Debra Chasnoff

Introduction (2-3 lines)

Debra Chasnoff, (10/12/57-11/7/17) was an Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker whose work fueled progressive social-change movements. She was president and senior producer at GroundSpark, a national social justice media, advocacy, and education organization. The Debra Chasnoff / GroundSpark Legacy Initiative at Citizen Film continues to distribute Debra’s films and works to fulfill her mission.

Debra co-created GroundSpark’s Respect for All Project, a suite of media and training resources to help prevent prejudice toward young people, especially on the basis of gender and sexuality. The films include Straightlaced—How Gender's Got Us All Tied Up, about the pressures teens face to conform to gender-based stereotypes and the courage it takes to challenge those norms; Let's Get Real, the best-selling examination of young teens' experiences with name-calling and bullying and bias; That's A Family!, which looks at family diversity from kids' perspectives and was screened at the White House and embraced by scores of national children's advocacy, education and civil-rights organizations; and It's Elementary—Talking About Gay Issues in School, which was hailed as "a model of intelligent directing" by International Documentary and has served as a catalyst for schools all over the world to become more proactive in addressing anti-gay prejudice in the classroom. In 2007, Debra directed It's STILL Elementary, a retrospective look at why It's Elementary was originally produced, the response it drew from the conservative right, and the impact of the film on the national safe schools movement and some students who appeared in the original film.

Debra died in 2017, after documenting her own journey with advanced breast cancer and end-of-life care in her final and most personal documentary PROGNOSIS – notes on living. After her passing, Debra’s longtime creative collaborator, Kate Stilley Steiner, led a close-knit team of Debra’s filmmaking collaborators to finish the film and bring it to film festivals around the world from 2021-2023. GroundSpark’s Board of Directors closed the non-profit and transferred the GroundSpark Film Catalog to Citizen Film in 2023. Citizen Film will continue to support the profound impact of GroundSpark’s past documentaries and lead the public engagement campaign that uses Debra Chasnoff’s final film to spark conversations about end of life issues with audiences across the country and beyond.

Debra's other film credits include the Oscar-winning Deadly Deception—General Electric, Nuclear Weapons and Our Environment, a crucial component of a successful international grassroots campaign to pressure GE out of the nuclear-weapons industry; Homes and Hands—Community Land Trusts in Action, which is extensively used to inspire local communities to explore new models of creating permanently affordable housing; Wired for What?, part of the PBS series, Digital Divide, about the push to computerize education; Choosing Children, which explored the once seemingly impossible idea that lesbians and gay men could become parents; and One Wedding and a Revolution,whichcaptures the frantic days leading up to the bold political decision of San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom to start issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

Debra was a member-owner of New Day Films since 1996. She served as Chair from 2003 - 2005, and again from 2011 - 2013.

New Day Films by Debra Chasnoff

Awards & Accolades

Academy Award, Best Documentary Short Subject
Best Documentary, Frameline Film Festival
Grand Prize, Ambiente-Incontri International Film Festival on Nature & Environment
Alumnae Achievement Award in Documentary Filmmaking, Wellesley College
Wallace A Gerbode Fellowship for Outstanding Non Profit Leaderhsip
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