Career Spotlight: Hilary Linder (MSFS'11)

Hilary Linder (MSFS'11)

President, Kudzu Films

Describe your current position and what led you to your job:

I am the founder and president of Kudzu Films, a production company dedicated to spreading social justice through documentary films. I am currently directing and producing Indivisible, a film about the fight to reunite families separated by deportation (indivisiblefilm.com). The film's main characters were small children when their parents brought them to the United States; they were teenagers when their mothers, fathers and siblings were deported. Today, they are known as Dreamers—immigrants who grew up and live in the United States without documentation. Indivisible takes place at a pivotal moment in their lives, as they fight for a pathway to citizenship and a chance to reunite with their loved ones.

Before starting Kudzu Films, I spent the majority of my career analyzing and writing about political and humanitarian issues. There were countless times when I thought that showing video footage of certain events would be more effective at bringing about change than a written product. I admired the way that documentaries could shed light on the human side of complex political and social issues. I decided to start Kudzu Films so I could combine my substantive background with my passion for nonfiction storytelling. I selected immigration reform as the focus of my first film because I believe it will shape the identity of the United States for generations to come and because I knew there was an incredible human story. 

What has been the most rewarding moment in your career?

In June, I accompanied three Dreamers to the Arizona-Mexico border, where they reunited with their mothers through the border fence after more than six years of separation. It was extremely powerful and emotional. Seeing the Dreamers and their moms hug and talk in person for the first time in so long is something I will never forget. It was a privilege to be there.   

What is the best career advice you have received?

Learn by doing. When grappling with how to take the leap into the world of documentary filmmaking, a colleague encouraged me to skip film school and learn on the job. She told me to stick to topics that I know and am passionate about, and to partner with the right technical experts. I took her advice and I learn something new every day.

What would you recommend to someone interested in working in your field?

Find and be an active member in the right networks. There is a vibrant film community in Washington, D.C. I am on the board of Docs In Progress (docsinprogress.org), a nonprofit organization that gives individuals the tools to tell stories through documentary film to educate, inspire and transform the way people view their world. Through Docs In Progress, I have met more experienced filmmakers who have mentored me, have taken workshops on various aspects of filmmaking and have gained a community of experts I can turn to with questions and for support.

What challenges have you faced and how did you successfully manage one situation?

One of the biggest challenges I have faced as a first-time filmmaker is fundraising. I recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to enable the next phase of filming for Indivisible (kck.st/17SiLN5). I needed to raise $30,000 by Dec. 13, 2013, so I was working around the clock to make sure it was successful. Crowdfunding is both an art and a science, and I have been fortunate to receive a lot of help designing my campaign and getting the word out. The campaign has been a real community builder, and I am so grateful to everyone who is helping to make the film a reality.

What skills are necessary or what prepared you the most for your career?

Determination.  Finding the right story, finding funding, finding an audience—these are just a few of the challenges facing independent filmmakers. It is important to me that this story gets told, so no matter what roadblock I hit, I am committed to finding a solution.  

What professional associations have aided in your professional development?

Docs In Progress has been a game changer for me. In addition to being a board member, I was selected to participate in its inaugural Fellowship Program, which brought together nine filmmakers with works-in-progress. The Fellowship Program's monthly meetings provided us with the opportunity to discuss challenges; report on successes and progress; and share experiences in a collaborative and creative forum. I am also a member of Women in Film and Video (wifv.org), a nonprofit dedicated to advancing the professional development and achievement of women working in all areas of film, television, video, multimedia and related disciplines.

If you could have another career what would it be?

This is it! 

How did your time at Georgetown University influence you and your career path?

At Georgetown, I had the opportunity to study many of the subjects that interest me as a filmmaker. For example, I received the Certificate in Refugees and Humanitarian Emergencies, and the coursework for the certificate helped build my understanding of immigration issues. In addition, the MSFS program encourages its students to be curious and think about creative ways to approach problems. I had one professor who said working in international development is often about figuring out what to do when you don’t know what to do. The same could certainly be said about filmmaking.