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Part of Doc Stories film series

Portraits of People and Places: The Filmmaker–Subject Relationship

The live talk will take place on this page, and a video recording will be posted here shortly afterward. Access to the conversation is free; RSVP to receive email notifications. Visit our FAQ for more info.


Live Talk

Fri, Dec 4 at 3:30 pm PST


Erika Cohn, Loira Limbal, Darcy McKinnon, Tommy Oliver, and Rajal Pitroda are expected for the live conversation on Friday, December 4 at 3:30 pm PST. Moderated by Miasarah Lai from Brown Girls Doc Mafia.


Join SFFILM’s Artist Development team for a discussion on the filmmaker-subject relationship in documentary filmmaking and the varied challenges that come with the depiction of vulnerable individuals and communities. For much of the form’s history, traditional documentary filmmaking has resulted in the exoticism and othering of subjects. Today’s filmmakers have the opportunity and responsibility to adopt a more authentic approach and to bring nuance and specificity to their subjects who often represent diverse realities. Hear from several talented storytellers on their creative process and how they craft stories, gain access, and create trust through the lens of thoughtful representation.

Moderator Miasarah Lai

Miasarah Lai is a Community Manager at Brown Girls Doc Mafia and a documentary filmmaker and writer. She has worked internationally in Honduras, Ghana, Myanmar, China, Nicaragua, Romania, and the US. She has produced work for American Airlines, Nike, NBC Universal, University of Chicago, among others. Her work has screened at Big Sky Film Festival, American Documentary Film Festival, San Jose Museum of Art, the Block Museum of Art, and Herbert Johnson Museum of Art. She has received grants from the Academy of Arts and Sciences, Camden International Film Festival, Double Exposure Film Festival, the Propeller Fund, and a DVID fellowship from Kartemquin Films. Lai is a co-founder of Ethnocine Collective and is a member of Asian American Documentary Network.

Speaker Erika Cohn

Erika Cohn is a Peabody and Emmy Award-winning director/producer whom Variety recognized as one of 2017’s top documentary filmmakers to watch and was featured in DOC NYC’s 2019 “40 Under 40.” She recently directed/produced the New York Times Critic’s Pick Belly of the Beast, an exposé of human rights abuses in women’s prisons, currently playing in virtual cinemas. Previously, Cohn directed/produced The Judge (SFFILM Festival 2018), a Peabody Award-winning and Emmy-nominated film about the first woman judge appointed to the Middle East’s Shari’a courts, which premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and was broadcast on PBS’s 2018 Independent Lens series. She also co-directed and produced In Football We Trust, an Emmy award-winning feature documentary about young Pacific Islander men pursuing their dreams of playing professional football which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and was broadcast on PBS’s 2016 Independent Lens series. In 2013, Erika founded Idle Wild Films, Inc., which has released three feature documentaries and produced numerous branded content and commercial spots, including Gatorade’s “Win from Within” series, for which she received a 2016 Webby award nomination.

Speaker Loira Limbal

Loira Limbal currently serves as the Senior Vice President for Programs for Firelight Media. Limbal is an Afro-Latinx filmmaker and DJ interested in the creation of art that is nuanced, revelatory, and affirming for communities of color. In 2006, she founded The Reel X Project, a social justice and creative filmmaking space for young women of color in the Bronx. Her first film, Estilo Hip Hop, was a co-production of ITVS and aired on PBS in 2009. She is a Sundance Institute Time Warner fellow and a former Ford Foundation Justfilms/Rockwood fellow.

Speaker Darcy McKinnon

Darcy McKinnon is a documentary filmmaker based in New Orleans, interested in work that highlights the unique cultures and social issues of the American South. She is a co-founder of All Y’All, with Elaine McMillion Sheldon. McKinnon’s prior work in documentary includes the films Maquilapolis (2006), Live, Nude, Girls, UNITE! (2000), and Animals (2018). She produces documentary work with Southern filmmakers, and is currently in post-production on The Neutral Ground with CJ Hunt, a documentary about New Orleans’ struggle to remove Confederate monuments; in mid-production on Commuted with Nailah Jefferson focusing on life after incarceration for one New Orleans woman; and in post-production on Katie Mathews’ Roleplay, a hybrid play/documentary about sexual assault on campus at Tulane University. Her directorial debut, the doc short A Fine Girl, supported by If/Then, premieres in November 2020. McKinnon’s work has been broadcast on POV, LPB, and Cinemax, and her current projects have received support from the SFFILM Documentary Film Fund, CAAM, Chicken and Egg, Firelight Media, ITVS, Black Public Media, Sundance, and Tribeca. She is a 2020 Impact Partners Producer’s Fellow and was recently named one of Filmmaker magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” in 2020.

Speaker Tommy Oliver

Tommy Oliver is the director of 40 Years a Prisoner. His narrative feature debut, 1982, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2013. He co-created the OWN series Black Love, which premiered in 2017 and became the network’s most widely viewed unscripted program. His photos of Black Lives Matter protests in Hollywood this summer have become some of the seminal images of this movement. Speaking about his field of work, he says, “The reason I’m in entertainment is that I believe in its transformative power. The power to inspire, the power to incite, the power to challenge. That said, change doesn’t happen by sitting by, and we have a commitment to the next generation as a duty to pay for those who fought, bled, and died to get us to where we are today.”

Speaker Rajal Pitroda

Rajal Pitroda is a producer working between the worlds of fiction and non-fiction film. She is currently producing Higher 15, a personal film about an Ethiopian family confronting intergenerational trauma as refugees of the Red Terror; Last Will & Testament, a story of family, greed, and class dynamics in rural Arkansas, anchored in a fantastical true crime narrative; and the documentary series Girls & Sex, a deep dive into the current landscape around sex and identity based on the New York Times bestselling book. Pitroda most recently produced Down a Dark Stairwell, which premiered at the 2020 True/False Film Festival. She was an associate producer of The Kindergarten Teacher, a 2018 Sundance selection and a co-producer of O.G., a 2018 Tribeca Film Festival selection. Pitroda is a 2020 Sundance Creative Producing Fellow, was an SFFILM FilmHouse Resident, and an Impact Producing Fellow with Firelight Media.