About the Director

Debra Chasnoff

Debra Chasnoff

“I always wanted to make a difference. Making documentary films that open up dialogue about issues I care about deeply has been the path that’s worked for me.”

Debra Chasnoff is an Academy Award®-winning documentary filmmaker whose work has fueled progressive social-change movements in many fields. She is the founding director of GroundSpark, a national social justice media, advocacy, and education organization, and co-creator of The Respect for All Project, a program that produces media and training resources to help prevent prejudice among young people. Her Respect for All films include: Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up (2009; director/producer) about the pressures teens face to conform to gender-based stereotypes and the courage it takes to challenge those norms; Let’s Get Real (2003; director/producer), a powerful documentary about young teens’ experiences with name-calling and bullying in which youth speak up about racial tensions, anti-gay taunting, sexual harassment and much more; That’s a Family! (2000; director/producer), which looks at family diversity from a kids’ perspective, and was screened at the (Clinton!) White House and been embraced by scores of national children’s advocacy, education and civil-rights organizations; and It’s Elementary—Talking About Gay Issues in School (1996; director/producer), 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, Chasnoff 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 the film has had on the national safe schools movement and some of the original students who appeared in the film.

Chasnoff’s other film credits include the Oscar®-winning Deadly Deception: General Electric, Nuclear Weapons & Our Environment (1991; director/producer), a crucial component of a successful international grassroots campaign to pressure GE out of the nuclear-weapons industry; Homes & Hands: Community Land Trusts in Action (1998; co-director), which is used extensively to inspire local communities to explore new models of creating permanently affordable housing; Wired for What? (1999; director/producer), part of the PBS series Digital Divide about the push to computerize education; Choosing Children (1984; director/producer), which explored the once-seemingly impossible idea that lesbians and gay men could become parents; and One Wedding and a Revolution (2004; director/co-producer), which captures 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.

Chasnoff serves on the national advisory board for Frameline (the San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival) POWER UP!, The Men’s Story Project, and Jewish Voices for Peace. She was awarded the first Alumnae Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking Award from her alma mater, Wellesley College, and is a Woodrow Wilson Fellow. She lives in San Francisco and has two sons, who have been the inspiration for many of her films.

Photos of the Filmmaker

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