Please join us in welcoming the incoming Class of 2024 cohort of Duke University MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts.
Shiraz Ahmed is a visual artist and journalist most recently based in Hamtramck, Mich. Born in Texas, he earned his B.S. in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University before moving to Detroit in 2013 to work as an auto journalist. There, he discovered the city’s dynamic culture and joined a community of artists that jumpstarted his practice. Shiraz’s documentary work examines social inequities, displacement, resilience, and the unending attempt to better our world. He is a Kartemquin Diverse Voices in Docs Fellow (2019), Documenting Detroit Fellow (2018), and New York Foundation for the Arts Immigrant Artist Fellow (2018). He has spent the past several years working at local news organizations in Detroit and Memphis, Tenn., covering housing, healthcare and social service programs.
Sara Alghesheyan was born in 1993 and grew up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She moved to California in 2014 and graduated from the University of San Francisco in 2018 with a BA degree in media and film and working background in film archiving and experimental cinema. Alghesheyan creates films from personal narratives, touching on nostalgia and her childhood. She spent the last 3 years working as a producer and an independent filmmaker in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Elena Botts has lived many places in the northeast and abroad, but the Hudson Valley is home. Elena’s poems have been published in over a hundred literary magazines. Elena is the winner of four poetry contests and has had many books published. Elena’s visual artwork has won numerous awards and has been exhibited in various galleries. Elena has also collaborated on, released and installed sound and moving image artwork (under the name “mourning dove”), as well as multimedia and conceptual art, and formed a multimedia collective for this purpose (“the unknown sound collective”), while pursuing graduate school, human rights, and arts projects. Elena is a dedicated artist, human rights researcher and policy analyst who previously studied international law and human rights at Johns Hopkins, and global affairs and the mind at Bard College. Elena seeks to untangle how psychological shifts and cultural movements prove formative to democratic values in fragile and conflicted zones, with a special consideration of past traumas and the paradigm of truth and reconciliation- while considering potential futures through multilateral cooperation, especially in facing transnational issues such as climate and migration- including through a cultural and artistic lens.
Natasha is a photographer from Pound Ridge, New York who has spent much of her career photographing in the American south. She holds a BFA in graphic design and photography from Belmont University in Nashville, TN. After graduating in May of 2020, she has worked alongside photographers such as Alec Soth and Christian Patterson. She currently resides in Brooklyn, NY where she is bookstore manager at Launch Photo Books and workshop assistant for Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris-Webb.
Born in 1991 Thane Montgomery started his life in rural Illinois. He studied film while at Columbia College in Chicago. Combining his love of storytelling, art, and passion for social justice topics, he has found his place in documentary. He sees documentaries as a tool in amplifying the voices of people that are marginalized in society. Thane has spent the last few years working on movie trailers in Hollywood but is excited to return to his roots in documentary.
Born in 1992, Max Schulte grew up in Logan, Utah and Madison, Wisconsin. He has a BA in film and television arts from Columbia College Chicago, and works with video, animation and sound.He’s worked at three different television stations, a polo horse farm, and helped reconstruct a 19th century Norwegian log cabin using only traditional hand tools. He looks forward to creating more inclusive and socially relevant art through collaboration.
Sai Varadan is an American Filmmaker, Visual Artist and Arts Educator. A graduate of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, his thesis short film God’s Hand world premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. He went on to write and direct two feature films (An American in Hollywood, The Health of Hope) as well as several music videos and television commercials over the past ten years. He is affiliated with the world-renowned muralist company TATS CRU and is currently a Visual Arts Teacher, Varsity Soccer Coach and Adjunct Professor in New York City.
Born in 1998, Trista Weng is an indie documentary filmmaker currently based in Beijing, China. Growing up in Hangzhou, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree at Beijing Normal University, majoring in Film and Television and minoring in Philosophy. Also, during her college years, she had been to UCLA for summer school and UC Berkeley for a semester-long visiting student program.
Since her junior year of college, Trista has shifted from “academic” fiction filmmaking to independent documentary filmmaking. Having spent one and a half years filming homeless people living in a McDonald’s near her campus, she completed her first feature-length documentary, Vagrants and I, in May 2021, which won her Audience Select Award at her department’s graduation exhibition. Additionally, since 2021, she has worked as an assistant for Su Qing, an established indie documentary filmmaker, a musician, and a restaurant owner. Her job concerns script-writing, photographing and editing for his ongoing feature documentaries.
Confronting critical political change in her homeland, mainland China, Trista yet chose to “keep a distance” from the subjects concerning her national identity and gender. Instead, influenced by her studies of Philosophy (Ethics primarily), she seeks to explore human’s shared experiences in the occasionality of being, as well as the separation and connection between different individuals. Meanwhile, interested in the emerging digital media, she aims to extend her art practice to multi-media arts at Duke’s MFA|EDA program, and quest into the future of cinematic storytelling.
Born in Jerusalem in 1990, Hareth Yousef holds a bachelor’s degree from Birzeit University in journalism and media with a minor in sociology. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in photography from Columbia College, Chicago. Hareth has a passion for photography and studies its latest techniques as well as those of visual storytelling. He currently works full time at The Palestinian Museum in Birzeit as a Photographer / Audio -Visual Content Specialist, and teaches a photography class at Birzeit University.
Hareth’s visual creation is a reflection of his family’s ongoing struggle in his country, Palestine. A transgenerational struggle perpetuated by an apartheid system and illegal envasions. This has inspired his work on a documentary project that focuses and studies the changes in the landscape of the villages around Ramallah and the transformation of the villages that once depended solely on farming.
Through his visual creation, Hareth also seeks to capture scenes of Palestinian daily life and landscape and to illuminate its human experience, which is so often overlooked in international media narratives.
Born in 1999, Alaric (Tianming) Zhou grew up with a passion for literature and film but pursued a bachelor’s degree in data science in Hong Kong for the reason that only God knows. Through years of exploration, he finally found his inner peace with street photography and filmmaking. Encouraged by his knowledge of psychology and experience living in a multicultural city, Alaric is now working on short films aiming to visualize the mental states of individuals living in modern society going through historic changes.
A North Carolina native, Nora Zubizarreta’s love for storytelling led her to New York where she received a BFA in Film & Television at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. During her time at Tisch, her work producing both fiction and documentary films kept her as close to home as North Carolina and as far away as South Africa. The final film she produced at Tisch, Umama, went on to win gold at the Student Academy Awards. Since graduating, she has lived in New York and Los Angeles working in production on feature length films, TV shows and commercials. Nora seeks to tell stories that uplift people in positions that have typically been underrepresented. She’s excited to move back towards her roots and explore both being a North Carolina based filmmaker and to play with what it means to make a documentary.