Filmmaker to spend two days with ECU students

Noted independent filmmaker Cynthia Hill will spend two days at East Carolina University to speak with students about her documentary on domestic violence and her PBS cooking series, “A Chef’s Life.

Cynthia Hill

Hill, who lives in Durham, will meet with students and answer questions following a screening of her 2014 film, “Private Violence,” 7-9:15 p.m. on March 31 in Speight Auditorium. She also will meet with students and answer questions before a screening of an episode of “A Chef’s Life” in the School of Art and Design auditorium at 7:30 p.m. on April 1.

While on campus, Hill will speak about domestic violence issues in several classes in the School of Communication and the Department of Sociology. She also will discuss filmmaking with cinematic arts and media production students.

“Private Violence,” which Hill directed, first aired on HBO last October. It also was screened at the Sundance Film Festival, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and other festivals.

The film explores a disturbing fact of American life: the most dangerous place for a woman in America is her own home. Statistics show that at least four women in the U.S. are murdered in their homes by abusive partners every day.

U.S. Justice Department statistics show that incidents of domestic violence are most prevalent among women aged 18-24. Hill said that is a vulnerable time for women college students.

Statistics on domestic violence
On average, 24 Americans per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner— more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year.

Twenty-nine percent of women and 10 percent of men in the U.S. have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by a partner.

Twenty-four percent of women and about 14 percent of men aged 18 and older in the United States have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Most female victims of intimate partner violence were previously victimized by the same offender.

Source: The National Domestic Violence Hotline

“I think that young folks in college … are testing the waters with relationships and figuring out those things. They are more vulnerable in that time,” Hill said. “I think (college students) may be more insecure and looking for reassurance from somebody who might be a mate.”

Hill said a person’s family background plays an important role. “A lot of us have grown up without having great role models for domestic relationships, so we don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like, so we don’t recognize violence.”

“A Chef’s Life,” which Hill produces and directs, stars Kinston chef Vivian Howard and her husband, Ben Knight, and centers on their farm-to-table restaurant in Kinston, Chef & the Farmer. The restaurant celebrates eastern North Carolina food traditions.

Howard and Hill grew up together near Pink Hill in Lenoir County. Hill came back to North Carolina a few years ago after working for a post-production facility in New York City.

“I spent a lot of time thinking about getting out of (eastern North Carolina) and now I find that most of my projects are focused or based on that region. For me, it was learning to appreciate where I grew up and the assets I had at my disposal,” Hill said. “I’ve learned to appreciate the stories that come from there and realizing that those stories have broad appeal to people, not just in eastern North Carolina.”

“A Chef’s Life” received three 2015 James Beard Foundation nominations. Named for the late cookbook author and teacher, the awards program recognizes TV shows and other programs that foster a deeper understanding of American culinary culture. ”A Chef’s Life” won a Peabody Award last year in its first season on PBS.

“A Chef’s Life” uses as its theme song “Will You Return” by The Avett Brothers, also North Carolina natives. Scott Avett graduated from ECU in 1999.

Hill’s previous feature-length documentaries include “Tobacco Money Feeds My Family” and “The Guestworker,” which examines the lives of Mexican farmworkers who pick crops in North Carolina. Most of Hill’s video projects explore Southern life and culture.

Hill has lectured at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and is the co-founder of the Southern Documentary Fund, a nonprofit organization established to support place-based storytelling.

Hill said she, like most independent filmmakers, has had difficulties raising money for her projects. She used a kickstarter campaign on the web site Indiegogo to secure initial funding for “Private Violence.” She said she hopes the accolades she has received recently will make fundraising easier.

“It feels good to receive recognition. I just hope one day it translates into making it easier to do the work, to get the financing, the other things in place – and that hasn’t happened yet.”

The life of an independent filmmaker can be difficult, Hill said. “I would not suggest getting into this lightly. It requires a lot of investment of your time and energy.”

A graduate of the pharmacy school at UNC-Chapel Hill, she works three or four days a month at a Walmart pharmacy. Working a part-time job has “given me permission to take risks (because) I know that I can feed my family,” Hill said.

Hill’s appearance at ECU is sponsored by the Ethnic Studies Program, the School of Art and Design, the School of Communication, the Department of Sociology and the Ledonia Wright Cultural Center.

This is the second time Hill has visited campus. In 2009 she spoke to School of Communication and Department of Sociology students about her documentaries “Tobacco Money Feeds My Family” and “The Guestworker.”

To watch an interview with Hill about her projects, go to The trailer for “Private Violence” can be seen at Learn more about “A Chef’s Life”—and download some recipes– at the show’s web site,