Debra Tolchinsky

Debra Tolchinsky, director of the MFA program in documentary media and associate professor of Radio-TV-Film, is a documentary filmmaker and curator. Her work has been seen at such venues as the Sundance Film Festival, The John F. Kennedy Center, the Gene Siskel Film Center, and the Supreme Court Institute. As a curator, Debra co-curated The Horror Show at Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs, Shimon Attie: The Neighbor Next Door at the Block Museum, and most recently The Presence of Absence sponsored by the Contemporary Arts Council. As a documentarian, she directed and produced the feature Fast Talk concerning college competitive debate. Fast Talk won Best Documentary at the LA Femme International Film Festival, Best Documentary Feature at the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival, and has been spotlighted in the Chicago Tribune, the National Law Journal, the Onion A.V. Club, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. In 2015, Debra ranked No. 8 on New City's Film 50: Chicago Screen Gems. She is currently in production on a documentary concerning contaminated memory featuring Penny Beerntsen who mistakenly identified Steven Avery (Making a Murderer) as her assailant, resulting in Avery serving 18 years in prison. Debra joined the Northwestern University faculty in 2006 and won a Clarence Simon Award for Teaching Excellence in 2010. She received an AB from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts and a BFA and MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.


MFA Painting, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
BA Film/Video Production, USC School of Cinema-Television

Recent Awards and Honors


Invited speaker at Chicago Humanities Festival/17: Belief regarding True Memories and Other Falsehoods. In conversation with WBEZ Film commentator, Milos Stehlik.

No. 7 on New City’s Film 50 2017 Chicago’s Screen Gems.

Recipient of a year long Alice B. Kaplan Institute for the Humanities Fellowship for her (in process) documentary feature, True Memories and Other Falsehoods.

2015 No. 8 on New City’s Film 50 2015 Chicago’s Screen Gems.

Contemporary Art Council grant to co-curate “The Presence of Absence”, Hairpin Art Center, Chicago, IL. Described by the Chicago Tribune as “a remarkable group exhibition” and by Chicago magazine as “One of the best art gallery shows in Chicago right now”

Selected, Associated Student Government’s Faculty Honor Roll


Best Documentary Feature Award for Fast Talk, Chagrin Documentary Film Festival, Chagrin, OH.

Best Documentary Award for Fast Talk, Iowa Film Festival, June 25, 2012, Quad Cities, IA.

Nomination Winter Film Award for Fast Talk, Documentary Competition, Winter Film Award Festival, February 10- 12, 2012, New York, NY.


Platinum Reel Award for Fast Talk, Documentary Film Competition, Nevada Film Festival, December 3, 2011, Las Vegas, Nev.

Best Documentary Award for Fast Talk, LA Femme International Film Festival, October 13-16, 2011, Los Angeles, CA.

Award of Excellence for Fast Talk, The Indie Fest, La Jolla, CA.

Award of Merit for Fast Talk (editing), The Indie Fest, La Jolla, CA.

Award of Merit given to Fast Talk for excellent creative and technical artistry, Los Angeles Cinema Festival of Hollywood.

Award of Merit given to Fast Talk for exceptional achievement in craft and creativity, The Accolade Competition, La Jolla, CA.

2010 Clarence Simon Award for Teaching and Mentoring
2009 Co-Curator, The Horror Show, Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs, New York City (, chosen as a "Voice Choice for Art" by The Village Voice

Award of Excellence, exhibit catalogue for "The Horror Show," (Tolchinsky/Tolchinsky) and chosen for inclusion in the UCDA Design Show.

Top Award of Artistic Merit for Smoke and Mirrors I, video installation, University Film and Video Conference, new media exhibit, "Ideas in Mediation."


Grant, Center for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts

Grant, The Center for Global Culture and Communication


Grant, The Center for Global Culture and Communication

Nominee, Program for New Media Artists, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation

2004 Nominee, The Richard Driehaus Foundation’s Individual Artist Award
2003 Nominee, Motion Picture Sound Editors’ Golden Reel Awards


RTVF 392 Documentary Production
RTVF 394 Experimental Film and Video Production
RTVF 379 Horror Production
RTVF 379 Finishing
RTVF 475 Introduction to Graduate Production
RTVF 475 Graduate Production
RTVF 551 Documentary Techniques
RTVF 555 Doc Thesis II


Debra Tolchinsky

Associate Professor; Director, MFA in Documentary Media




1920 Campus Drive, Room 211
Evanston, IL 60208



Graduate Programs:

Documentary Media; Radio/Television/Film

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