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

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).

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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

2016 Admissions Info Sessions

Make Films | Make Change with an MFA in Social Documentary at SVA – Apply Now for Fall 2016!

Our award-winning faculty mentors and collaborates with our students as they gain the skills to create significant, relevant documentary in this two-year graduate program. Our alumni have won Student Academy Awards and Student Emmys, been broadcast on TV and distributed theatrically in the US and abroad, and shown at festivals worldwide. Join our community, and find your voice!

Join us for our Fall 2016 Admissions Information Sessions an opportunity to meet the department chair, faculty and recent alumni students.

Information Sessions
School of VISUAL ARTS – MFA Social Documentary Film
Saturday, November 7th from 11am-1pm
Thursday, December 10th from 6pm-8pm
RSVP is required; use the links above.

Info sessions are at the School of VISUAL ARTS MFA Social Documentary Film department:
136 West 21st St., First Floor
New York, NY 10011
Phone: 212.592.2919

We are looking for the next generation of non-fiction storytellers – you need not have prior professional experience, but you must have a passion for filmmaking, strong story ideas, and a desire to fully immerse yourself in the industry and art of documentary filmmaking.

You can also contact us to set up an individual department visit or Skype session.

For More information:
Tuition and Fees
Application Information 
Department Application Requirements 
For more information and to apply online, visit 
To request more information about this program, visit:

Fall 2015 Screening Series

Looking forward to a great year for our Process and Style Guest Lecture Series full of exciting filmmakers! Stay tuned for updates about December screening. Process & Style is primarily for current SocDoc students, but if you would like to visit just email mfasocdoc<at> to reserve a seat.


all screenings are Thursdays, 6-8:50pm unless otherwise noted

Sept. 17 – Screening:  First Cousin Once Removed
Directed, produced, and edited by Alan Berliner; cinematography by Ian Vollmer
Speaker: Alan Berliner (2012; New York Film Festival; HBO)
Portrait | Personal | Alzheimer’s Disease / Health | Poetry

*Sunday, Sept. 20, 5:30pm – SVA Alumni Film Festival: Thank You For Playing
At SVA Theater, 333 W 23rd St
Free/Open to the public: RSVP Required here:
Directed, produced, edited, and written by David Osit (SocDoc class of 2011) and Malika Zouhali-Worrall; Cinematography by David Osit (Tribeca Film Festival; PBS “POV” broadcast 2016)
Portrait | Cancer / Health | Video Games

Sept. 24 – Screenings:  Body Typed series (USA, 2009, New Day Films): Wet Dreams and False Images (Sundance Film Festival); The Guarantee; 34x25x36 (SXSW, PBS “POV” broadcast)
Directed, produced, and cinematography by Jesse Epstein
Isle of Flowers (Ilha das Flores) (Brazil, 1989; Berlin Film Festival; New Directors/New Films Festival); directed by Jorge Furtado, edited by Giba Assis Brasil; cinematography by Sergio Amon, Roberto Henkin
Speaker: Jesse Epstein, director
Short Films | Body Image | Satire/Funny | Political

Sept. 25-27 – Thesis Showcase – SVA Theater
Reception: Saturday Sept. 26 8:30-10:30pm
At SVA Theater, 333 W 23rd St
Free/Open to the public
Screening schedule & RSVP:

 *Monday, Sept. 28 3:30-5:30pm – Marcel Ophüls Masterclass
At SVA West Side: 133/141 West 21st Street., Theater / Room 101C
RSVP required:
French documentarian Marcel Ophüls is best known for his epic films exploring the effects of war: The Sorrow and the Pity (1969) and Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie (1988), for which he won an Oscar. For this Masterclass, Marcel Ophüls will be in conversation with Thom Powers, documentary programmer for Toronto Film Festival and SVA MFA Documentary faculty. This event is free and is open to the SVA community at large.
War | Social Justice | Interview-based documentary | Classic Documentary

Oct 8 –Kristian Gonzales leads: Color Correcting in Media Composer

Oct. 15 – Screening: “Soundbreaking” Work in Progress
Series Produced and Directed by Jeff Dupre and Maro Chermayeff. A Show of Force Production. (PBS Broadcast 2016)
Speaker: Maro Chermayeff and Jeff Dupre
Music | American History | Archival | TV Series

Oct. 22 – Screening: Cutie and the Boxer
Written, directed & cinematography by Zachary Heinzerling; produced by Patrick Burns, Lydia Dean Pilcher, Zachary Heinzerling, Sierra Pettengill; executive produced by Kiki Miyake; edited by David Teague (2013, Sundance Film Festival; Radius-TWC (Weinstein Co.); nominated Academy Award, Best Documentary, Features)
Speaker: Zachary Heinzerling, director
Portrait | Process | Art | First Feature | Oscar Nominee

Oct. 29 – Screening: The Immortalists
directed by David Alvarado & Jason Sussberg; written by Jason Sussberg; produced by David Alvarado and Kate McLean; cinematography by David Alvarado; edited by David Alvarado, Jason Sussberg, Annukka Lilja (2014; SXSW; self-distribution theatrical release)
Speaker: David Alvarado, director, producer, editor, cinematographer
Alvarado & Sussberg’s new film now in production, a biopic of loved children’s science tv host, Bill Nye, just became the most-funded documentary on Kickstarter, raising $859,000+ from 16,800+ backers. We’ll talk about this process & the new film as well.
Portrait | Science | First Feature | Self Distribution | Crowdfunding

Nov. 5 – Speaker: Susan Lacy, HBO Documentary filmmaker, Creator of PBS’ “American Masters”
Susan Lacy will share clips from her work-in-progress documentary for HBO as well as from her previous films.
After nearly 30 years as Executive Producer of the acclaimed AMERICAN MASTERS series (which she created for PBS in 1986), Susan Lacy formed her own company, Pentimento Productions to focus solely on directing and producing. Her first film with Pentimento is set to premiere on HBO in 2016; the first project in Pentimento’s exclusive multi-picture deal with HBO. Susan’s previous films were all part of the AMERICAN MASTERS collection. Most recently she directed and produced Inventing David Geffen, earning the series the 2013 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series. She wrote, produced, and directed Judy Garland: By Myself (2004 Emmy award for writing and nomination for directing, the series’ Emmy for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series); Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind, Leonard Bernstein: Reaching for the Note (representative episode for the series’ Emmy win in 1999 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series); Rod Serling: Submitted for Your Approval; and Lena Horne: In Her Own Voice. Over the years, AMERICAN MASTERS has garnered unprecedented awards – Susan earned the series 71 Emmy nominations and 28 wins, including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series, in addition to 12 Peabody awards, 3 Grammy Awards and a nomination, and an Academy Award and 4 nominations.
Works-in-Progress | Biopic | Public Television | Broadcast Executive

Nov. 12 – DOC NYC
Screening of the premiere of a centerpiece film at the 2016 DOC NYC Festival

Nov. 19 – Screening: Evolution of a Criminal
Directed by Darius Clark Monroe; produced by Darius Clark Monroe & Jen Gatien; executive produced by Spike Lee and Jay Kubassek; edited by Doug Lenox; cinematography by Daniel Patterson (2014; SXSW; PBS “Independent Lens”)
Speaker: Darius Clark Monroe, director
Personal Narrative | Crime & Justice | First Feature

Dec. 3 – Screening: High Tech, Low Life
Directed cinematography and edited by Stephen Maing; produced by Stephen Maing and Trina Rodriguez; co-edited by Jonathan Oppenheim (USA/China, 2012; Tribeca Film Festival; PBS “POV” broadcast; limited theatrical release via Argot Pictures)
Speaker: Stephen Maing, director
China | Political | Technology  | First Feature

Emmy Wins for our Faculty!

Richard Hankin, Zac Stuart-Pontier, Caitlyn Greene, Shelby Siegel, editing team of THE JINX at the Emmys

Congratulations to the SVA MFA Social Documentary Film faculty and their films who were at the Creative Arts Emmys this weekend! Richard Hankin, Supervising Editor for HBO Documentary Films’ THE JINX won an Emmy for outstanding picture editing along with Editor Zac Stuart-Pontier and Co-Editors Caitlyn Green and Shelby Siegel. The show also took home an Emmy for best Documentary Or Nonfiction Series, and was also nominated for Emmys for Outstanding Directing, Outstanding Sound Mixing, Outstanding Sound Editing, and Outstanding Cinematography in the Nonfiction Programming category.

And, CITIZENFOUR, also broadcast by HBO, won Exceptional Merit In Documentary Filmmaking. The film was also nominated for Outstanding Directing, Outstanding Cinematography, and Outstanding Picture Editing in the Nonfiction Programming category. Faculty member Kirsten Johnson was a cinematographer for the film, which previously won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

For the News & Documentary Emmys: cinematography faculty Axel Baumann was nominated for his work on MISSION BLUE (Netflix); the film was also nominated for Outstanding Informational Programming-Long-Form and won an Emmy for Best Editing.

Director Ross Kauffman‘s E-TEAM was nominated for Best Documentary as well as Outstanding Coverage of a Current News Story-Long Form, and Michael Epstein is Senior Producer and Director of the PBS/AOL series MAKERS, which was nominated for Outstanding Historical Programming-Long-Form.

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