About us

The Southern Documentary Fund (SDF) is a nonprofit arts organization that cultivates documentary projects made in or about the American South. Inspired by our core belief that documentaries have the power to change lives and communities, we serve as a leading advocate for powerful southern storytelling, providing filmmakers and artists with professional support, filmmaking grants, and fiscal sponsorship. Since its founding in 2002, SDF has sponsored over 150 projects that have screened all over the world, won critical acclaim and prestigious awards, and inspired audiences with authentic stories that matter.

SDF-sponsored projects often aim to bring injustice to light, and to reveal truths, large and small, about the world around us. In just the past couple of years alone SDF has sponsored award-winning films with important messages of hope and change—films like Private Violence, about domestic abuse, The Case Against 8, about the battle for marriage equality, and Los Jets, about discrimination against immigrants. That said, SDF is not curatorial, or didactic. The work of our artists covers a broad spectrum of topics told from multiple points of view. Every project is editorially independent; SDF does not support works-for-hire or branded content. SDF also believes deeply in the power of film to enlighten and inspire through its craft and artistry. While many of our films address obvious social issues, many are simply good stories, or good art. We have sponsored dozens of films about athletics, music, artmaking, family dynamics, or unique cultures and lifestyles. The demand for documentary programming has grown exponentially, in no small part thanks to the more cinematic nature of the works themselves. SDF supports our makers in creating more artful projects.
SDF was founded in 2002 by two independent filmmakers, Steve Channing and Cynthia Hill. They were producing and directing feature-length documentaries, and found themselves reaching out to organizations in New York or on the West Coast to sponsor their films. Eventually Cynthia and Steve felt compelled to create a home for southern storytellers closer to home. Based in Durham, North Carolina, SDF became the first and only arts nonprofit dedicated to supporting documentary artists in the American South, filling a substantial gap in services locally and within the region. Over the past decade, SDF has become a trusted partner for veteran, emerging, and first-time documentary producers across our region, helping them direct their lenses and microphones at powerful southern stories and critical issues. The work of SDF artists covers a diverse spectrum of topics—civil rights, the environment, history, and the arts—and their films are being used as effective tools for social change, education, and community development. SDF is passionate about providing our artists with opportunities for professional growth, offering support and programming that connects them to the resources necessary to hone their skills, complete their projects, and exhibit them widely. And as a leading advocate for documentary culture in the Southeast, SDF forges relationships between our regional makers and industry professionals around the country. Since our founding, SDF has sponsored over 100 independent documentaries. Currently we have approximately 77 active documentaries on the roster, a record number for our small organization.
Co-Founders

Dr. Steven Channing

Dr. Steven Channing brings a wide range of experiences as an historian, author, and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker. Over the past two decades his documentaries have explored many American stories, from The Lost Colony to the nationally broadcast February One: The Story of the Greensboro Four. His Durham: A Self-Portrait was broadcast on Fox50, while Change Comes Knocking: The Story of the North Carolina Fund, Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina, and Generation of Change: Bill Friday, Terry Sanford and North Carolina have regularly been screened on UNC Television. He is currently completing Remarkable Journey: The Voices of Asian Indians in North Carolina.

Cynthia Hill

Cynthia Hill (President Emeritus) is an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker whose credits as a producer/director include the feature-length documentaries Tobacco Money Feeds My Family, The Guestworker, February One, and Private Violence, as well as the PBS series A Chef’s Life. Her projects are often accompanied by community outreach campaigns that provide a forum for viewers to initiate dialogue and become actively involved; the 18-part multi-media project Survivor to Survivor offers resources and educational tools for victims and others. A native of Pink Hill, NC, Hill began her production career as an editor at GLC Productions in New York City, but telling stories that are grounded in a sense of place led her back South, and she now makes her home in Durham, NC.
Our Staff

Peter Gilbert

Interim Executive Director

Kristy Breneman

Artist Development Director

Sonwanna Prim

Fiscal Sponsorship Analyst

Our Board

LaTosha Brown

LaTosha Brown is an award-winning community organizer, philanthropic consultant, jazz singer and political strategist with over twenty years of experience working in the non-profit and philanthropy sectors on a wide variety of issues related to social justice, economic development, leadership development, wealth creation and civil rights. She is the co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund and a founding member of the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors’ Gulf Coast Fund.

Cornelio Campos

Cornelio Campos is a self-taught Mexican-American artist based in Durham, N.C. Through his paintings, he illustrates some of the harsh realities of immigrating to America that immigrants often overlook.

Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson is the SVP of Sound + Engagement at Trailblazer Studios, a production, post, and sound facility based in Raleigh, NC.  Projects include production and/or post-production for Discovery Channel, OWN, HBO, National Geographic, PBS, Paramount Pictures, Disney Channel, Columbia Pictures and NBC Universal.

Kirsten Mullen

SECRETARY

Kirsten Mullen is a folklorist and the founder of Artefactual, an arts-consulting practice, and Carolina Circuit Writers, a literary consortium that brings expressive writers of color to the Carolinas—both based in Durham, NC. She was a member of the Freelon Adjaye Bond concept development team that was awarded the Smithsonian Institution’s commission to design the National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

Ellen Stolzman

VICE PRESIDENT

Ellen Stolzman has a long history in the marketing of entertainment products. She began her career at CBS, where she spent nearly 10 years engaged in the worldwide marketing of American music legends. She joined Simon & Schuster to launch their Books on Cassette and Home Video businesses, and then moved to senior management at HBO Video, where she built their non feature film business with the targeted marketing of documentaries, music, sports, comedy and educational programs.

Irene Oakley Johnson

TREASURER

Irene Oakley Johnson  is Former First Lady of Clark Atlanta University where she was an integral part of the life of the University and the ambassador for “Lifting Every Voice.”.  She is a retired procurement professional in the Mission Operations Support Office at NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas.  

Peter Gilbert

PRESIDENT

Peter’s distinguished career in producing, directing, and photographing documentaries, narrative feature films, commercials, branding, and music videos includes being the producer and director of photography of Hoop Dreams, which appeared on over 100 “top ten” lists for 1994 and has won numerous awards and co-producing and co-directing At The Death House Door, which has won numerous awards and was short-listed for the Academy Award for Best Documentary. Peter currently teaches filmmaking at Wake Forest University.

Past Board Members

  • Herb Amey
  • Sharon Anderson
  • John Biewen
  • Laurie Bley
  • Eric Boggs
  • Kathy Carter
  • Rebecca Cerese
  • Cynthia Collins
  • Vandana Dake
  • Kenny Dalsheimer
  • Kathy Dole
  • Dawn Dreyer
  • Vivian Bowman Edwards
  • Mimi Fountain
  • Greg Garneau
  • Micah Gilmer
  • Bonnie Gordon
  • Dionne Greenlee
  • Kim Lan Grout
  • Jim Haverkamp
  • Titus Brooks Heagins
  • Rick Igou
  • Allison Inman
  • Alan Jacobs
  • Dante James
  • Elisabeth Haviland James
  • Allegra Jordan
  • Shambhavi Kaul
  • Carl Kenny
  • Rishi Kotiya
  • Cicero Leak
  • Malinda Lowery
  • Sandy Marshall
  • Louise Maynor
  • Beverly Meeks
  • Scott Misner
  • Alyson Newby
  • Diana Newton
  • Kemi Nonez
  • Rhesa C. Rubin
  • Chloe Seymore
  • Alan Teasley
  • Peter Tompkins
  • Nicole Triche
  • Tom Whiteside
  • Judy Van Wyk