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Alumni Profile: Pursuing a life of social justice after college and abroad

Published: Monday, October 29, 2007

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

About four years after graduating from Boston College, Saya Hillman took a gamble. Relying solely on her creativity and driven by the fact that she wanted to be her own boss, Hillman put her chips on the table and formed Mac'n Cheese Productions. Four years later, her production company has grown, and Hillman's accomplishments and endeavors have earned her local fame.

Hillman, BC '00, majored in English and sociology at Boston College and said she had always been interested in social justice issues. Hillman quickly became the program manager for Whirlwind, a nonprofit organization that teaches reading to students of low-income families through dance, drama, and music. After three years with Whirlwind, which now goes by Reading in Motion, Hillman got a job as an associate producer for a film company. There, she received the experience that would help her in founding Mac'n Cheese Productions.

After a researching the logistics of starting a business, Hillman signed the papers and was ready to roll. And so were the cameras.

Nonprofit organizations hire Hillman to shoot organizational and promotional videos. She also works with local bands that are looking to put out a DVD. But so far, Hillman is best known for her documentary Dating Rubik's Cube, which, to her surprise, won the Best Short Documentary award at the 2006 Illinois International Film Festival.

The documentary features 12 people who have diverse backgrounds and dating experiences and talk about their time enduring the singles scene in Chicago.

"I just wanted to get the experience of making a film," Hillman said. "I didn't have a clue of the ins and outs, so I made the conscious role that I would play every role." And she did.

Hillman did everything from directing to producing, even holding the camera at times as she interviewed her participants. What's even more remarkable is that Hillman managed to create an award-winning film on the meager budget of $150.

"I wanted to see what kind of a film could be made on a miniscule budget," Hillman said. Mission accomplished.

More recently, Hillman has expanded the parameter of her production company and introduced Mac'n Cheese dinner parties.

"Last spring, I realized that people are looking for new, alternative ways of meeting people - whether professional or social - but not just going to a bar," Hillman said.

Twice a month, Hillman hosts dinner parties at her home. For $25, she prepares a meal and her guests have the opportunity to meet new people in a relaxed environment. Right now, there is a waiting list of approximately 150 people.

But Mac'n Cheese Productions' reach is not just rooted in the world of dating. Hillman has teamed up with BC graduate Timothy Wesley and his organization the Benebikira Sisters Foundation to travel to Rwanda and shoot its promotional video.

In August, Hillman and Wesley traveled to Rwanda for two weeks, capturing 16 hours worth of interviews and other footage.

"It was amazing because Rwanda is still defiantly recovering from what happened in '94, but the sisters are concentrating on a few specific areas: education, healthcare, and reconciliation," Hillman said.

Since they were able to tape so much, Hillman hopes to turn it into a longer film at some point to capture what's taking place in Rwanda more fully.

Hillman recalls hearing one story from a nun who described her church protecting about 250 people. Whenever men with guns would come, they would give the women who weren't nuns veils and habits to protect them.

But there was one boy with them who they hid in the bushes any time there was danger; the nuns took Hillman to the brush and showed her how they concealed him.

"The overall feeling was a very positive one - a feeling of hope. They're really trying to avoid diving into ethnic groups," Hillman said. "They're just Rwandans; no one is a certain ethnic group."

Though Mac'n Cheese Productions keeps her busy, Hillman still makes time for BC. She leads all of the Chicago alumni chapter's community service projects.

It's unclear what the future holds for Hillman and Mac'n Cheese Productions, but it can be assumed that it will be something innovative. And that's a safe bet.

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