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Celebrating New Leadership at CMSI

The CMSI Team at MTM 2015, Left to right: Pat Aufderheide, Angelica Das, Caty Borum Chattoo, Brigid MaherThe Center for Media & Social Impact officially welcomes new co-directors Caty Borum Chattoo and Brigid Maher, who have both been actively involved in programming over the last year. You can rely on the same great programs and content you’ve come to love, including the 2015 Human Rights Film Series, the 2016 Media That Matters conference, field reports, and fair use guides, to name a few. You’ll also be hearing in coming months about exciting new projects in social documentary and media, impact assessment, production incubation projects and more.

Chattoo and Maher are both faculty members in the School of Communication at American University (AUSOC) with distinguished backgrounds in film production, social impact media, and social-change communication strategy.

Caty Borum Chattoo

You may have seen Chattoo most recently as our keynote speaker at the 2015 Media That Matters conference where she gave a talk on the foundations and future of storytelling for social change. This presentation grew out of an impact assessment report Chattoo published with the Center on storytelling as one solution for global poverty challenges, specifically storytelling through comedy.

Chattoo conducted the impact assessment in addition to executive producing the documentary (and transmedia) series Stand-Up Planet, which aired globally, including on Pivot, a new television network by Participant Media “serving passionate millennials.” This innovative work was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, part of Chattoo’s contributions as principal investigator and creative director with the Center over the last two years; she also directed our efforts to re-brand and evolve the former Center for Social Media into the Center for Media & Social Impact.

Traction for social change through comedy is ongoing. Chattoo was recently invited by the globally-acclaimed Skoll World Forum to speak on a live-streamed panel “What’s So Funny? The Role of Comedy in Social Change.” NPR picked up on the news and featured Chattoo and her research for the story “Mr. Toilet and Mr. Condom Think Jokes Will Save the World,” on comedy as a tool to “get people to pay attention to the world’s problems.”

This recent publicity adds to an already accomplished career in social impact media, where she works at the unique intersection of research, social action communication strategy, storytelling, production and evaluation. Chattoo has produced two feature documentaries, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price and The After Party, in addition to multiple half-hour documentary TV specials, a seven-part documentary TV series, and multiple PSA campaigns designed for social change on issues ranging from global poverty to human rights. Before joining AUSOC as Executive in Residence, she served as senior vice president for FleishmanHillard International Communications, where she worked in social marketing and behavior-change communication (and her work on the leadership team for a national White House teen prescription drug campaign was awarded the communication field’s highest honor, the Silver Anvil for Public Service), was a longtime collaborator with producer Norman Lear as a founding director of a national youth civic engagement campaign and other programs, special projects director at the USC Norman Lear Center, program officer in the Entertainment Media & Public Health Program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. See Caty Borum Chattoo’s full bio here.

Brigid Maher

Over the last several years, Maher has taken on the monumental tasks of directing a feature length documentary, serving as Associate Division Director for Film & Media Arts in AUSOC, and organizing as host of the upcoming UFVA Conference “Media With Impact: Engaging, Enterprising & Experiential.”

Most recently, Maher’s documentary The Mama Sherpas, made industry headlines for acquisition by distributor BOND/360 and executive producers Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein. Lake and Epstein are responsible for the highly successful film The Business of Being Born. The Mama Sherpas is a timely follow up addressing the rise of Cesarean sections in the U.S. birthing industry. Through the personal stories of mothers-to-be, the film explores whether midwives are a solution to reducing the nearly 30% rate of C-section in America. The trend of collaborative care practice is gaining traction, where doctors and midwives managing women’s care together can producer better outcomes for mother and baby. The Mama Sherpas is premiering in Los Angeles on May 27, with an Encore in San Francisco the following night followed by regional, Vod and DVD releases. Additionally, Maher just received news that the film The Mama Sherpas was selected to receive the American College of Nurse-Midwives Media Award to be presented in June.

In a grueling feat of accomplishment, Maher has managed to time the release of her film with the launch of exciting new changes to MA and MFA programs that will propel AUSOC recognition in media production training on a national level. Newly articulated concentrations for these academic programs strategically highlight the school’s strength in teaching and producing content for public knowledge and action. Maher’s leadership in the field of film and video knows no bounds as she gears up to host the 2015 UFVA Conference, prominently featuring the CMSI mission and accomplishments as a guiding theme for programs to be attended by educators, researchers and practitioners from across the country. (Registration now open!).   She will continue her leadership role in the University Film and Video Association as incoming Conference Vice President.

Maher is also President-Elect of the International Digital Media Association (iDMAa) as well as Co-Executive Editor of the affiliated Journal for Digital Media and Practice.  Maher’s new role as Co-Executive Editor emerged out of her scholarly writing and interest in exploring new forms, which focuses on the interplay between traditional film and emerging media theories.  Additionally, Maher continues to work on a long term collaborative interactive documentary about all women mosques in China.  

Maher’s award-winning narrative and documentary films have screened in festivals in the United States and abroad. Her previous feature film Veiled Voices screened on over 150 public television stations and three national networks. The film was distributed by Typecast Releasing (domestically), Al Jazeera Network for broadcast in the Middle East and North Africa and TVF International (worldwide). The film continues to be used as a primary source for scholarly research in the field of Islam, women and gender studies. She is a tenured professor, has been teaching for over 15 years, and was awarded a Fulbright Senior Award in 2005 to teach broadcast media in Lebanon. Read Brigid Maher’s full bio here.


This dynamic new team of Chattoo and Maher represents the best of employing theory and practice for empowering media that matters. Join us in celebrating their new roles and new opportunities for collaboration in the field.

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