Faculty Spotlight: Etta Worthington
October 30, 2012
By Sean McEntee (’13)
Etta Worthington, adjunct faculty member in both the Television and Film departments at Columbia College Chicago, pursued a writing career after graduating from Columbia in 1972.
But when her 21-year-old daughter dropped everything to join the circus in 1997, Worthington admits she experienced a life crisis. She began to recall all of the things she said she wanted to do when she was her daughter's age, but never did.
During her college years, Worthington took a combination of writing and film classes. Although she enjoyed the writing aspect, she admits her original aspirations were to become a director. After getting married and having a child, however, Worthington found herself focusing on her writing.
“I remembered that I wanted to be a filmmaker, but had never pursued that...at all,” Worthington said.
Witnessing the life her daughter was experiencing, Worthington decided it was time for her to take action and pursue her dream. So, after decades of gathering writing experience—working as a features editor for a daily newspaper in Tennessee, in book publishing management, and writing three novels over the span of a few years—Worthington threw herself into the world of film.
In 2000, Worthington started her own production company, Fernwork Productions, and began producing shorts, feature-length films, and documentaries.
She completed her first film in 2001, a 10-minute short titled Circus Mom, which explored her relationship with her daughter after she left for the circus. When Worthington showed it to an audience for the first time, she said half of the room was in tears by the time the end credits began to roll. Worthington witnessed the impact her film had, a level her writing never reached, and she realized the instant gratification that film offered her and the audience.
Other works that Worthington has contributed to, either in directing, writing, producing, or all of the above, include: Brushfires, Chicago Swingers, Jamie and Jessie are Not Together, Promise Land, and Impact, a short about gang intervention for at-risk youth, which was an official selection at the Los Angeles International Film Festival.
Worthington began teaching in the Television Department at Columbia in 2004, where she taught script writing, TV arts writing, and writing for television, eventually adding film script writing to her list. Two years ago, she began to teach a foundations class in the Film Department. In 2011, she began producing a cooking show web series with her daughter, titled FOODGASM, which “focuses on the sensuality of food.”
After spending years writing, producing, and directing films ranging from fictional narratives to documentaries, Worthington completed her first feature-length documentary in 2012, 50 at 50. The film followed Worthington for a year as she tried 50 new things upon turning 50 years old. During summer 2012, Worthington produced a film, Hatboxes, which was filmed in Chicago.
A jack-of-all-trades—from journalist, to filmmaker, to educator—Worthington combines her personal experience with Columbia's atmosphere to help prepare her students for the industry.
“My job is to create professionals,” Worthington said. “I want them to know they have to come through for people. I'm trying to make people aware of how important it is to not just be creative, but to have a really good work ethic.”