SOCDOC - MFA Social Documentary Film

SocDoc Blog

Happenings in the documentary film world and within the School of Visual Arts MFA in Social Documentary Film Community

6th Thesis Showcase – Sept. 22-25

SVA MFA Social Documentary Film Sixth Annual Thesis Showcase presents the works of our 2016 graduates, Group 6. This year’s films take us around the globe to a Beijing General’s family home, an orphanage in the birthplace of the Buddha, and New York City’s own neighborhoods, as well as the nebulous regions between countries and our own fuzzy memories. Come see the best our emerging documentary filmmakers have made during their time in our program.

Screening the films of Reem Alothman, William Bentley, Daysi Burbano Hinojosa, Nancy Burneo, Anqi Cai, Esteban Coloma-Gudiño, Ayram Edery, Shiri Paamony Eshel, Lizzy Halberstadt, Xin Jiang, Yuqi Kang, Efrat Kashai, Mengxiong Li, Christina Liao, Lulu Men, Lizzie Minges, Megan Orr, Carolina Pazmino, Prapaporn Pinyopusarerk, Scott Alexander Ruderman, Fernando Venegas Traba, Sarah Rachael Wainio, Shiyi Wang, Lacy Wangen, Tianji Yu, and Sol Zurita

Thesis Showcase – September 23-25, 2016
Reception – Saturday, September 24 8:30-10:30pm
RSVP/More Info – Click Here

SVA Theatre, 333 West 23rd Street, New York City
Free and open to the public.
Films are all works-in-progress. Filmmakers will be present & Q&As follow each screening.

For more info on the films, please email [email protected]

Trailer edited by Craig Lowy (SocDoc 2012)

Spring Festivals – ND/NF, Full Frame, Hot Docs Forum, SRFF

Cinematography faculty Kirsten Johnson‘s CAMERAPERSON screens across town at New Directors/New Films this month. The film is her second as director, but she has DP’d more than 40 features!

Down in North Carolina, lots of SocDoc faculty & alumni films are showing at the always exemplary Full Frame Festival. These include the premiere of Sam Pollard’s new film TWO TRAINS RUNNIN’, and continuing on the festival circuit: LIFE, ANIMATED, which also screens at Tribeca Film Festival (faculty Richard Hankin is consulting editor & alumnus Lindsay Richardson is Associate Producer), TRAPPED, which also is in theatrical release now (alumnus Dana Kalmey is Associate Producer), NORMAN LEAR: JUST ANOTHER VERSION OF YOU (camera pp is alumnus Jenni Morello) and TONY ROBBINS: I AM NOT YOUR GURU (lensed by faculty Bob Richman).

Two SocDoc community films will pitch in the Hot Docs Forum, North America’s most effective international documentary market: cheers to directors Sasha Friedlander (SocDoc alumnus) and Cynthia Wade on MUDFLOW, and producer Beth Levison (SocDoc faculty) and director Hope Litoff on RULES TO LIVE BY (pictured above).

SocDoc is proud to partner again with the Socially Relevant Festival, hosting two panels on Saturday, March 19: “Revisiting Distribution” and “Shaping The Documentary” here at our theater. The panels feature expert insights about current methods of distirbution, as well as critical tips for shaping story structure. The festival is also screening two shorts from our alumni: Amitabh Joshi‘s THE MILK MAN and Victor Ilyukhin‘s TWO AND TWENTY TROUBLES – check them out! SR Festival discounted tickets for the SocDoc community, using partner code SR2016GEN

360′ Video Tour of SocDoc

Ever wondered what the inside of the SocDoc HQ looks like? Now’s your chance to get an inside peek at the department! Take a look at our new 360′ tour:

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This video was recorded on the department’s Ricoh Theta S 360 camera by current first-year student Caroline Berler, and allows you to see a spherical view of the inside of our space. Enjoy!

Faculty and Alumni at SXSW

The SocDoc community continues to make waves in the contemporary doc world with three films at the 2016 South by Southwest Film Festival. Keep these on your radar for their debut in March in Austin, TX.


Directed by SocDoc Department Chair Maro Chermayeff (and her Show of Force producing partner Jeff Dupre); and featuring the work of faculty Amy Schewel (producer), E. Donna Shepherd and Sam Pollard (editors).

Soundbreaking 450

SOUNDBREAKING explores the art of music recording, and offers a behind-the-scenes look at the birth of brand new sounds. Featuring more than 160 original interviews with some of the most celebrated recording artists of all time, the series explores the nexus of cutting-edge technology and human artistry that has created the soundtrack of our lives. As new recording technologies and techniques have given way to new forms and styles––and extended their reach to a mass audience––music has become a literal source of identity, entwining itself with history and memory, and defining generations to themselves.


Cinematography by faculty member Robert Richman.

Tony 450


TONY ROBBINS: I AM NOT YOUR GURU, Joe Berlinger’s twelfth feature documentary, captures internationally renowned life and business strategist and best-selling author, Tony Robbins, in a revelatory cinéma vérité film that goes behind the scenes of his mega once-a-year seminar “Date With Destiny,” attended by over 2,500 people, to give an insider look at how one man can affect millions. Granted never before seen access, this film is an emotional tour de force, pulling back the curtain on Tony Robbins and unveiling the inner-workings of this life-altering and controversial event, the zealous participants and the man himself.


Music by alumnus David Osit. 

Collective 450


A man and his grandmother hide out from an ominous broadcast. The Grim Reaper hosts a TV show. The formerly incarcerated recount and reinterpret their first days of freedom. A suburban mom’s life is upturned by the beast growing inside of her. And a high school gym teacher runs drills from inside a volcano. What happens when five of independent film’s most adventurous filmmakers join together to literally adapt each other’s dreams for the screen? Featuring new works by Lily Baldwin, Frances Bodomo, Daniel Patrick Carbone, Josephine Decker, and Lauren Wolkstein, COLLECTIVE: UNCONSCIOUS will transport you to a place in-between sleep and consciousness. Welcome to our dream state.




We seem to be reading the whole (documentary) internet today, so here’s a recap of what’s most exciting. (To me, today. Not a comprehensive list of all that is exciting!) Happy browsing!

Hits & Misses: How Seven Films from Sundance 2015 Performed (Filmmaker Magazine)
Anthony Kaufman’s analyses of the film market in Filmmaker are always on my required reading lists for betting understanding of our industry. It’s interesting to see how the sales & distribution of MERU, RUSSIAN WOODPECKER, and THE WOLFPACK (directed by SVA alum Crystal Moselle) shaped up. Related: Sundance Sales Infographic.

Laura Poitras Prepares ‘Astro Noise’ for the Whitney Museum (NYTimes)
Poitras (CITIZEN FOUR) prepares her first ever solo show, based on surveillance of herself and others. I mean, why isn’t this a documentary? Go on, tell me. I vote for a field trip.

Sundance Review: Cameraperson is a Transcendent Documentary Experience (indieWire)
We are really excited about cinematography faculty Kirsten Johnson’s new film!

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The Waypoint (Washington Post)
In-depth web documentary about the Syrian (& elsewhere) refugee crisis in Greece, and including footage from Syrian and Iranian refugees’ perspective – don’t miss the chance to ‘Meet Shade’s family’ and see them laughing & singing on their rubber life raft.

Charlotte Cook: Look on Behalf of the Audience (She Does podcast)
deep insights from former Hot Docs Head Programmer and Co-Founder and Executive Producer of Field of Vision. She watched on average 1000 films in 5 months for HotDocs!

How I Shot That: DP Bob Richman Goes Beyond the Binary in Sundance Doc ‘Suited’ (indieWire)
“Building trust w/ your subjects takes both empathy & self-control” – insights from another of our cinematography faculty.

SVA’s Social Doc Program: In a New York State of Mind (Documentary Magazine)
“It’s not a think tank, it’s a ‘make tank'” A great profile of our department in the IDA’s quarterly magazine

Why You Should Listen to Your Food (The Sporkful)
Fascinating insights on how sound effects how we eat & taste — inspiring ideas about how sound design effects everything – like our movies!

The Gift of Time: Alan Berliner & His Process (NYFA Current)
Experimental media maker Benita Raphan interviews filmmaker Alan Berliner (and SocDoc Faculty) about his archive of newspaper photographs and his creative process in this podcast.

Fall 2016 Applications Due February 1


Will Bentley on the horizon


We are looking for the next group of non-fiction filmmakers – is it you?
We work to build a strong community here, and we  look forward to seeing the new group of students that will join us. Please reach out to take a tour of the department or chat on the phone/skype to get more information about what we do here – and find out if it’s the right place for you.

Applications accepted through February 1, 2016 for priority placement in the program.



in the edit room


Tom camera class




Sundance & Slamdance SocDoc Premieres


We are excited to see the documentaries that will premiere at Sundance Film Festival in January, and thrilled to see some of our own among them:

Cinematography faculty Kirsten Johnson‘s latest directorial effort, CAMERAPERSON (pictured), will premiere in the New Frontiers section. By exposing her role behind the camera, Johnson reaches into the vast trove of footage that she has shot over decades around the world. What emerges is a visually bold memoir and a revelatory interrogation into the power of the camera.

Also screening in the festival:
LIFE, ANIMATED (directed by Roger Ross Williams) – Directing faculty Richard Hankin is consulting editor on the film and alumnus Lindsay Richardson is Associate Producer.

NORMAN LEAR: JUST ANOTHER VERSION OF YOU (directed by Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady) – Camera Op is alumnus Jenni Morello.

NOTHING LEFT UNSAID: GLORIA VANDERBILT & ANDERSON COOPER (directed by Liz Garbus) – Director of Photography is Tom Hurwitz, ASC (Camera & Sound faculty).

SUITED (directed by Jason Benjamin) -Director of Photography is Camera & Sound faculty  Bob Richman.

TRAPPED (directed by Dawn Porter) – alumnus Dana Kalmey is Associate Producer.

And, alumnus Jatovia Gary is taking part in the festival as a Sundance Documentary Fellow with her feature documentary in progress, THE EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN.



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Elsewhere in Park City, 2015 grad Wen Li premieres her thesis film WATER GHOST (pictured) at the Slamdance Festival.


Congratulations to all!

Alumni on Oscar Short List, at IDFA, on NHK & elsewhere!

If you’re wondering what the SocDoc community has going on, look no further. Here are some notable projects our talented storytellers have contributed to recently.

Andrés Fernando Arias-Matos, Group 3
CARTEL LAND, directed by Matthew Heineman recently advanced to the shortlist for the Academy Award for Best Documentary. Andrés was Assistant Editor and Field Producer on the film.

Olga Lvoff, Group 3
WHEN PEOPLE DIE THEY SING SONGS, Olga’s thesis film, will air again on NHK in Japan next Wednesday, December 9.

Siyan Liu and Danni Wang, Group 5
Just last week it was announced that Danni and Siyan’s film LADY TOWN was honored with the diversity fellows initiative from Chicken & Egg Pictures. This initiative shepherds first or second time female filmmakers with mentors, workshops and programming over six months.

Yuqi Kang, Group 6
, America’s largest documentary film festival, featured a Doc U segment in its program. Students from Columbia, NYFA, NYU, and SVA presented their work. Yuqi’s film, LAST DAYS OF DOMINO, which started as a her year 1 metro film assignment received a Special Jury Mention for Experimental Vision.

Bao Nguyen, and David Osit Group 1
Bao showed his film LIVE FROM NEW YORK!, filmed by Caleb Heller and edited by David Osit, also Group 1, at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). David Osit’s feature THAKN YOU FOR PLAYING, co-directed by Malika Zouhali-Worrall also screened at the festival.

Steven Loring, Group 2
Will show his film THE AGE OF LOVE tomorrow, December 4, at the Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival. If your weekend is free you ought to jump on the Jitney and take a look at this delightful, comical film that began as Steven’s SocDoc thesis.

Amitabh Joshi, Group 3
TASHI’S TURBINE screened at two festivals in November; The Society for Visual Anthropology in Denver, CO and the Festival for Southasian Documentaries in Kathmandu, Nepal. This film produced by Erik Spink, Group 3. Both Erik and Tabha are teaching Labs to the current SocDoc students.

Paola Ochoa, Group 5
Paola’s thesis film, SISTERS, screened at the Docs in Progress section of the Docs Buenos Aires Festival where it received a grant for color correction. Brava, Paola!

For more information on any of these films, please get in touch!




Open House December 10

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Turn your curiosity and activism into a career in non-fiction!

Come by and meet our faculty and alumni, tour the facilities, and see if this might be the right program for you!

December 10, 6-8pm
SVA – MFA Social Documentary Film
136 W. 21st St., First Floor, New York City
RSVP here.

Can’t attend this one? Get in touch to schedule a personal tour or call to have all your questions answered!

Doc NYC showing 17 films from SocDoc alumni & faculty!


Did you see the slate for Doc NYC this week? What a line up! The festival’s Artistic Director Thom Powers (& SocDoc faculty member) and the rest of the team have done an amazing job curating together some of the best documentaries out right now. We’re thrilled to find some of our alumni and faculty work there, as well as a showcase we curated of our students’ work. We’re also hosting a panel on Cinematography, and a breakfast for passholders — hope to see you there!

DOC NYC Doc U: SVA MFA SocDoc Showcase!
4:30 PM, Fri Nov 13 | IFC Center
THE WONDER WORKSHOP (dir: Amitabh Joshi; producer Erik Spink) (faculty/group3)
H. NAGANO (dir: Miwa Sakulrat) [BFA Film!]
18 SECONDS (dir: Nori Mizukami) (Group4)
NO MORE SAD (dir: Alex Budman) (Group4)
PELE, MY PARADISE teaser (dir: Antonella Carrasco) (Group 5)
RAY VALENZ: FIRE BREATHER (dir: Lizzie Minges) (Group 6)
LAST DAYS OF DOMINO (dir: Yuqi Kang) (Group 6)
OLIVER (dir: Lacy Wangen)(Group 6)
TIDE TO STONE trailer (dir: David Hoon Newman) (Group 5)
SISTER JOLIN teaser (dir: Siyan Liu, Danni Wang) (Group 5)

Dir: Craig Lowy (Group 2), World Premiere
Cinematography by Raul Santos (Group 1) & Lucas Smith (Group 2); additional cinematography by Lindsay Lindenbaum (Group 2). Co-edited by Lucas Groth (Group 2). Sound by Shannon Romines (Group 2) and Yuqi Kang (Group 5).
Elizabeth Streb’s Brooklyn-based Extreme Action Company trains for a breathtaking spectacle in London.

Director: Katherin Machalek, Adam Golub
Edited by Chelsi Bullard (Group 7)

Closing Night – ONCE AND FOR ALL
Dirs: Michael Epstein (faculty), Dyllan McGee, World Premiere
Bao Nguyen (group1) cinematographer

Dir: George Butler, NYC Premiere
Cinematography by Tom Hurwitz, ASC (faculty); first AC Jenni Morello (Group1)

directed by Stanely Nelson
Sound by JT Takagi (faculty)

Director: Sarah Fishko
Cinematography by Tom Hurwitz, ASC; first AC/Gaffer Jenni Morello

Director: Liz Garbus
Jenni Morello, First AC


Masterclass: Cinematography
Sat. Nov. 14; 11:30am
featuring Maro Chermayeff (department Chair), cinematographers Tom Hurwitz, ASC, Axel Baumann (faculty) and Mira Chang, and Juan Martinez from Sony

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