countries. Dhaliwal emphasized that "research is crucial" and, sometimes while making decisions within a group, negotiations are necessary and compromises need to be made. The journalists then worked with their groups on essential skills to produce a documentary film including research techniques, how to find subjects, and how to write interview questions. With some guidance from the journalists, the students got out their cameras and started familarizing themselves with their equipment by filming their group members talking about the topic they chose.

Effects of medical marijuana, the culture of fortune tellers, young men's roles in society, and art creating safe spaces from violence are the topics that the four groups selected for their documentaries. Over the next six weeks, the students will film and edit their documentaries, with the Pulitzer Center journalists mentoring along the way.