Documentary Film Programs in the United States (a working list)


For those who are interested in previewing both academic and institutional documentary film programs in the United States, The Independent Magazine highlights the top ten documentary film programs in the country. Among these ten, is Duke University at number one, followed by George Washington University GWU, Stanford University at number seven, UC Berkeley’s School of Journalism.
These specific schools all aim to have a focus in historical documentary studies and all provide their students with a wide range of skills that prepare them for more than just the mechanics of film making. Duke, Stanford, and UCB all offer a Masters Program of two years. Stanford representative says, “Master’s students get a solid grounding in theory and history, not to mention preparation for filmmaking in the real world …” [1]
The Documentary Center at offers a six month intensive course on documentary filmmaking in a small group- seminar setting. On a smaller scale, there is Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Art and on the East Coast there is the film studies program at both Syracuse Wesleyan University., both Chapman and Syracuse, and Wesleyan offer either a BA or an MFA Degree in filmmaking, but without the name, cost, and popularity of a program at the competitive “Hollywood Film” schools like USC or UCLA. “We’re not a trade school,” says Dean Bob Bassett from Chapman University. “We’re focused on helping young people find jobs — and that’s the hardest thing.” [2] 
Located in a more unexpected region like the southwest, University of Texas at Austin has a notably large selection of film classes for the Master’s Program in the Department of Radio, Television, and Film.
            Similarly, there are non-academic programs that are just as renowned for their dedication to documentary film making. The yearly film festival in Utah hosted by the Sundance Institute aspiring filmmakers engagement and funding opportunities to showcase their work and interests in human rights and other contemporary conflicts to an open audience. There is a two-year conservatory program held at the American Film Institute that works to “specialize” its student’s interests to their desired field within filmmaking. This Institute focuses more refining the skills of already developed film school students, and works to improve the mechanics of filmmaking, including script writing, directing, and producing. In contrast, the non-profit organization Film Independent  runs a program called the Project Involve  which focuses on helping create opportunities and environments for amateur documentary filmmakers who have powerful stories to tell, but not the means to share their work with the world. They aim to develop the skills of their artists in order to best showcase a filmmaker’s passions and interests through film. Film Independent works the Sundance and the Los Angeles Film Festival to launch award winning films like The Invisible War, El General, and A Small Act. Uniquely, they have Project Involve:
 “Which runs from October through June, [and] selects filmmakers from diverse backgrounds and filmmaking tracks – a mix of writers, directors, producers, DPs and editors, as well as those seeking work in acquisitions, marketing, distribution and agencies…During the nine months, the Fellows receive one-on-one mentorship, participate in a series of master workshops on the craft as well as the business of filmmaking, and work together to create a collection of short films. The program concludes in June when their short films premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival.”[3]
For those who are interested in telling their own story through the digital format, The Center for Digital Storytelling is the perfect mix of film studies, history, and media/art education. Located in Berkeley, California, “the Center has transformed the way that community activists, educators, health and human services agencies, business professionals, and artists think about the power of personal voice in creating change.”[4]This organization offers workshops for film students to practice their skills and gain valuable insight into the creation of their own digital story. In collaboration with this center, a program called Silence Speaks was created in 1999 to provide extended and more personalized workshop classes. These workshops aim to improve the way in which people communicate their own stories, narratives, and participate in meaningful projects through the digital format. With a wide range of studies from film production to art therapy, Silence Speaks is an empowering program for storytellers of all ages, backgrounds, and goals.
            With this mix of academic, non-academic, and non-profit educational documentary film programs, it may be hard to choose a program. Maybe you want a more intimate environment where you can grow and inspire your inner filmmaker—or maybe you want to be in Los Angeles where “it” all happens to show off your media expertise. Perhaps you are more interested in the behind-the-scenes aspects of production and distribution, or how film can be the medium to voice your personal story of trial and triumph. Wherever your desires lie, hopefully you can find a program that best suits your needs as an aspiring film maker and student of documentary studies.

The Sun on Their Wings

Filming in Monument Valley, Utah, November 2011

The Sun on Their Wings: Merian C. Cooper, the Kosciuzsko Squadron and the War to Save Civilization
Project Manager Stephen Cooper

Monumental Valley, Photo TCT
Cold morning, Photo Stephen Cooper

Monumental Valley, Photo TCT
Stephen Cooper and I, Photo friendly tourist from Korea

S. Cooper, Photo TCT

Cine Campesino: Objetivos y Metodologías

Cine Campesino fue formado por cineastas, documentalistas, profesores, estudiantes y productores. Desde su creación, Cine Campesino produjo dos documentales: Cine Campesino (2002) y Naturalezas en conflicto (2003). Cine Campesino contó con el apoyo de fondos obtenidos a través de becas universitarias.

Cine Campesino, el primer documental, registra la organización del primer festival de cine en un área rural de Honduras.

Naturalezas en conflicto explora, bajo la perspectiva local de una comunidad rural hondureña, las concepciones que sobre la naturaleza se forjan en enclaves donde la naturaleza parece ser privilegiada. Al mismo tiempo documenta el tipo de relaciones que estos sujetos establecen con su entorno natural y el impacto de la actividad humana en el medio ambiente. En Septiembre, fragmentos del documental salieron al aire por televisión en 33 ciudades de los Estados Unidos como parte del programa Latin Eyes.

Hasta hace tres años, había una sola televisión en el Pital; los fines de semana, Don Baudilio, dueño de la única pulpería, exhibía en su negocio películas de acción norteamericana en inglés y con subtítulos en español (Van Damme, Schwarzenegger, Stallone). El índice de analfabetismo en el Pital en los adultos alcanzaba un 80% y solo unos pocos en la audiencia podían leer los subtítulos. Su relación con el medio audiovisual era alienante, ya que la costumbres, tradiciones, que veían reflejadas en la pantalla no tenían nada que ver con la vida del campesino. Cine Campesino decidió entonces organizar un festival al aire libre, que tenía como principal objetivo proyectar películas latinoamericanas (en español) que abarcaran temas relativos a la vida del campesino, y de esta manera, contribuir a la “descolonización del gusto” del residente del Pital.

Después del festival, al que asistieron más de 500 personas de todas partes de la Cuenca del Río Cangrejal, CC coordinó una serie de talleres con un grupo de 15 estudiantes de una escuela rural. Los estudiantes definieron una lista de problemas que aquejaban a su comunidad (la construcción de un dique que terminaría con la vida en el río, las relaciones amorosas entre estudiantes, etc.). Nosotros, como coordinadores, propusimos algunos contrapuntos a estos problemas para luego escribir un guión, seleccionar tomas y locaciones y ayudarlos a filmar.

Naturalezas en Conflicto, Cine Campesino (2004)

Cine Campesino is a collective committed to bringing Latin American films to rural areas, where viewing films is limited to Hollywood action films in English with Spanish subtitles that audiences cannot read. The first project of the collective was to complement the work of the Un Mundo, the NGO that sponsored Cine Campesino, by developing a space for conflict resolution through the exhibition of films. Cine Campesino and Un Mundo organized the first traveling film festival in the region, hiring school buses to transport hundred of campesinos to the soccer field were we projected the films. Later that week, members of the collective led video production workshops with students teaching them how to produce their first films. This event was part of the collective’s first documentary Cine Campesino (2002). Natures in Conflict (2004) the second documentary, questions the tourist’s gaze at the Honduran jungle, and shows how campesinos(rural subsistence farmers) have sometimes “destroyed” their environment to provide their families with the means of survival. 

Cine Campesino: A Documentary Film (2002)

Production and screenplay: Tomas F. Crowder-Taraborrelli

Cine Campesino is a Travelling film festival that has done over 110 film festivals in rural Honduras. It was first organized in 2002, in a small town called El Pital. This documentary was made of that event. In 2003 Ronald Reinds made it possible that Cine Campesino became mobile.

Cine Campesino is a project set up by Un Mundo, a small NGO that operates in the valley of the river Cangrejal on the north coast of Honduras. It initated with a film festival in 2002 that lasted 3 days. After the second edition, Cine Campesino underwent a large change and got mobile and started giving free film festivals in rural Honduran comunities. Cine Campesino left Un Mundo during the course of 2004 to join Arte Acción Copán Ruinas.

Cine Campesino:  video installation
Cine Campesino shows Spanish spoken Latin American movies with social themes primarily in mountain villages in Honduras that have no access to electricity, cable or a video store. This means that some 90% of villages would be eligible for a Cine Campesino Film Festival. The way these are done is as follows; we make contact with a local or a Peace Corps Volunteer who has a cell phone or who can use the internet, we discuss a date that suits us both, we send them the folder “How to organize a Film Festival in YOUR Comunity” and then we have night of cine!

Four years and 111 film festivals later, we have completed a documentaty on people who have never seen a movie before in their lives. This is a homage to Por Primera Vez, a Cuban documentary from 1967 with the same theme. The documentary has been shown on the Noordelijk Film Festival and the Sidney Latin American Film Festival and will be screened on a number of other film festivals throughout the world; most notably the International Film Festival Rotterdam and the International Documantary Film Festival Amsterdam.

Cine Campesino is still on the road, run by Hondurans but without proper wheels. A documentary made by Arte Acción Copán Ruinason the cultural remains of the Maya comunity in the Copán region is now shown in every town Cine Campesino visits. Here´s a a few images of a screening in Nueva Esperanza, Copán. If you want to volunteer for Cine Campesino, you need to have an Audiovisual background and speak some Spanish.

Cine Campesino (2002)

By David Ashby

On October 17, 18 and 19, 2002, the Un Mundo organization presented a rural “Cinema Campesino Film Festival” in the village of El Pital, in the Cangrejal river valley (half an hour south from La Ceiba, Honduras). The festival used Latin American films and dialogue to celebrate the beautiful yet difficult life of the Campesino. People were bussed in or walked to the festival from the remote neighbouring villages of Urraco, Toncontin, Yaruca, Rio Viejo and La Muralla.

The festival purpose was threefold:
1. A fundraiser to purchase a used bus to transport students at the local high school.
2. An exercise for the local villages in carrying out a cooperative community event.

3. A forum for public dialog about local problems and social issues. 

An estimated 500 people attended the Cinema Campesino Film Festival under the stars each night.

The renowned Bethel High School Marching Band kicked off the event. 

Local singers and dancers performed during the three nights of the festival.

Brisk sales of food and drink by local villagers were part of the fund-raising activities, and high school students also solicited donations from festival participants. Nearly all the equipment used to produce this first Film Festival were donated by sponsors, including the sound system, lights, rain shelters, camera and movie projection equipment.

Cartoon videos and movies shown in the local high school kept the youngsters entertained. 

Each night, dolls and other toys were given to the village kids attending the festival.

Un Mundo plans to repeat the Cinema Campesino Film Festival throughout rural Honduras. Un Mundo is also working to establish a Cine Campesino Film and Video Institute on the north coast of Honduras, with objectives of imparting to youth throughout Honduras an understanding of filmmaking and the filmmaking industry, promoting social change through film, and fostering a national film industry. If you would like to become a founding contributor of the Cine Campesino Film and Video Institute, email

The shown films came from Cuba, Argentina, and Honduras. The Last Supper depicted the inner turmoil of slaves asserting their independence at a Dominican Republic sugar plantation in the 19th century. The Hour of the Furnaces was a cold, hard examination of the causes and effects of underdevelopment in Latin America. Hurricane Mitch focused on the debilitating external debt exposed by this natural phenomena, while A Place in the World was a sweet story of the triumph and tribulations of a father and son, as the former overcomes resistance while starting a cooperative in his native village and the latter tries to teach his female companion how to read.