The Documentary Project
Students produce 30-minute documentaries that have aired on PBS, garnered awards and screened at film festivals around the world
The Documentary Project is an optional, full-time third semester for M.S. students who wish pursue intensive video master’s projects.
The program is designed to train students as independent film producers and directors. Documentary project students receive one-on-one coaching from a faculty adviser and additional training in visual storytelling, camera work and editing. Students also learn the business side of documentary production—negotiations, rights and clearances, and how to develop a winning production trailer. The resulting film, the capstone of these students’ studies at Columbia Journalism School, is expected to be of broadcast quality.
Those who wish to be considered for the third semester documentary project apply during the admissions process. Documentary students gain automatic entry to the required spring documentary seminar. A special September graduation event is held for students who stay for a third semester.
Past graduates of the program are now working for CBS Evening News, NBC’s “Rock Center” with Brian Williams, BBC Radio, NPR, and as independent documentarians in their own right.
This course teaches long-form visual storytelling and is a prerequisite for those who want to complete a third-semester master’s project. Students work primarily in teams and, by the end of the semester, pitch a five- to seven-minute work-in-progress trailer to a team of commissioning editors from major outlets. This year those editors included representatives from Frontline, the Sundance Documentary Fund, CBS News, and the Cinema Tropical Festival. Filmmakers are assigned a broadcast faculty advisor in the fall term and complete their master’s projects in either the summer or the following fall after completing the course.
Documentary master’s projects completed in 2009 and 2010 include the following:
Behind Closed Doors
By Jessica Hopper and Pracheta Sharma
This film won the inaugural Judy F. Crichton Award for Best Documentary from Columbia Journalism School. It was accepted into five international film festivals and won the best student award at the Jeevika Film Festival in Delhi, India.
125 Franco’s Boulevard
By Sia Nyorkor and Jacob Templin
This film aired nationally on PBS World’s “AfroPop.” Its first public screening was at Maysles Cinema in Harlem, where it spurred a spirited discussion of Harlem redevelopment plans. It was an official selection of the 4 Africa World Documentary Film Festival and won the Harlem Spotlight Award in the Harlem International Film Festival.
Behind the Label
By Sarah Fitzpatrick and Mar Cabra Valerois
The PBS program “Need to Know” acquired this film. Cabra now works for the International Journalists Investigative Fund, and Fitzpatrick is with CBS Evening News. This documentary was a finalist for the Investigative Reporters & Editors student award. This film was funded in part by a grant from the Patsy Pulitzer Preston Fellowship.
Running Wild: Hate and Immigration on Long Island
By Tamara Bock and Angel Ramon Canales
This film aired twice locally on WLIW 21 PBS in Long Island; on the second occasion Bock and Canales discussed their project on air. Canales now works with the documentary unit at HBO.
By Jennifer Gibson
This film, completed after graduation, won a place in the WGBH lab competition.
Waller County: Race at Six Feet Under
By David Fazekas and Rebecca Teitel
This film was a finalist in the Student Emmy Awards and a blue ribbon finalist in the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences College Television Awards. This was the first documentary in this program to incorporate an original music score (by Phil Servati).
Wombs for Rent
By Habiba Nosheen and Hilke Schellmann
This was the first J-School documentary to reach a national audience when it was picked up by PBS’ “Now.” Their master's project was funded in part by a grant from Leslie Sanders Award, The Fund for Investigative Journalism, The Nation Institute's Investigative Fund and the Stabile Center. This documentary was a finalist for the Investigative Reporters & Editors student award and won a South Asian Journalist's Association award.
This pair also produced a major print story in Glamour on the same topic and their reporting was featured on ABC news. They duo has since formed H2H Films. They recently directed and produced the documentary, "Outlawed in Pakistan," which premiered at Sundance in 2013 and aired on PBS FRONTLINE. Both are now adjunct professors at Columbia.
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