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

Applications for Fall 2017 Due February 1

We’re getting down to the wire! Applications are due February 1 to take part in the  Fall 2017 MFA Social Documentary Film program at School of Visual Arts!

Explore your world with the art of nonfiction filmmaking. SocDoc will not only teach you how to tell a great story – we will guide you toward a career in the thriving documentary industry.

Contact us for more information or to take a tour in person or online, and find out if SocDoc is the way to set you on your creative path.

Bonus! If you can’t make it to SocDoc in person – you can take our virtual tour! YouTube Preview Image

Alumnus Jenni Morello, DP

Jenni Morello (SocDoc Class of 2011) first set her sight on graduate school after returning from Morocco for her two years of Peace Corp service.  She wanted to continue her dedication to humanity, while further exploring her artistic vision and craft as a storyteller.  Five years after her graduation, Jenni is working with some of the documentary industry’s finest directors, including Oscar nominees Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Jesus Camp) and still keeping her promise to tell much needed stories on her own. Her most recent film follows a Syrian family as they seek asylum in Austria. Hear what she has to say about her experience as a member of the first class of the MFA Social Documentary program at the School of Visual Arts.    -MMB

SocDoc Alumnus: Jenni Morello is a part of an irregular series of student profiles. Directed & Edited by Caroline Berler; Camera by Melanie McLean Brooks, both Class of 2017

Awards Season Begins with SocDoc Nominations & Sundance Grantees

Kirsten Johnson (SocDoc camera faculty) is having a well-deserved year in the spotlight. Her groundbreaking feature-length documentary, Cameraperson (pictured), is among the 5 films nominated for “Best Documentary” of 2016 IFP Gotham Awards. Cameraperson also picked up four nominations from Cinema Eye Honors, including, “Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking,” “Outstanding Achievement in Direction,” “Outstanding Editing” by Nels Bagerter, “Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography.” Cinema Eye also listed Cameraperson as one the year’s most notable and significant non-fiction film subjects. We’re rooting for you, KJ!

Cameraperson is also nominated for this year’s IDA Documentary Awards’ “Best Feature Award” and “Best Editing” within the Creative Recognition Award. The Above, produced and directed by Kirsten in association with Field of Vision, is also nominated for “Best Short Award.” Winners will be announced December 9th. Also at the IDA Awards, Amy Nicholson’s Pickle is nominated for “Best Short”; the doc is filmed by Jerry Risius (camera faculty) and has had an extensive festival run around the world.

The inaugural Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards, taking place next month at a first-time gala event in Brooklyn, New York. Cameraperson is nominated for “Best Documentary Feature,” “Best Direction”, “Most Innovative Documentary,” and “Most Compelling Living Subject.” In addition, Life, Animated is nominated for “Best Documentary Feature,” “Best Direction” and “Most Innovative Documentary”; Richard Hankin (SocDoc Directing faculty) is a consulting editor for the film. And, Soundbreaking: Stories from the Cutting Edge of Recorded Music is nominated for Best Limited Series; the show is directed & executive produced by SocDoc Chair Maro Chermayeff, edited by E. Donna Shepherd and Sam Pollard, and produced by Amy Schewel – all SocDoc faculty.

And lastly, Cameraperson has been nominated for “Best Documentary” by the Film Independent Spirit Awards, and has received the Freedom of Expression Award from the National Board Review. Congrats, KJ!

And Congratulations to all nominees!

Sundance Fund Grantees and Art of Non-Fiction Fellows Awards
The Sundance Institute has awarded over a $1 million to documentary projects and individual artists for the coming year and several SocDoc-ers are among the grantees. Ruth Litoff’s 32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide, received a post-production grant to push it to the finish line. This film’s team includes producer Beth Levison and editor Toby Shimin (both SocDoc  faculty).  Mudflow, directed by Cynthia Wade and Sasha Friedlander (SocDoc alumnus), also received finishing funds from this year’s grant pool. Lastly, Kirsten Johnson is now in her second year of her “Art of Nonfiction Fellowship” at the Sundance Institute.

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 field producer Raul Paz Pastrana (SocDoc 2012) 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, and produced by Erik Spink, both current faculty and SocDoc alumni (2013). 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. Stream the premiere of TASHI’S TURBINE via WORLD Channel’s Facebook this Sunday, November 13th at 10/9c. Joining us will be filmmaker Amitabha Joshi and special guest Tashi Bista — they’ll be answering your questions throughout the live stream.

TASHI’S TURBINE is a Vacant Light production. The film is funded by the Center for Asian American Media, through support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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), Samuel D. Pollard (producer & editor) and n(cinematographer).



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 & Nottapon 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? on Thurs. Nov. 10 – moderated by our own Director of Operations Rose Vincelli Gustine. Rose is also taking part in the Only In NY Meetings, short meetings allowing direct access to industry decision makers on Wed. Nov. 16.

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!

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