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 Represents at Full Frame Film Festival This Weekend

Georgia Gruzen (SocDoc ’11) premiered her thesis film “Fanuzzi’s Gold” at the Full Frame Film Festival in Durham, NC today.  Georgia’s film is a unique portrait of Ed Fanuzzi, a Staten Island inventor and treasure hunter. He sees gold where others see trash, combing the beach with a metal detector and searching through bins at the junkyard. Some of Fanuzzi’s finds end up in his cluttered backyard while others become construction projects for family members in need. Meanwhile, in approximately 2,000 videotapes, Fanuzzi records his life, explorations, and adventures. His home movies are interspersed throughout this portrait of an eternal optimist who has faced tragedy and heartache yet continues to dream of gold. Georgia’s film is very special and we are extremely proud that she is premiering her film at Full Frame – one of the most respected non-fiction festivals in the world.

Additionally the following faculty members are also screening films at Full Frame:

“Marina Abramović The Artist Is Present” by Maro Chermayeff (SocDoc Department Chair), Donna Shepherd (Editing Faculty), Jeff Dupre (Guest Lecturer), Matthew Akers (Guest Lecturer) is screening on Saturday 4/14.

Bernardo Ruiz (SocDoc Producing Faculty) is screening his latest film “Reportero” this afternoon.

Tom Hurwitz (SocDoc Cinematography Professor) shot two films screening at Full Frame – “Love Free or Die” and The Queen of Versailles


SocDoc Student Dawn Schwartz Wins 1st Place at College Television Awards

A huge congratulations to Dawn for winning the top spot in the documentary film category at the 2012 Academy of Arts and Sciences College Television Awards. The College Television Awards is a national competition recognizing excellence in college student-produced video, digital and film work. Each year, we receive entries from hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide. Winners are honored at a black-tie gala in Los Angeles, receive cash awards, industry recognition and the opportunity to network with top television executives.

Entries are judged online by members of the Television Academy who are professionals working in each respective discipline. Viewing is restricted to competition judges and staff only. Finalists’ work in each category proceed to Blue Ribbon Panels for selection of winners in mid-February. As with the Primetime Emmy® Awards, entries are awarded based on excellence in overall production.

See Dawn accept her award in Los Angeles this past weekend!


Kirsten Johnson inspires SocDoc students during process & style lecture series
Kirsten Johnson

Kirsten Johnson, Cinematographer

Cinematographer and Director Kirsten Johnson came to the SocDoc department last night for our weekly Process & Style Lecture Series. Her honesty, insight, wit and vast experiences inspired everyone in the room. She began the lecture by applauding the students for their decision to work in the documentary film industry (the best jobs in the world) and then proceeded to share tales, lessons and learnings from her 20+ year career as a cinematographer. She gave advice on many topics – from documentary ethics, to which jobs to take and why, to some great practical tips for shooting in the field. What a pleasure it is to bring experienced technicians/filmmakers together with the next generation of documentarians for some good old fashion mentoring!

Here is the schedule for remaining lectures this semester – please email [email protected] if you would like to attend.

3/22/12 : Doug Block, Filmmaker
3/29/12 : Elena Paul, Esq., Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts
4/5/12 : Susan Lacy, American Masters
4/19/12 : Sam Pollard, Editor, Director, Producer

SocDoc Alumni Premiere at Full Frame and Tribeca

Two top festivals, Tribeca Film Fest and Full Frame, announced their line ups today and SocDoc is proud to announce that two of our student’s thesis films will premiere at the fests.

Rachel Gordon Loube’s (SocDoc ’11) film “Every Tuesday: A Portrait of the New Yorker Cartoonists” will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival as part of the shorts program.

Georgia Gruzen’s (SocDoc ’11) film “Fanuzzi’s Gold” will premiere at the Full Frame Film Festival as part of the “New Docs” category.

Also, a film that Bao Nguyen (SocDoc ’11) was the Director of Photography on “Mr. Chao Goes to Washington” will also screen at Full Frame as will SocDoc Faculty Bernardo Ruiz’s film “Reportero“.


Ellen Kuras Visits SocDoc
Ellen Kuras at SocDoc

Ellen Kuras visits SocDoc

During the fall and spring semesters, SocDoc curates the Process & Style Lecture series, bringing together top filmmakers and industry professionals in intimate sessions where they share tales and learnings from the field. Last Thursday, March 1st we were very fortunate to have acclaimed cinematographer and Oscar nominated director Ellen Kuras come in to speak with our students. SocDoc students had almost three hours of time with Ellen sharing stories, lessons, technical information and answering any questions they had. To be in the room was truly a special experience that the students will carry with them for some time. Many students even called the experience “life changing” because of the candor and intimacy of the discussion.

The events are held Thursdays at 6:00pm in the department theater at 136 West 21st Street, ground floor. Typically these are closed events, but you are welcome to join us for the last sessions of the semester – seating is limited please email [email protected] to rsvp.

3/15/12 : Kirsten Johnson, Cinematographer
3/22/12 : Doug Block, Filmmaker
3/29/12 : Elena Paul, Esq., Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts
4/5/12 : Susan Lacy, American Masters
4/19/12 : Sam Pollard, Editor, Director, Producer

La Camioneta // SXSW Teaser
Two MFA SocDoc Grads Get ITVS Funding For Thesis Film Finishing

Out of 1,600 applicants who applied to the latest ITVS Open Call for funding they selected 12 filmmakers. Out of the 12 – TWO are MFA Soc Doc 2011 graduates who received funding for completing the thesis films started at SocDoc! Congratulations to Sasha Friedlander and David Osit for each receiving between $130,000-$170,000 to finish your films and guaranteed national broadcast in 2013.

Sasha’s film “Where Heaven Meets Hell” tells the story of an active volcano in East Java, Indonesia – Kawah Ijen, that houses a grueling, labor-intensive sulfur mining operation. Before daybreak, five hundred independent miners begin to collect and haul loads of up to 200lbs. of pure sulfur. They trek up a treacherous four-kilometer path out of the crater, engulfed in billowing clouds of sulfur dioxide gases. They then climb down to the village at the base of the volcano and unload, only to repeat the round trip journey several times before the day ends.Over a six-month period, this film follows four miners and their families, all at different stages in their lives. Where Heaven Meets Hell is a study of endurance and the sustaining power of faith, love and family through desperate times; a portrait of endemic poverty and the costs of modernity on unprotected laborers.

“Where Heaven Meets Hell” will premiere at the Hong Kong International Film Festival and will broadcast nationally in the US in 2013.

David’s film “Building Babel” follows Sharif el-Gamal as he builds a community center in New York City. People who’ve never met Sharif el-Gamal hate his guts. He receives threatening, hysterical phone messages. Protesters angrily confront him on his way to work. And why? He’s just trying to build a community center. Of course, there’s the matter of what kind (an Islamic center) and its location (two blocks from where the World Trade Center towers once stood). Dubbed the “Ground Zero mosque” by the media and far nastier names by its opponents, Park51 makes el-Gamal the target of widespread suspicion and conservative wrath. As he struggles to keep his fledgling organization alive, el-Gamal finds his past scrutinized and his relationships—both familial and collegial—strained. With the feel of a Maysles Brothers classic updated for the twenty-first century, Building Babel demonstrates how our best intentions can bring terrible consequences, and offers a glimpse of the small victories that come with weathering them.

David’s film will have a “sneak peek” screening at the True/False Film Festival in March and will broadcast nationally in the US in 2013.

About ITVS

The Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds, presents, and promotes award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television and cable, innovative new media projects on the Web, and the Emmy Award-winning weekly series Independent Lens Thursday nights at 10:00 PM on PBS.

ITVS International is a division of the Independent Television Service that runs the Global Perspectives Project (GPP), an international exchange of documentary films made by independent producers, bringing international voices to U.S. audiences and American stories to audiences abroad.

ITVS receives core funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people. The GPP is made possible through the support of Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Wyncote Foundation, and Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.

More Info…


Fair Use and Rights & Clearance Panel at SocDoc last week

Dana Perry, Jim McDonald, Cathy Carapella

Thank you to Dana Perry, Jim McDonald, Cathy Carapella and Neil Rosini for hosting an ACSIL (Association of Commercial Stock Image Licensors) panel at the SocDoc department last Thursday. This was an excellent opportunity for our students to learn about the different elements involved in footage licensing and to hear various perspectives on the hot issue of fair use vs. licensing.  We were able to bring in a fair use attorney, a filmmaker who has done a number of archival and music heavy films, her researcher and a film and music licensor. The questions were flying and the discussion was very enlightening. Thank you to all who participated:

CATHY CARAPELLA has been working in the field of music and media licensing since the early 1980’s. Cathy is currently the VP of Global ImageWorks (GIW), a footage sales, research & rights clearance company.  In addition to her day-to-day responsibilities at GIW which includes administering the Soul Train archive, Cathy also oversees the licensing of the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings catalogue whereby she is responsible for administering and licensing over 35,000 sound recordings. Cathy’s specialty is archival filmmaking and music performance footage.

JIM MCDONNELL is a freelance visual researcher who has been working in long-form television and theatrical documentaries for the last 14 years.   He specializes in music documentaries.  He has just recently finished work on the soon to be released “Going Back To Graceland” looking at Paul Simon’s groundbreaking album 25 years after its initial release.   He currently has multiple projects that in production including a forthcoming feature documentary examining the story and impact of the website Napster.

DANA PERRY is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose HBO feature, “Boy Interrupted”, premiered in competition at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and has been shown in over thirty countries.  She has produced numerous music videos and documentaries for such artists as John Lennon, Aerosmith, Public Enemy, Paula Cole, Rita Marley, Peter Gabriel, The Gipsy Kings, Leonard Bernstein and The Replacements, among others.

NEIL J. ROSINI, Esq.  is a partner at the law firm of Franklin, Weinrib, Rudell & Vassallo, P.C., in New York City (  His practice focuses on copyright; new media transactions and privacy issues; content clearance for broadcast, publication and online distribution; opinion work and counseling respecting  rights of privacy, and defamation matters; literary publishing; performing arts; trademark licensing, celebrity endorsements, and branding.




SocDoc Department Chair Produces “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present”
Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

MFA SocDoc department chair Maro Chermayeff’s latest Show of Force production, “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present,” won the audience award for best documentary at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival this week.


Produced by: Maro Chermayeff & Jeff Dupre
Dircected by Matt Akers, Co-Director Jeff Dupre
Edited by E. Donna Shepherd (MFA SocDoc editing faculty), Co-Editor Jim Hession

The film had its US premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January and is also screening at the True/False Film Festival, the Big Sky Documentary Festival and others to be announced!

Filmmaker John Valadez

The MFA SocDoc program welcomed John Valadez to our guest lecture series yesterday evening to discuss his career, his films, and his views on the medium of documentary film. Each week we are very fortunate to be able to bring our students diverse guests from all over the industry to share their films and stories with the next generation of documentary storytellers. We are consistently impressed with the generosity of our guest lecturers – they freely share their experiences and lessons learned all for the benefit of our students.

John Valadez at the Process and Style Lecture Series

The Process and Style Guest Lecture Series is only open to MFA SocDoc students or by invitation only. Please email mbhattacharya(at) with any questions. Below is a list of our guests for this semester’s season please visit our web site for the bios of past guests.

1/12/12 Cavah Zahidi – screening of latest film

1/19/12 Nina Davenport – “First Comes Love” – work in progress screening

1/26/12 Eric Drath – Live Star Entertainment LLC. screening “Renee”

2/2/12Matthew AkersMaro ChermayeffJeff Dupre and Donna Shepherd – “Marina Abramović The Artist is Present” Screening

2/9/12 John J. Valadez – “Matters of Race”, “Beyond Brown” and others

2/16/12 Cathy Carapella – Rights and Clearances Panel w/
 Dana Perry – filmmaker, Jim McDonald – archivist, Cathy Carapella-Global Image Works, Neil Rosini-fair use attorney

2/23/12 – Ellen Kuras – Director and Cinematographer

3/15/12 – Doug Block – Filmmaker

3/22/12 – Kirsten Johnson – Cinematographer

3/29/12 – Elena Paul, Esq. – Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts

4/5/12- Susan Lacy – American Masters

4/12/12- Carter Little – Music Supervisor and Composer

4/19/12- Sam Pollard – Editor, Director, Producer


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