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

SocDoc Takes Over PBS this Fall!

Well, not officially, but several alumni and our fearless leader’s works will air on PBS, PBS’ POV and PBS World in the coming weeks.

BEYOND BORDERS: Undocumented Mexican-Americans examines US policy decisions that triggered the rise of undocumented immigration in a deeply moving documentary program that explores the under-reported lives of Mexicans living and raising families in the United States. The film is directed by SocDoc faculty Micah Fink with cinematography by Tom Hurwitz, ASC, and airs on PBS around the US through Election Day. In New York City, it airs on WNET 13 on Saturday, Oct. 22 at 1pm.

Thank You for Playing, premiering on POV Oct. 24, 2016 by award-winning filmmakers, David Osit (alumni) and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, follows a father of three as he creates a video game called “That Dragon Cancer” about his toddler with terminal cancer. The film captures the emotional journey of a family as they cope with the unimaginable. For filmmakers David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, Thank You for Playing is an opportunity to challenge people to reexamine their own assumptions about bereavement, technology and video games. “We wanted to transcend the simple narrative of a family dealing with cancer, and instead examine the ways we handle grief, and the beauty and hope that can be found in art,” they say. “We saw how many people were profoundly moved by Ryan’s game, and how playing it often facilitated more, rather than less, social interaction. The fact that a video game was capable of awakening this sort of empathy astounded us, and we soon realized that Ryan isn’t only a developer, he’s also an artist — and programming is his paintbrush.” Check local listings for the exact time and channel.



Tashi’s Turbine, premiering on PBS World November 13, 2016 is a character driven film directed by Amitabh Joshi, a current faculty member and SocDoc alumni. This documentary illustrates the impact of one man’s dream for light, in a village waiting for development. Tashi Bista dreams to install a makeshift wind turbine in Namdok, a remote village nestled high amongst the Himalayas of Nepal. Namdok, battered by wind and cold, has been in darkness for centuries. With very limited resources, he is determined to bring lights to Namdok in an effort to prove himself to the skeptical village community. This film is funded and co-presented by the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM).

Soundbreaking: Stories from the Cutting Edge of Music by award-winning director and SocDoc chair Maro Chermeyeff and co-director Jeff Dupre airs on PBS weekdays November 14-23 10/9c. This eight-part series 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. Soundbreaking explores the nexus of cutting-edge technology and human artistry that has created the soundtrack of our lives. The series also features the work of SocDoc faculty Amy Schewel (producer), E. Donna Shepherd (editor) and Samuel D. Pollard (producer & editor).



Friday Oct. 21 at 7pm
SVA‘s MFA Photo Theater: 214 E. 21st Street, NYC
A screening of this remarkable first feature directed, filmed and edited by Nanfu Wang. Following the screening, Wang will be in conversation with film critic Amy Taubin, contributing Editor for Film Comment.

The danger is palpable as intrepid young filmmaker Nanfu Wang follows maverick activist Ye Haiyan (a.k.a Hooligan Sparrow) and her band of colleagues to Hainan Province in southern China to protest the case of six elementary school girls who were sexually abused by their principal. Marked as enemies of the state, the activists – and filmmaker – are under constant government surveillance and face interrogation, harassment, and imprisonment. Eventually, through smuggling footage out of the country, Wang is able tell the story of her journey with the extraordinary revolutionary Sparrow, her fellow activists, and their seemingly impossible battle for human rights.

Limited Space Available – Click here to RSVP & for more info.


See the Music

See The Music: The Evolution of Music & Video
Thurs. November 3, 7:00 PM
\\\ SVA Auditorium, 209 E. 23rd Street, NYC

A sneak peek of the new PBS series Soundbreaking: Stories From The Cutting Edge Of Recorded Music – Episode 7, “Sound & Vision” about the origins and lasting influence of music videos.

Following the screening, ex-MTV/VH1 exec Rob Barnett will chat with Soundbreaking’s Series Director & Executive Producer Maro Chermayeff and Series Editor E. Donna Shepherd – as well as Vashtie Kola (SVA BFA Film 2004), music video director for artists including Solange, Kendrick Lamar, and Justin Beiber, about the production of the show and the style and vision needed to create visual stories illustrating contemporary music.

Soundbreaking: Stories From The Cutting Edge Of Recorded Music, an 8-part series for PBS, charts a century’s worth of innovation and experimentation, and offers a behind-the-scenes look at the birth of brand new sounds. The episode “Sound and Vision” chronicles the era in which MTV forged the link between recorded music and the newly emergent music video — considering what it means to see music as well as hear it.

This event is presented jointly by SVA’s MFA Social Documentary Program and MFA Visual Narrative Program.
Free & open to the public. RSVP required. Click here to RSVP & for more info.

Fall 2017 Admissions Info Sessions


Applications are open now for Fall 2017!

Turn your vision and activism into a career in non-fiction filmmaking with our two-year Master’s Degree program. Applications are open now for Fall 2017.

Join us for an informal information session, meet our faculty and alumni, tour the facilities, and see if our program might be the right place for you to advance your creative ambitions.

Attend an Info Session:
Saturday, November 5 at 10 AM – 12 PM
Monday, December 5 at 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM
Info sessions are held at our department offices in Chelsea, NYC.

Can’t attend these? Get in touch to schedule a personal tour or call to have all your questions answered. You can also take our virtual department tour!

We look forward to welcoming you to our department.

Soundbreaking, Swim Team, Cameraperson, Weaveologist & more at DOC NYC!

MFA Soc Doc Film is proud to announce that many of our faculty and students’ films have been chosen to be part of DOC NYC – the largest documentary festival in the U.S.! We’ll be at the festival, and hope to see you there!

On Friday Nov. 11, 2016, DOC NYC will screen Cameraperson (directed by camera faculty Kirsten Johnson) at the Cinepolis Chelsea at 10:15am and 2:30pm. Having had an esteemed career as a documentary cinematographer, Kirsten Johnson draws upon 20 years of footage to construct this globetrotting visual memoir.  Cameraperson serves as a testimony for the power of image-making to preserve people, places and periods that might otherwise be lost. (1hr. 42)

Weaveologist directed by Sandra Itäinen (Group 7) will screen as a part of the I ♥ NY Shorts Program at the SVA Theater on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016 at 9:15pm. A Brooklyn hair stylist takes us on a close exploration of black hair culture as he weaves a woman’s hair. (6:00 min)

The NYC Premier of Soundbreaking: Stories from the Cutting Edge of Recorded Music will take place on Sunday Nov. 13, 2016 at the SVA Theater at 4:15pm. 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), this upcoming PBS series takes on challenge of chronicling the history of music recording and producing and tells the stories behind the sounds that have defined generations. DOC NYC will screen two episodes of this eight-part series. (1hr. 30)

On Thursday, Nov.17, 2016 Swim Team will have its NYC Premier at the SVA Theater – This film was edited and produced by editing faculty Ann Collins. Demonstrating the power of inclusion to transcend disability, this film profiles members of the Jersey Hammerheads, a competitive swim team made up of a diverse group of teens on the autism spectrum. (1hr. 40)

In addition to this, current students and recent SocDoc alumni are represented in the DOCNYC U showcase. On Friday, Nov. 11, 2016 at IFC Center, the SVA SocDoc DocNYC U shorts program will be as follows:

Mom (8:16) Mingi Kim (Group 7) As her daughter experiences childbirth anxieties, Doosun shows what it means to be a Mom
Babysitter: A Story of Alice and Me (6:45) Rebecca Benson (Group 7) A whimsical, up-close look at the relationship between a little girl and her sitter.
Bet By Heart (excerpt) (7:15min) Aom Pinyopusarerk (Group 6) A teen Muay Thai boxer who is banned from the sport tries to find his heart back in the ring
GCT (3:30) Sarah Wainio  (Group 6) We explore the lesser-known corners of the majestic train station, Grand Central Terminal
Alex (9:26) Brian Inocencio & Kai Boonprakob (Group 7) After a near-fatal car accident, Alex is completely changed.
On The Ledge (10:16) Chelsi Bullard (Group 7) Charts a father and son’s fight to save Brooklyn’s Slave Theater.
Rail Ties (6:32) James Stuart (Group 7) Reveals the thriving subculture hidden in plain sight in NYC’s public transit system.
Big Hips Big Dreams (8:20) Melanie McLean Brooks (Group 7) Tina pursues her dreams like everyone else – only she reveals a little more than most

SocDoc also hosts a panel of tips for first time doc-makers, featuring the directors of After Tiller and Speed Sisters: What’s Your Story?

See you at DOC NYC!

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:

YouTube Preview Image

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!

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 12.43.05 PM

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





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