Alec Fischer: Amplifying Midwestern Narratives
Alec Fischer (BIS ‘16), winner of CLA’s 2022 Emerging Alumni Award, found his academic fit by pursuing a bachelor of individualized studies. Now, he amplifies midwestern stories through documentary projects in collaboration with community partners, many of whom hail from Minnesota. Fischer reflects on his time as a student, shares how he uses “curiosity and passion to guide” his professional career, and outlines his goals for his future visual work.
What do you do professionally?
I am a full-time documentary filmmaker and owner of a media production company based in Minneapolis. My work aims to elevate midwestern narratives to mainstream audiences.
How are you involved in the community?
I currently serve as an Executive Board Member for the University of Minnesota’s Leadership Minor Alumni Program and mentor a minimum of two to three high school and college students each year across a diverse range of majors. This past year, I also served as a collaborator for Carlson School of Management’s capstone management course and mentored four seniors for a semester in their final course project.
External to the University, I am actively collaborating with community partners and cultural organizations directly for my documentary and client work. For example, in early 2022, I helped co-produce and direct a federally funded vaccination campaign with Asian Media Access and the Diversity Council. The 30-video PSA campaign brought in both local and nationally recognized community leaders representing 25 unique cultural groups and 13 spoken languages to highlight the importance of getting vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19.
This collaborative client project involved more than 35 nonprofit groups and community coalitions and represented more than eight geographic regions within Minnesota. This is an example of how, in a single client project that I’m co-producing within a three to four month deadline, there can be more than 35 community collaborators and 50+ people united towards a single common goal.
How did your time in CLA inspire you to pursue your path?
While in CLA, I changed my major more than four times and ultimately decided to pursue an individualized studies degree that combined three focus areas of study. I never felt like a singular major program fit my passions and interests; individualized studies allowed me to take courses across numerous majors without penalizing me for doing so academically.
In my post-college life, I have actively built my own professional reality from scratch using that same methodology. If I have an interest in a social issue or topic, I explore that through outreach and research. If I feel passionate about a specific area of life, I’ll build a client project or documentary pitch around it. My time within CLA showed me that I could construct my own reality in this way—using curiosity and passion to guide my journey instead of rigid structure and tradition for the sake of tradition.
What is your favorite memory from your time as a student?
One of my favorite memories while I was a student at the U of M was participating in a study abroad experience in Bali, Indonesia. Being my first trip outside of the United States, it pushed me completely out of my comfort zone and challenged me to navigate a new language, culture, and global framework that I had never experienced before.
Our cohort climbed an active volcano, toured seaweed farms, volunteered with turtle rescue shelters, and studied the impacts that globalization and ecotourism were creating within the island firsthand. In short, it shattered my previous lenses that I used to look at the world. I attribute this experience to my current love of sustainable travel and passion for placing myself outside of my comfort zone in all aspects of my life.
What advice would you give to current CLA students?
Don’t be afraid to approach folks outside of your networks and areas of study to explore new pathways in the world. Hierarchical structures within professional networks are made up by humans—if you want to learn more about someone or introduce yourself, the worst thing that can happen is you reach out and they say no.
I’ve made some of the best friendships and professional connections to peers I admire in the entertainment industry by sending a simple connection request or direct message on social media. If I read an incredible article, watch a documentary that makes me think, or read a book that gives me joy, I’ll reach out to the person responsible (director, author, producers, etc.) and let them know my thoughts.
Those small, authentic interactions humanize the work and have expanded my networks more than I could have ever imagined. It’s all about sending the message in an authentic way, and not being afraid to make the connection request.
How do you spend your free time? What "fills your cup"?
Prior to the pandemic, traveling internationally was the way I felt renewed and refreshed through life. Exploring new places has become more localized for me and discovering unique spots within Minnesota and the United States has emerged as a new way to spend my free time within the constraints of the pandemic. This past winter, I drove out to Los Angeles and spent three months there for work. I was able to safely explore new cities and towns on my road trip out.
As a foodie, I’ve also spent time tasting emerging and traditional culinary landmarks within Minnesota in my free time. Some favorite local chefs I’ve been able to experience food from lately include Ann Kim (Young Joni, Sooki & Mimi), Sean Sherman (Owamni), Yia Vang (Union Hmong Kitchen), and Jorge Guzman (Petite Leon). They’re just a small example of the incredible talent based in Minnesota, attracting national and international attention—go watch Ann Kim’s episode of Chef’s Table and Yia Vang’s episode of Iron Chef on Netflix right now!
Something I get really passionate about is supporting local entrepreneurs and cultural change makers within the Midwest and Minnesota. Whether that’s through eating food, visiting art crawls, or just taking walks around Lake of the Isles to help someone verbally process life, supporting folks around me in a myriad of ways makes my heart incredibly full.
What was your reaction to receiving this award?
Excitement! As a student who transferred to the University of Minnesota sophomore year of college who wasn’t pursuing research, I sometimes felt swallowed up and invisible because of how large CLA and the entire U of M system was. Being seen in this way now as an alumni is incredibly affirming. I greatly appreciate it!
What's next? What are your personal/professional goals for the next five years?
This past summer, I was invited to have a conversation with staff members at the White House regarding my documentary series highlighting 300+ workers’ pandemic experiences in Minnesota. In the next year, I would love to see a screening event take place in Washington DC to honor those local workers and their stories!
Over the next five years, my main goal is to solidify partnerships with streaming platforms to have sustainable work airing on their platforms. My hope is that within ten years I’ll be in a place where I can pitch a documentary concept and have the funding available based on previous work relationships with the streaming platforms and investors. That’s the dream!