Jeffrey Spitz - Columbia College Chicago

Jeffrey Spitz

Associate Professor


Associate Professor in Cinema and TV Arts, Spitz teaches documentary story, production, screenwriting, service learning and civic engagement. Spitz is the Director and Co-Producer of the official Sundance Film Festival & PBS selection, The Return of Navajo Boy (2000 & 2008 Epilogue). The film project reunited a Navajo family and triggered a federal investigation into uranium houses on the Navajo Reservation. Raising awareness about hidden legacies of Cold War uranium mining, Spitz continues to amplify the voices of Navajo Nation allies. Together they have leveraged the documentary and it's companion web series into mainstream news, speaking engagements with Navajo witnesses on Capitol Hill, public policy changes and tangible results such as an $8 million clean up of the abandoned uranium mine featured in the film and a $1,000,000,000 (billion) legal settlement from Kerr-McGee, the corporate polluter exposed in the documentary. 

Working at the intersection of indigenous culture, self-representation and documentary, Spitz developed a live event-based collaboration with South African ex-political prisoners. As co-founder of Groundswell Educational Films (a non-profit production & community engagement organization) Spitz developed and produced The Robben Island Singers Film & Concert project. Featuring personal stories, singing, documentary and Q&A with audiences, the interactive program debuted in Chicago's Field Museum and went on to performances in schools, colleges, churches and the Chicago Cultural Center. In 2007 the Illinois Arts Council recognized Spitz with the Illinois Governor's International Arts Exchange Award. Sponsored by The Field Museum of Chicago, CPS, Columbia College Chicago and private foundations the Robben Island Singers performed from 2002 - 2010, appearing inside segregated high schools in Chicago and in East St. Louis. The project's website with links to music, video, news and curriculum generates international interest. In 2014 Ai Weiwei, the renowned Chinese dissident artist, featured the Robben Island Singers music in his multi-media installation on Alcatraz titled, @large. 

Spitz's feature documentary, Food Patriots (2014, 74 mins) is a humorous, first-person voiced look at his family's first steps into a consumer movement for local and organic foods. Selected as the official opening night film by the Wisconsin International Film Festival in Madison, WI, Food Patriots has screened in festivals, colleges, schools, libraries, grocery stores, food co-ops, places of worship and community gardens. The Dominican Republic Environmental Film Festival commissioned a Spanish subtitled version of the film and hosted Spitz at schools and colleges. Wisconsin Public Television and TVO, Canadian public broadcaster, have aired the film. Chicago Public Library selected Food Patriots to be the kickoff event for its One Book, One Chicago program featuring Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. In 2016 Spitz created The Doc Talk Show, a monthly curated documentary event featuring non-fiction filmmakers, clips and conversations with audiences at Uncommon Ground in Wrigleyville.

Since 1985 Spitz has produced hundreds of short advocacy videos for non-profit organizations including The Chicago History Museum, the American Library Association and the US Conference of Mayors. In addition consulting with schools and non-profits, Spitz has raised funds for several independent documentaries. His credits as producer-director include the national PBS public affairs special, From the Bottom Up; America's Libraries Change Lives, narrated by Whoopi Goldberg and The Roosevelt Experiment: An Integrated College in a Segregated City - a Chicago Emmy Award-winning documentary that aired on ABC-TV stations. Education: MA, University of Chicago, English literature; BA, UCLA, English literature.

Instructional Areas

Documentary; Producing the documentary; Service learning and client-based documentary production ie. The Doc Unit; Fact & Fiction; Introduction to documentary; History of documentary; Screenwriting-adaptation; Careers in documentary; Film curation and presentation; Chicago history; culture, race and media; indigenous films; cross-cultural filmmaking; sports documentaries; documentary in the classroom; project-based learning with documentary; media arts integration.

Creative Practice and Research Interests

Documentary history, screenwriting and adaptation, the Hollywood Western, John Ford; early cinema, actualities by Lumiere, documentary filmmakers, technological changes and the teaching of documentary as an art; documentary, propaganda and social change; Careers in Documentary; Chicago history; Navajo Nation; environmental justice; indigenous peoples; politics, culture, race and media; youth media; project-based learning in schools.


B.A., English University of California, Los Angeles 1981
M.A., English Language and Literature University of Chicago 1991