After Imani Davis ’22 graduated from The Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies and concentration in screenwriting, she found herself at a career crossroads: She realized that being a full-time screenwriter wasn’t for her.
Feeling a little lost, she returned to her home in the Chicago suburbs to think about a new path forward that better aligned with her skills and personality. As an undergraduate, she had interned with The Ohio State University’s Alumni Association, so she began searching for a full-time job at higher-education institutions in Chicago.
Northwestern University’s Office of Alumni Relations and Development was hiring, and she accepted a position as a program assistant with fundraising and development responsibilities for the University Libraries and the Mary and Leigh Block Museum. Soon after, she was named the assistant director of alumni engagement.
“One day, I started looking at Northwestern’s programs,” she explains. “I thought I might go back to school to earn a degree in communications, but I stumbled upon the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program (MSLCE), and it was perfect for me. It was exactly what I was looking for.”
To learn more about the program, she took some friends with her to attend on-campus Speaker Series events—and she soon knew she wanted this to be her journey. She joined the program on a part-time basis in Fall 2019, kicking off her master’s degree with Adjunct Lecturer Laverne McKinnon’s The Power of Pitching and Persuasion course.
“That was a great introduction for me,” she explains. “I learned a lot of basic information that I was able to apply to other projects. I love how hands-on the classes are. We got to dive deep rather than just read books and take tests. It was a different learning experience that worked really well.”
She says the program also gave her space to explore and learn about the business side of film production—from planning and sourcing to marketing and distribution.
To put what she learned into practice, she focused her applied project on the exploration of Chicago’s film scene landscape and how it can compete with well-known production hubs like Atlanta, New York, and California.
Part of the project involved interviewing people who work with Chicago film organizations and filmmakers, as well as taking a close-up look at her own work as a producer for the film Year One, a coming-of-age indie film that follows the story of a student who navigates her freshman year of college. The film was written by a Northwestern alumna and shot on Northwestern’s campus.
Throughout production, Davis analyzed the steps involved with bringing the movie to life and determined whether the process was sustainable and repeatable.
“It was a very valuable learning experience,” she says. “It gave me a better understanding of indie films, it was the first feature I produced, and it was the biggest budget I’d worked with at that point. I learned a lot about what I do and don’t want to do moving forward.”
After receiving her MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises, Davis moved to Los Angeles with two other MSLCE graduates. She works for The American Cinematheque, which is a nonprofit that brings community members, cinephiles, luminaries, and filmmakers together to discover, engage with, and discuss diverse film programming.
“They were really interested in my degree during those preliminary conversations,” she describes. “I learned a lot about my own entrepreneurial grind, honed in on what it means to be entrepreneurial, and discovered how to tell people what I’m all about. Those conversations helped lead me to this dream job.”
As a film programmer, she chooses the right mix of films to appeal to a wide range of diverse audiences and start powerful conversations.
In addition to her full-time job, Davis is also working to launch a production company in partnership with a few other MSLCE graduates. She credits this venture in part to the lifelong network she built at Northwestern. “The program brought our cohort together in unique and impactful ways that helped us form lasting personal connections,” she explains.
Davis is excited to find out what the future holds with a master’s degree in hand. Her career bucket list includes collaborative writing and showrunning, managing creative control for a production.
In her new role at The American Cinematheque, she also wants to connect with MSLCE students or alumni who are interested in film programming. “I often hear people say, ‘I didn’t even know you could do that as a job!’ I want to help demystify it as a career path.” Connect with her here.