Pulitzer Center Update

Students Present Documentaries About Chicago Communities

Rebecca Connie, FSM News West Program Coordinator, speaks before the students show their documentaries. Image by Fareed Mostoufi. United States, 2017.

Rebecca Connie, FSM News West Program Coordinator, speaks before the students show their documentaries. Image by Fareed Mostoufi. United States, 2017.

Student filmmakers from Free Spirit Media post a sign welcoming visitors to the screening of their final films. Image by Fareed Mostoufi. United States, 2017.

Pulitzer Center grantee Meghan Dhaliwal uses presents how she uses research and statistics to craft stories while meeting with Free Spirit Media filmmakers in June 2017. Image by Fareed Mostoufi. United States, 2017.

Pulitzer Center grantees Meghan Dhaliwal, Kathryn Carlson and Steve Elfers pose for a photo before the screenings of the films created by their teams. They, along with journalist Dominic Bracco, spent over seven weeks supporting their teams in researching and producing short documentaries. Image by Fareed Mostoufi. United States, 2017.

Filmmakers' friends and family join staff from Free Spirit Media and Pulitzer Center for the final screenings of their films. Image by Fareed Mostoufi. United States, 2017.

Pulitzer Center grantee Steve Elfers poses with his team at the final screening of their film “The MisEducatioN of Gen Z.” Image by Fareed Mostoufi. United States, 2017,

After over seven weeks of filming, editing and consulting with their Pulitzer Center mentors, 15 Chicago high school students debuted the four documentary films they developed and produced as part of Free Spirit Media’s summer documentary filmmaking program on August 10, 2017. For eight years, the Pulitzer Center has partnered with Chicago-based nonprofit Free Spirit Media to connect students with journalists who act as mentors for the students as they develop and produce documentaries exploring important issues facing their communities. This year, grantees Dominic Bracco, Kathryn Carlson, Meghan Dhaliwal, and Steve Elfers visited Chicago back in June to begin work with 15 student filmmakers.

They started by presenting ways they have used filmmaking to communicate international stories. Each journalist was then paired with a team of student filmmakers, who they guided in developing strong story ideas and designing research plans for their documentaries. Over the next several weeks, Free Spirit Media staff worked directly with students to teach the research and technical skills that students needed to create their films. The Pulitzer Center mentors met with their teams over Skype weekly to offer everything from feedback on raw footage and editing tips to encouragement after a challenging interview or successful research find.

“Every week they told me what they had accomplished since I last talked to them and then what they were doing for the rest of the week, “ wrote grantee Kathryn Carlson in a post-program survey. “I offered my suggestions, told them what I thought their priorities should be, and sent them material to watch and research with.”

“I tried to make sure that all of them were participating, and that everyone’s voice was heard and then would give them some advice for asking questions, interviewing, and shooting their doc,” added Bracco, who also mentored teams in 2013 and 2015.

All four journalist-mentors returned to Chicago on August 10, 2017 to attend the students’ final screenings of their films for friends and family. The documentaries cover a wide range of topics.

Kathryn Carlson’s group, which included Marcus Bryant, Aiyanna Gibbs, Chakyra Owens, and Devonne Gray, created a film that explores the medical and recreational use of marijuana, “Legally Dope.”


When asked about her mentor in a post-program survey, Owens wrote that Carlson, “...always knows how to to help out and always asks how we're doing and makes sure we are one the right track to make everything right.”

Steve Elfer’s group, which included Iverson Jenkins, Casey Pitts, and Tiara Harris, created a film that explores the multiple layers of masculinity and what it means to be a man in today’s society, “The MisEducatioN of Gen Z.”

“My team (Furious4Productions) was always present and engaged,” wrote Elfers in a post-program evaluation. “It was an honor to be asked to participate by the Pulitzer Center and a joy to be involved with Free Spirit Media. They provide an oasis of opportunity for them young producers they serve." 

“My mentor was really helpful when it came to giving clear and critical advice,” wrote Harris when asked about Elfers.

Jenkins added, “ What I like about my mentor was how Steve connected with us, almost like we knew him for years.”

Dominic Bracco’s group, which included Jaliyah Armstead, Detavionna Howard, Keonta'Nae Ford, and Armoni Allen, filmed a documentary called “Seeking Sanctuary,” that tells the story of safe spaces in Chicago that prevent violence through dance, music, arts and food.


Allen wrote in her program evaluation that Bracco taught her “...how to go out and be comfortable.”

Armstead added that she learned, “...to set things ahead of time.”

Meghan Dhaliwal’s group, which included Howard Guyton, Nhiya Fitch, Geneva Clay, and Emanuel Jackson, filmed a documentary called, “House of Sanctuary.” Their film explores the lives of fortune tellers and the perception of fortune telling.

When asked in a program evaluation about what she learned from Dhaliwal, Fitch wrote, “I learned how to talk to people better.”

"This is program is really special because you get to watch with your own eyes as these young people take an idea and work together to create something tangible around this idea--which is no small feat!” said Dhaliwal. “The students grow in confidence in their roles, and they learn how to surmount the many obstacles that pop up when you're working on a doc, which is hopefully empowering for them. At the final screening, a few of the mentors were talking to a student from the past years (the older brother of one of the current students) and we asked him what he had taken away from the program. He smiled and immediately answered, "I can talk to people because of this [program]." He went on to say that Free Spirit really taught him that he can talk to anyone, anywhere and can feel confident doing it. Again, no small feat! That's really my favorite part of this program--watching the young people grow confident in their abilities as team members and documentarians."