Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Documentary Film Programs in the United States (a working list)



DOCUMENTARY FILM PROGRAMS

For those who are interested in previewing both academic and institutional documentary film programs in the United States, The Independent Magazine highlights the top ten documentary film programs in the country. Among these ten, is Duke University http://ami.duke.edu/ at number one, followed by George Washington University GWU http://research.columbian.gwu.edu/documentarycenter/, Stanford University http://art.stanford.edu/graduate/mfa-documentary-film/ and at number seven, UC Berkeley’s School of Journalism. http://journalism.berkeley.edu/
These specific schools all aim to have a focus in historical documentary studies and all provide their students with a wide range of skills that prepare them for more than just the mechanics of film making. Duke, Stanford, and UCB all offer a Masters Program of two years. Stanford representative says, “Master’s students get a solid grounding in theory and history, not to mention preparation for filmmaking in the real world …” [1]
The Documentary Center at offers a six month intensive course on documentary filmmaking in a small group- seminar setting. On a smaller scale, there is Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Art and on the East Coast there is the film studies program at both Syracuse http://vpa.syr.edu/art-design/transmedia/undergraduate/film and Wesleyan University. http://www.wesleyan.edu/filmstudies/ Comparably, both Chapman and Syracuse, and Wesleyan offer either a BA or an MFA Degree in filmmaking, but without the name, cost, and popularity of a program at the competitive “Hollywood Film” schools like USC or UCLA. "We're not a trade school," says Dean Bob Bassett from Chapman University. "We're focused on helping young people find jobs -- and that's the hardest thing." [2]  http://www.chapman.edu/dodge/  
Located in a more unexpected region like the southwest, University of Texas at Austin has a notably large selection of film classes for the Master’s Program in the Department of Radio, Television, and Film. http://rtf.utexas.edu/graduate/
            Similarly, there are non-academic programs that are just as renowned for their dedication to documentary film making. The yearly film festival in Utah hosted by the Sundance Institute http://www.sundance.org/ offers aspiring filmmakers engagement and funding opportunities to showcase their work and interests in human rights and other contemporary conflicts to an open audience. There is a two-year conservatory program held at the American Film Institute http://www.afi.com/ that works to “specialize” its student’s interests to their desired field within filmmaking. This Institute focuses more refining the skills of already developed film school students, and works to improve the mechanics of filmmaking, including script writing, directing, and producing. In contrast, the non-profit organization Film Independent http://www.filmindependent.org/  runs a program called the Project Involve http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQfvDiqMeVA&feature=player_embedded  which focuses on helping create opportunities and environments for amateur documentary filmmakers who have powerful stories to tell, but not the means to share their work with the world. They aim to develop the skills of their artists in order to best showcase a filmmaker’s passions and interests through film. Film Independent works the Sundance and the Los Angeles Film Festival to launch award winning films like The Invisible War, El General, and A Small Act. Uniquely, they have Project Involve:
 “Which runs from October through June, [and] selects filmmakers from diverse backgrounds and filmmaking tracks – a mix of writers, directors, producers, DPs and editors, as well as those seeking work in acquisitions, marketing, distribution and agencies…During the nine months, the Fellows receive one-on-one mentorship, participate in a series of master workshops on the craft as well as the business of filmmaking, and work together to create a collection of short films. The program concludes in June when their short films premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival.”[3]
For those who are interested in telling their own story through the digital format, The Center for Digital Storytelling http://www.storycenter.org/ is the perfect mix of film studies, history, and media/art education. Located in Berkeley, California, “the Center has transformed the way that community activists, educators, health and human services agencies, business professionals, and artists think about the power of personal voice in creating change.”[4] This organization offers workshops for film students to practice their skills and gain valuable insight into the creation of their own digital story. In collaboration with this center, a program called Silence Speaks http://www.silencespeaks.org/about-us/our-rationale.html  was created in 1999 to provide extended and more personalized workshop classes. These workshops aim to improve the way in which people communicate their own stories, narratives, and participate in meaningful projects through the digital format. With a wide range of studies from film production to art therapy, Silence Speaks is an empowering program for storytellers of all ages, backgrounds, and goals.
            With this mix of academic, non-academic, and non-profit educational documentary film programs, it may be hard to choose a program. Maybe you want a more intimate environment where you can grow and inspire your inner filmmaker—or maybe you want to be in Los Angeles where “it” all happens to show off your media expertise. Perhaps you are more interested in the behind-the-scenes aspects of production and distribution, or how film can be the medium to voice your personal story of trial and triumph. Wherever your desires lie, hopefully you can find a program that best suits your needs as an aspiring film maker and student of documentary studies.


[1] http://www.independent-magazine.org/08/09/10-best-academic-programs-documentary-filmmakers
[2] http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/25-best-film-schools-rankings-215714
[3] http://www.filmindependent.org/labs-and-programs/project-involve/
[4] http://www.storycenter.org/history/