An Academy Grant in Action

With aid presented across educational, cultural and scholarly film programs, Academy grants continue to actively support rising talent from underrepresented communities. Today, we’re spotlighting one recipient, and how it has advanced the careers of two first-time filmmakers.


A five-time Academy grants beneficiary, Diverse Voices in Docs (DVID) is an initiative run by Kartemquin Films and the Community Film Workshop of Chicago. With $10,000 in Academy aid this year, DVID supports a dozen filmmakers through six months of workshops, covering everything from story structure to pitching to funders.

The program began as a fellowship to support one filmmaker per year. “I was surprised at how few applicants we had for the initial fellowship,” Founder and Artistic Director Gordon Quinn said.

After opening it up to serve a cohort of participants and moving to the Community Film Workshop’s South Side location five years ago, “all of a sudden, we were getting these highly qualified, terrific applicants from a wide range of ethnicities,” Gordon added. “Location matters when you’re trying to reach out to diverse communities in Chicago.”

Ashley Mills, a young filmmaker in the 2016 cohort, participated in DVID while making her first feature-length documentary.

Unapologetic explores the struggles and triumphs of three women organizing for black liberation in Chicago. DVID gave her the tools to create and share her story: how to build ethical relationships with subjects, how to cut a demo and how to apply for grants.

The subject matter is a personal one. “I was watching Chicago from afar in my post-grad stupor, and I was becoming much more aware of the organizing community that was being built here.”

Ashley Mills (right) during production.

After a particularly heated police board hearing, “It dawned on me that, historically and contemporarily, black women are often doing a lot of work in the movement, but they’re not often given credit for it.”

“I started talking to my first character, Janae, and seeing the ways in which she and her comrades commanded space, and commanded space for their narratives. It encouraged me to do the same,” Ashley said.

“As a black woman emerging in the filmmaking industry, I was also finding my identity and trying to figure out how to present myself authentically in these spaces.”

Bing Liu, another DVID alum, used filmmaking to address his own questions of identity. “I grew up as a skateboarder from a violent household. I wanted to talk to my skateboarding community around the country to explore that.”

Bing’s career in film dates back to when he broke his arm skating at the age of 14. He got a camera and used it to get out of the house. Bing came to DVID in 2013 while working on his first feature.

“Having entry points for filmmakers of color is so important,” he said.

“I didn’t have any access to this world at all — and I wouldn’t have had it without DVID.”

What began as a survey film turned into the coming-of-age story of three skateboarders from his hometown, including himself. “DVID introduced me to character-driven narrative films.”

Bing Liu (second from right) with some of his fellow skaters.

Over the next few years, Bing “kept discovering patterns that were parallel in all of our stories,” including broken homes and absent fathers.

Minding the Gap is now in post-production. Shortly after his graduation from DVID, Kartemquin brought the film onto their roster.

DVID’s annual graduation doubles as an opportunity for alumni to meet, connect and, in some cases, collaborate.

This community aspect proved important to Ashley, who remains involved with Kartemquin’s internship program, where she began several years ago.

“A lot of times, it’s about trying to get the right people in the same room. We know that there’s talent and skill all around Chicago, but oftentimes we don’t create the spaces for people to collaborate.”

For five cohorts, and counting, DVID has become that space.

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