NAFSA 2019 Annual Conference & Expo

Join peers and experts at the premier global professional learning and networking event for all international educators and organizations that support international education for the NAFSA 2019 Annual Conference & Expo, "Global Leadership, Learning, and Change."

Up Close with Abigail E. Disney

Acclaimed filmmaker Abigail E. Disney was the final plenary speaker at the NAFSA 2017 Annual Conference and Expo in Los Angeles, delivering an insightful and inspiring address to NAFSA 2017 attendees on Friday, June 2. Before her plenary, Disney sat down with PIE News Managing Director Amy Baker for an Up Close interview discussing her work empowering women peacebuilders and the importance of maintaining dialogue on today’s most divisive issues.


About Abigail E. Disney

Abigail E. Disney is an award-winning filmmaker, philanthropist, and the CEO and president of Fork Films. An active supporter of peacebuilding, she is passionate about advancing women’s roles in the public sphere. Disney’s 50-plus films and series focus on social issues, sharing a quality of spotlighting extraordinary people who speak truth to power.

Disney’s directorial debut, The Armor of Light, premiered at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. The Armor of Light follows an Evangelical minister trying to find the courage to preach about the growing toll of gun violence in America. Reverend Rob Schenck, anti-abortion activist and fixture on the political far right, breaks with orthodoxy by questioning whether being pro-gun is consistent with being pro-life.

Having grown up in a family of filmmakers, Disney turned to documentaries in 2008, inspired to tell the story of a brave group of women who used nonviolent protests and sex strikes to bring an end to Liberia’s long civil war. That film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, won best documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2008, and screened in 60 countries around the world on all seven continents. Pray the Devil Back to Hell is broadly credited with highlighting the bravery and sacrifice of its lead figure, Leymah Gbowee, who received a Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

The extraordinary response to Pray the Devil Back to Hell led Disney to work on the five-part special series for PBS, “Women, War & Peace,” which aired in 2011 and was the winner of the Overseas Press Club’s Edward R. Murrow Award, a Gracie Award, and a Television Academy Honor. In this first-of-its-kind series created and executive produced by Abigail Disney, Pamela Hogan and Gini Reticker looked at the role of women in war in the modern age, not just as victims of conflict, but as active agents for peace in their communities.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell also led to Disney founding Peace is Loud, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting and spotlighting women who are stepping up for peace and resisting violence in their communities. Together, Fork Films and Peace is Loud produced “Women, War & Peace” screening kits, dubbed into four languages, for use by international grassroots organizations in an ambitious global outreach campaign. To date, more than 1,500 screening kits have been shared with 250 partner organizations at 575 screening events reaching 35,000 viewers. Events featuring the films have taken place in 82 countries—reaching all continents, including Antarctica.

Her production company Fork Films has supported more than 50 films in the promotion of peacebuilding, human rights, and social justice, including 1971, Alias Ruby Blade, Citizen Koch, Family Affair, Hot Girls Wanted, The Mask You Live In, Out In the Night, Playground, Seeds of Time, Sexy Baby, The Only Real Game, This is How I Roll, Cameraperson, and the Academy Award-nominated films Sun Come Up (2011, Best Documentary Short) and The Invisible War (2012, Best Documentary Feature).

Disney also recently executive produced the Fork Films original production The Trials of Spring, a major cross-media event that tells the stories of nine women on the front lines of change in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen.

Disney received her bachelor's degree from Yale University, her master's degree from Stanford University, and her doctorate from Columbia University. While pursuing her PhD, Disney taught English and American literature at Iona College and wrote a dissertation on the role of romanticized violence and war in American life.