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Media Studies alums premier films this winter

The School of Media Studies is proud of the achievements of its graduates and takes special note of three alumnae whose recent documentary work has earned them acclaim at major venues like the Sundance Film Festival, the Museum of Modern Art, and Anthology Film Archive.

The Museum of Modern Art’s annual screening, “DocFortnight,” will feature a new work by Turkish filmmaker and Media Studies graduate Ayse Toprak.

Mr. Gay Syria will screen at MoMA on Friday, February 6 at 4:30 pm.  It follows two gay Syrian refugees who try to rebuild their lives after being forced to leave their country. Husein is a gay barber in Istanbul. Mahmoud champions LGBTI rights in Berlin. What brings them together is a crazy dream: to join the international beauty contest, Mr. Gay World, as an escape from their trapped lives and an answer to their invisibility. The film follows their journey to the beauty contest, which becomes a thread that weaves together the difficulties of being gay in homophobic societies, the challenges of coming out, the joy of falling in love, and the devastating migration crisis.


Ayse Toprak has produced films for Channel Thirteen/PBS in New York and Al Jazeera in London, Doha and Istanbul.  She returned to Turkey in 2011 to make social and political documentaries in her homeland.  She is interested in how documentaries can have far-reaching impact on society by triggering a national dialogue on neglected issues, overturning prejudices or breaching hitherto taboo subjects.  Mr. Gay Syria is her first feature length documentary, and it has been invited to many international film festivals and won seven awards to date.


Recent SMS graduate Rebecca Heidenberg will screen her new film The Water Children at Anthology Film Archives on February 28 at 6 pm. Heidenberg’s experimental short is a personal history of multiple pregnancy losses explored through stop motion animation and live action scenes that meditate on the physical and spiritual dimensions of loss and grief. Shot in both black and white 16mm film and HD color video, The Water Children brings to light an experience that is often misunderstood and obscured by shame and raises troubling questions about cultural and political responses to pregnancy loss.  Heidenberg’s poetic work was her thesis project for the MA in Media Studies.  For more information about the program, “Living Reality,” which includes nine short films presented by New Filmmakers and is curated by Lili White, please go to

Last but not least, Maya Mumma—who graduated with an MA and a Graduate Certificate in Documentary Studies—is a multi-award-winning editor who presented her latest work at Sundance in January, King in the Wilderness, a film by Peter Kundhart which she edited with Steven Golliday. It will be broadcast on HBO in April.

The film tells an untold story of how Martin Luther King, after the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, faced an onslaught of criticism from both sides of the political spectrum; the Black Power movement saw his nonviolence as weakness while President Lyndon B. Johnson saw his anti–Vietnam War speeches as irresponsible. His fervent belief in peaceful protest became a testing point for a nation on the brink of chaos. King in the Wilderness unearths a new perspective on Dr. King’s character, his radical doctrine of nonviolence, and his internal philosophical struggles prior to his assassination in 1968. One reviewer noted that, given the rise of white supremacy again, “the film’s message remains timely, shaped by the voices and vivid recollections of King’s intimate associates in the struggle for equality.”



Maya began her film career as an editor of the Academy Award nominated documentary Restrepo, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Since then, she has edited numerous award-winning films including Which Way Is the Front Line From Here: The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington (HBO),  the Peabody Award-winning Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown (HBO), A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers (TIFF 2015, PBS 2018), and the Netflix original series Daughters of Destiny. For her work editing the Academy Award winning O.J.: Made in America, Mumma was honored with the 2016 Best Editing award from the LA Film Critics Association, a cable ACE Eddie Award, and a primetime Emmy.

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