The CHA+DePaul Youth Partnership

Become a Filmmaker

two female students with a film instructor

Sixteen female-identifying women, ages 15-22, learn how to create documentary and narrative films from award-winning filmmakers and graduate students within DePaul University’s School of Cinematic Arts. During the six week summer program, they will: gain pre-production skills including developing a story pitch, producing a film schedule, securing subjects and experts; learn the production essentials of operating film, lighting, and sound equipment; and receive training on industry-standard editing software to finish their short films. The program demonstrates how youth can employ media in positive ways and helps instill greater confidence to share their stories with the world.

Experiential Learning

Having witnessed firsthand the power of exposure, our intensives layer-in experiential learning to awaken interests and inspire minds. We’ve also found the excursions help build community and camaraderie amongst our cohorts.

Past Field Trips: Cinespace Chicago Film Studio Tour | Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre | Chicago International Film Festival | VIP Tour of Jordan Peele’s Candyman Set | The Tina Turner Musical | Chicago Sunset Boat Tour | Van Gogh Immersive Experience

Youth & Mentor Testimonials



18 yrs

“The program gave me the chance to explore a passion I had that I'd thought I would never be able to explore. It ignited my need to document and make films.”



“This was the best program I could have ever been a part of because it showed me my true love for pursuing films and documentaries. It also taught me how close you get to your crew when you make films. We became like family.”


16 yrs

“If I make another documentary, I would choose violence in Chicago. I would go into different neighborhoods and talk to people and see their perspective of why violence is happening. Now that I’ve been in this program, I feel like I can make more documentaries and public service announcements, so people can know.”

James Choi

James Choi

SCA Faculty Instructor

“DePaul’s underlying mission of service aligns perfectly with the core goals of this program. It’s incredible to see what these young women can accomplish in six short weeks given the tools and guidance.Having done the program three years now, we are beginning to experience the ripple effect! A number of our past participants are pursuing college careers in cinema, media and arts, adding to the much needed diversity in these career fields.”

Student Work

Rise Up

Follow four teen-aged girls personally affected by violence in Chicago. In telling their intimate stories, their wish is to allow others to feel the humanity of their experience rather than brushing it off like a statistic or evening news story.

Filmmaker Mentor: John Psthas | DePaul Student Mentor: Serena Hodges | CHA Student Filmmakers: Tay'rece Wise, Franshay Lopez, Deja Flanagan, and Shawntel Smitherman

students using a computer lab

Phenomenally Me

In this short documentary, African American teen girls from Chicago explore the power of hair in shaping their identity, expressing their creativity, and building their confidence.

Faculty Filmmaker: James Choi | DePaul Student Mentor: Alexander Zorn | CHA Student Filmmakers: Shamaria Wright, Jakia Walker, Amanee Muhammad, and Iyanna Jordon

Community Support

young lady

Pier Smith

Become a Filmmaker Mentor

Pier Smith has been an ardent supporter of the Become a Filmmaker program since 2019. Pier is an alumna of Spelman College, former executive assistant to Oprah Winfrey's Chief of Staff at Harpo Studios, and now works at BlackRock, the world’s largest investment management company. In 2020, Pier nominated our program for a $25K grant that covered an entire year of skills training, networking, and community building. As a program mentor, she continues to help curate and attend all events and cultural outings. She has also leveraged her resources at Blackrock to create a financial literacy component for our youth programs and continues to explore ways in which BlackRock can support the Become a Filmmaker program.

Read BlackRock Outreach Summary

view of the Chicago's downtown from within a top floor at night

Elevated Films Chicago

Non-Profit Youth Arts Organization

Elevated Films provides funding and support for year-long outreach and engagement activities. This includes hosting community screenings, film festival participation, and cultural outings. They also leverage their robust board and network of filmmakers to offer mentorship to young women serious about a career in film. In 2022, they financed Become a Filmmaker’s first-ever narrative film production, “I Am Not Your Token” written by 16-yr-old Isis Gullette. In this semi-autobiographical short film, a Black high school student’s internal conflict of adapting her identity to keep her place among the popular is tested when her ex-best friend becomes the target of their not-so-subtle racism. The production, filmed with POC females in all key positions, premieres spring of 2023.

Read Elevated Films Chicago Outreach Summary