Gregory Dixon, BA’08: Sharing Stories from Around the World
October 4, 2019 by Lisa McMahon MA'09
When Gregory Dixon, BA’08, came to Niagara University from Oswego, N.Y., he had two years of experience doing sports broadcasting in his high school’s public access TV station and planned to continue on that path to a career. As a communication studies major, Doxon interned with the university’s athletics office, shooting promotional videos for the Purple Eagles basketball and hockey teams.
And then he saw the award-winning 1998 German indie film “Run Lola Run” in one of his classes.
“Something about that movie sparked my interest and got me thinking I could do something like that,” he said. “The idea of positioning cameras in certain ways to tell certain stories, and editing them together with music really sparked a huge interest in me.”
Today, he is an award-winning independent filmmaker in his own right.
His first foray into filmmaking was while he was still at Niagara—he and a couple of his classmates shot a zombie movie as part of a class project. He returned home after graduation, but soon moved to Chicago to pursue graduate studies in a newly launched master of fine arts program at De Paul University’s School of Cinematic Arts.
Dixon produced nearly a dozen short films while studying and working in DePaul’s media production and training office. In 2010, he was chosen by Real Ideas Studios as one of the top student filmmakers in the world and traveled to France to represent the nonprofit at the Cannes International Film Festival. Collaborating with three other students, Dixon produced the short documentary, “Lumieres,” which compared the glitz and glam of the Cannes Film Festival to the normal, everyday life in that small town through the eyes of a local theater actress. The film won the grand prize in the international documentary competition, and Dixon was named best editor. The experience also provided Dixon with his first international experience and fueled his passion for travel.
In 2013, supported by a $10,000 grant, Dixon produced the short, “Me vs. the Tooth Fairy,” which tells the story of a little boy who tries to protect his older sister from “a molar-stealing monster” in Dr. Seuss-like rhyme. The film played at numerous film festivals, receiving the “Best in Show” award at the 2013 Interrobang Film Festival and the “Audience Choice Award” at the 2013 DePaul University Premiere Film Festival.
A year later, Dixon produced the award-winning web series "Couch Surferz," which featured talent from the famed Second City Network in Chicago, including current “Saturday Night Live” cast member Alex Moffat.
Dixon worked with fellow student and actress McKenzie Chinn in one of his courses at DePaul, a partnership that led to the production of one of his most recent works, the award-winning film “Olympia.” Chinn had reached out to Dixon to help her shape her script, and then asked him to direct and produce it after she was awarded a $50,000 grant from the national Leonore Annenberg Fellowship Fund for the Visual and Performing Arts. The movie, which stars Chinn as Olympia Welles, a young woman on the cusp of 30 who is faced with major life decisions, also served as Dixon’s MFA thesis.
“I think I was one of the first to do a feature as my thesis,” he said. “Most people do short films. I went full steam ahead.”
Dixon and Chinn formed a company together and worked on the movie for about four years. The student film caught the eye of a Los Angeles Film Festival organizer, and they were invited to premiere it there. The feature played at dozens of film festivals across the country after that, including their hometown festival in Chicago, and earned critical acclaim and several awards for both Dixon and Chinn, including “Best Director” at the Niagara Falls International Film Festival, and “Best Feature” at Gig Harbor Film Festival in Washington. It was also nominated for the prestigious “Best Diaspora Feature” by the African Movie Academy Awards. A distribution deal with Chicago-based independent film and television distributor Cow Lamp Films followed, and the feature is now available on Amazon and British media-services provider Flix Premiere.
“It’s awesome,” Dixon said of the recognition. “We’ve gotten quite a bit of press in the past year, and I’ve been talking to managers and agents, trying to get the next project off the ground. To have all this thrown at you based off a college thesis is kind of incredible.”
When he’s not working on scripts, Dixon does freelance marketing and promotional work for companies including the Institute of Food Technologists. He also did some photography for tennis player Maria Sharapova and her candy company, Sugarpova, during the Sweets and Snacks Expo in Chicago.
Dixon recently joined Ambiance TV as a video producer, which appeals to his love of travel—he journeys around the world filming landscapes that will play on demand for subscribers. He credits his time at Niagara and the Vincentian values he learned while there with his desire to connect with people from different cultures and backgrounds, and to tell their stories.
“Coming to Niagara was my first exposure to people who didn’t look like me, and to how different economic situations can shape different communities,” he explained. “A lot of Vincentian values shaped my world view and personal views and political views, I suppose. But it just opened my mind to the world being much bigger that I thought it was before.
“I have a great interest in a diversity of people and how important that diversity of people is,” he continued. “Sharing stories from people who don’t look like you, or didn’t grow up in the neighborhood that you grew up in--being able to tell their stories from the other side of the world to gain insight and perspective is very important, especially right now.”