Maria Finitzo

Chicago, Illinois, United States


Maria Finitzo is a two time Peabody award winning filmmaker. For more than 25 years, she has been producing and directing documentary films for network television, public broadcasting, cable TV and the Internet. Her films have won every major broadcast award and she has received grants for her work from both private and government foundations. Her films have tackled a variety of subjects from the controversial science of stem cell research and the hard questions surrounding the command and control of nuclear weapons to the psychology of adolescent girls, demonstrating a depth and breadth of knowledge and expertise. Her documentaries are all supported by civic engagement strategies that are developed with local and national partners to foster understanding, change thinking, and build support for social change. Her work has been shown in community screenings, festivals and at universities throughout the world. She won her first George Foster Peabody Award in 1994, as a Producer for The New Explores, a PBS series profiling ground breaking scientific exploration. The series, produced by Kurtis Productions, was nominated for a national Emmy and went on to win numerous broadcast awards, including The Ohio State Award, The Chicago International Film Festival Gold Plaque and the CINE Golden Eagle Award. In 1995, she became an associate of Kartemquin Films, an award winning documentary company with a 45-year history of producing social issue documentaries. In 2007, to honor the body of work produced by all of the associates at Kartemquin Films, the company was awarded The International 2007 MacArthur Awards for Creative and Effective Institutions. As an associate of Kartemquin Films, she received a production grant of $350,000 from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 1995 to produce 5 Girls. The film was also awarded a $50,000 grant from PBS as well as production grants from The Illinois Humanities Council and The Illinois Arts Council. 5 Girls was a special presentation of the PBS non- fiction series P.O.V and premiered on national public television in the fall of 2001. 5 Girls was awarded the Henry Hampton Award for Excellence from The Council on Foundations, The Silver Award from The Chicago Film & Television Competition and an award for Outstanding Achievement from the Parent's Guide to Children's Media. To support the broadcast and outreach of the film, she was awarded an additional $100,000 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to write and produce the 5Girls website-an interactive space featuring information from experts, perspectives from parents and other adults, and video clips from the film and from interviews with girls. In 2001, in collaboration with Public Policy Productions, she directed and produced With No Direction Home, a documentary short about a young man aging out of foster care. The film was chosen by the International Documentary Association to be screened at InFact in 2004, the theatrical festival qualifying films for Academy Award consideration and went on to win a 2004 CINE Golden Eagle, a Bronze CHRIS Award and an award from the Columbus International Film & Video Festival. In 2002, she began work on her second documentary produced in collaboration with Kartemquin Films. Production began on Mapping Stem Cell Research: Terra Incognita with a $300,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation with additional production funding for this film coming from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Illinois Humanities Council, The Illinois Arts Council, The Sundance Documentary Fund, The Black & Fuller Fund, The Christopher Reeves Paralysis Foundation Quality of Life Award and The Daniel Heuman Spinal Cord Fund. Completed in 2007, Terra Incognita was screened in competition at The International Documentary Film Festival – Amsterdam, The Chicago International Film Festival, The New Zealand International Film Festival, The Denver Film Festival, The Anchorage International Film Festival, The Council on Foundations Film Festival, The 3rd Intl. Science Film Festival – Greece, The Kos International Film Festival, The Wisconsin Film Festival, and the Coruna Science Festival and Mostra de Ciencia e Cinema – Spain. Finitzo won her second George Foster Peabody Award for Broadcast Excellence in 2008 for Terra Incognita. The film went onto also win the Chicago Hugo Award by The Chicago International Film Festival, an Honorable Mention at DOCNZ, New Zealand’s International Documentary Film Festival, two 2nd place jury awards at Mostra de Ciencia e Cinema in Spain, Best Feature Documentary from the Kos International Film Festival. The film was broadcast nationally in January of 2008 as part of the Independent Lens 2008 season on PBS. Chosen by the Independent Television Service to be a part of their Community Cinema Program, the film was shown theatrically in more than 70 different markets. Terra Incognita has also been broadcast in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Israel, Spain and Sweden. In 2007, Finitzo was selected by Sundance Institute to be a 2007 Sundance Documentary Fellow for the 2007 Independent Sundance Producer’s Conference. In 2009, she was awarded grants from The Illinois Arts Council, The National Endowment for the Arts and the Illinois Humanities Council to begin production on her latest feature length documentary In the Game. Most recently, Finitzo was awarded a Development Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for Encounters with the Other. This film will examine the transition from a subsistence life style to the modern ways of life through the lives of the Tsimane' people who live in the lowlands of Bolivia by identifying key factors in the Tsimane' society such as preservation of traditional knowledge about the forest and a deep connection to cultural values that appear to be responsible for promoting well- being in the face of massive social change. By following the story of individuals making this transition the film will reveal the forces of modernization and the dangers Indigenous People face- poverty, illness, and environmental degradation- as they encounter the "other" world. All of her films produced in collaboration with Kartemquin Films have been the centerpiece for major symposiums and are used by universities across the country as teaching tools and have been the focus of targeted community screenings both nationally and internationally. She is a board member of Kartemquin Films, providing institutional leadership, ensuring the longevity of the organization and the fulfillment of its mission to develop documentary film as a vehicle to deepen our understanding of society through everyday human drama. In July of 2010, she produced and directed Life Lessons an 18-minute fiction short from her original screenplay. Independently financed, Life Lessons is in festival distribution. She recently finished My Mother’s Idea- a cross genre documentary film that blends the personnel with the historical to look back at the profound experience a teacher can have on the lives of their students. Maria recently founded TWO SISTERS PRODUCTION, a development and production company for fiction feature films. Her first project with TWO SISTERS is a screen adaptation of Passion, the award -wining short story by author Alice Munro. Four years ago, she returned to graduate school to further her education as a filmmaker, and educator. In June of 2008, she was awarded an MFA from Northwestern University in Writing for the Stage and Screen. She holds two faculty appointments as an Adjunct Professor at both Columbia College and Northwestern University.