By Katelyn McCormick
The New School, a university with a rich history of progressive social action, is now home to a documentary media studies certificate program. Launched in fall 2006, the program strives to educate the next generation of professional documentary filmmakers through its intensive, graduate-level curriculum.
The program seemed like a natural fit for the university and its resources. “At The New School, documentary study and practice have always thrived,” said Annie Howell, assistant chair for documentary studies, in a recent interview. “There is an emphasis on making change in the world.” Over the course of one academic year, students produce, direct, and edit a 30-minute documentary on a topic of their choice. With hands-on help from accomplished faculty, the students graduate from the program with a polished documentary piece.
Applicants are asked to submit a video self-portrait, which is an opportunity for each applicant to express their individuality. “We are looking for creative and intellectual promise,” Howell said. “That includes a propensity for expressing ideas visually.”
The program is not limited, however, to students with communications or film backgrounds. Maya Mumma came to The New School with a social anthropology degree from Boston University. The opportunity to explore many different disciplines was part of the program’s appeal. “I love learning, researching, and experiencing new things, and in turn telling other people about what I have seen and learned,” Mumma said. “Documentary is such a wonderful way to be able to do that.”
Project topics for the inaugural class cover a wide range of issues — from Dana Bartle’s portrait of a man’s reintegration into society after being released from prison to Tina Grapenthin’s examination of the Whitehouse Hostel, a building that residents are fighting to save from impending commercialization. From many films, themes of social responsibility and civic engagement emerge. “I am especially interested in giving people a voice who — without the medium of film — might not have a chance to get their voice heard,” Grapenthin said.
The program gives the students access to distinguished visiting filmmakers like D.A. Pennebaker and Peter Baker, as well as guest lecturers like “Jesus Camp” directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady at its regular “Doc Talks” series.
With only 19 students, the program can take on a community feel. “We help each other with technical and creative questions,” Bartle said. “And nurture each other through a very arduous and rewarding experience.”
Upon completion, students are equipped to enter the professional world of documentary filmmaking. “This program will give students the serious training they need to compete in the industry,” said Carol Wilder, chair of the Media Studies department. “And help them find a voice for social issues of personal or professional concern in this powerful medium.”
The documentary media studies program is now accepting applications for fall 2007 admission. For more information, please visit www.newschool.edu/docstudies.