Her production company is Markay Media, based in Durham, North Carolina.
Cynthia Hill grew up in Pink Hill, North Carolina, a largely agricultural community. Many of her family members were tobacco farmers. Cynthia was raised Pentecostal, and attended the Pentecostal Holiness Church in Pink Hill. Much of her film career has primarily focused on stories from the rural South, and Eastern North Carolina specifically.
Hill attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she studied to be pharmacist. While at UNC-CH, she met a production crew filming an episode of an accident reconstruction show in Chapel Hill. She soon become interested in film, making her first film for a class project about diabetes. Bill Campbell, the Dean of UNC’s Pharmacy School, encouraged her to attend a Pharmacy Administration graduate program at Auburn University, which had access to video equipment. She attended Auburn for 18 months but did not finish her degree.
After briefly living in Los Angeles, Hill moved to New York, working for four years as an editor at GLC productions. She then moved to Durham, North Carolina.
In 2002, she co-founded the Southern Documentary Fund with Steven Channing. The SDF currently fiscally sponsors over 50 independent documentaries.
In 2003, Hill co-produced February One, a documentary about the Greensboro, North Carolina lunch sit-ins during the 1960s. The film aired nationally in 2005 on PBS’s Independent Lens.
Her feature directing debut came with “Tobacco Money Feeds My Family,” a documentary exploring the decline of the tobacco industry’s effect on small town farmers and their communities. PBS broadcast the film nationally in 2006.
In 2006, she and Charlie Thompson, professor at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, collaborated to make the film “The Guestworker” about migrant farmworkers in North Carolina. The film was featured at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and was broadcast on PBS.
Hill then began working on directing and producing her first serial television series, A Chef's Life. Hill knew Chef Vivian Howard of the restaurant Chef & the Farmer in Kinston, North Carolina, from growing up together in Eastern North Carolina. Hill’s sister and Howard were friends. Howard and Hill collaborated to create a documentary-style cooking show about Vivian’s journey to make a modern, upscale restaurant successful using Southern ingredients and Southern food traditions. Each episode of the show focuses on a different ingredient. Said Hill, “Vivian and I grew up together in rural eastern North Carolina, and we created A Chef’s Life to focus on food traditions in our hometowns and her farm-to-table restaurant in Kinston, N.C. A lot of it is about her relationship to the local purveyors of the ingredients she uses, so again, the viewer glimpses a world that not many people are privy to, or even think about.” A Chef's Life has aired nationally on PBS from 2013-2016. Season 4 began airing in September 2016.
In 2014, Hill produced and directed Private Violence, a film following the story of two domestic abuse survivors, Deanna Walters and Kit Gruelle. The film was created concurrently with “Survivor to Survivor,” a web-based media project Hill completed in 2011 as a resource for victims of domestic violence. Private Violence premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2014. HBO Films and Women Make Movies acquired the rights to distribute the film.
In addition to filmmaking, Hill also lectures at the Continuing Education program at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.
A Chef's Life received a Peabody Award in 2014. Hill also won a 2015 Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Directing in a Lifestyle/Culinary/Travel Program for the series.
Private Violence won the Candescent Award at Sundance Film Festival in 2014. It also won the Kathleen Bryan Edwards Award for Human Rights at the 2014 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and the Silver Heart Award at the 2014 Dallas International Film Festival. The film is currently nominated for a 2015 Primetime Emmy Award in the Outstanding Informational Programming – Long Form Category.
Hill’s partner is cinematographer and photographer Rex Miller. MIller is cinematographer for Private Violence and A Chef's Life. They have two girls and a Bernese Mountain dog named Poppy. They currently reside in Durham, North Carolina.