Alumnae Bulletin November 2008

Backstage Pass to Life

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Mawrters make award-winning documentary films

By Alicia Bessette

They spend years on one project.

They forge close, life-changing bonds with their subjects.

They seek not only to expose the people and problems overlooked by mainstream media but, in so doing, to change the world.

With films about everything from homelessness to aspiring rock stars to an amputee marathoner, several Bryn Mawr documentarians are making international headlines.

back stage pass Mario's Story, a film by Susan Koch '76, chronicles the release of a young Latino writer in Los Angeles who, at 16, was tried as an adult, convicted of murder and attempted murder, and sentenced to serve two life terms—all despite a lack of physical evidence

"Mario's Story means a lot to me personally," Koch wrote recently via email from her Washington, D.C.-based studio, Cabin Films. "The young man is now out of prison after 11 years of wrongful incarceration. In fact, he's been living with my family this summer and is making his own short films."

Mario's Story took Koch and her crew seven years to make, and features an unprecedented look inside Calipatria State Prison—the cell blocks, the yard, and long interviews with Mario Rocha. It tells not only his story but that of the unlikely group of lawyers and other advocates—especially juvenile justice advocate Sister Janet Harris—who band together to try to win his freedom, united in their belief that he did not receive his Constitutional right to a fair trial. After every setback, they regroup and try again, knowing their chances of success are slim.

"Getting to know Mario, and spending a great deal of time with him inside the prison, and knowing what he was up against every day, was very tough," Koch said. "The hardest part was when we'd leave the prison, and as you hear all the gates lock behind you, there is this overwhelming sense of what it means to be free, to be on the outside. I realized that Mario might not ever experience that again.

"We hope we've given the audience some insight into how our judicial system, arguably the best in the world, can sometimes fall short, and why it's so important we have checks and balances."

Mario's Story received the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 2006 Los Angeles Film Festival.

The EMMY and Peabody award-winning Koch has been making documentary films for decades. Her work has appeared on ABC, NBC, PBS, HBO,MTV, The Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and Turner Broadcasting, among others, and she twice has collaborated with Barbra Streisand.

"It's important to me to make films that matter—that shed light on an important subject or story—and make people think," she said. "All of my films have done that. At least I hope so. "I go with my instinct," said Koch on choosing which subjects to document. "I come across great stories all the time. I like doing films that are about important issues and will make a difference, but are also entertaining and engaging. I look for ways to tell stories in a different, unexpected way."

Her film Kicking It takes an original look at homelessness, a subject she had long wanted to document.

"When I read a short blog item about the Homeless World Cup," she said, "I thought it sounded bizarre. But the more I looked into it, I realized that this was a way to highlight homelessness and combine it with the entertainment and excitement of sports competition. If you're curious and open, there's no end to great stories."

The Homeless World Cup is an annual international soccer tournament, uniting teams of people who are homeless. An estimated 73 percent of players end up changing their lives for the better after participating; they recover from substance abuse, find employment, go back to school, reunite with their families, and in some cases become coaches or players for pro or semi-pro soccer teams.

Kicking It chronicles the lives of seven players chosen to represent their countries while overcoming poverty and addiction; they come from Afghanistan, Kenya, Ireland, the U.S., Spain, and Russia.

In Kabul Koch and her crew filmed a goalie, Najib, whose brother, sister and father all had been killed in the war. "All the players on the Afghanistan team had been refugees who had returned recently to Kabul. They talk about how tough life was under the Taliban. Actually, they weren't allowed to play football. In fact, the big stadium was where they would have public executions during halftime.

"It was so important to Najib and his teammates that they were able to go to Cape Town [where the tournament was held that year], because it was the first year that Afghanistan would be competing," Koch said. "They wanted to show the world that they were peaceful, that they weren't all terrorists."

For Kicking It, she and her codirector Jeff Werner spent six months editing 250 hours of footage down to 98 minutes. The film premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and was in limited nationwide theatrical release this past summer. This fall it aired on ESPN and is now available on DVD.

"By industry standards, Kicking It is considered a huge success for an independent documentary film," Koch said. "There are many great films being made that are not getting seen. Thousands of films are submitted to festivals like Sundance or Tribeca, and only a hundred or so are accepted. Someone told me that it's far harder than getting into the top colleges, and it's even more difficult to get a theatrical release. Hopefully, new models of online distribution will help ease the distribution juggernaut and enable more films to get seen by a wide audience."

The lack of distribution opportunities is a major problem in the documentary film industry, along with a lack of funding. In fact, documentarians seem to spend as much time fundraising as they do actually making films, and that obligation often delays projects—in some cases, for years.


back stage passThough Sarah Schenck '87 does plenty of documentary work, her heart lies in narrative filmmaking, especially comedy.

These days she is shooting Primitive Streak, her followup to 2006's Slippery Slope, an official selection at the Montreal World Film Festival, available through Netflix and Amazon. Slippery Slope, which Schenck wrote, tells of a feminist documentarian who finds herself working on a porno flick to fund her serious work.

Primitive Streak, also penned by Schenck, examines similar themes: sexuality, family and relationships. The title references the line of epithelial cells in a developing embryo that become the spine.

"Primitive Streak is about nature and nurture and what we all share as a species," Schenck said in a recent phone interview. "The characters are all dealing with issues of personal identity, family life, and issues surrounding reproduction and parenthood. All these things are very much on my mind lately, because I'm an 'old new'mom." (Her two children are aged 15 months and 3-1/2 years.)

"Film is a very political medium," Schenck said. "My favorite genre is comedy. To deal with sensitive subjects—feminism and porn, for example, that elicit strong responses in many people—the way to approach these subjects, while also being entertaining, is comedy.

"The downside is, I do think making people laugh requires huge amounts of training and trial and error and talent. Film is an expensive medium, and it's hard to learn how to be a comedic filmmaker, and to direct comedy. I fell flat on my face often, but it's a worthy endeavor. It's challenging intellectually, emotionally, and professionally."

Schenck first seriously studied film during her junior year abroad in the International Honors Program; that year's academic focus was anthropology and film. After Bryn Mawr and a brief stint at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (she majored in history of art), she pursued a career in politics and activism. And in the midst of all that, her filmmaker-friend—knowing Schenck was a painter in her spare time— asked her to art-direct his short film.

"Making the set was fun and interesting," she said. "I went to the shoot and watched my friend working with the actors, working with the camera. It was a falling-in-love experience. After that I started producing shorts for people.

"Political activism is great preparation for producing," Schenck said. "You're dealing with a budget, you're fundraising, you're organizing people, you're getting the job done in a chaotic environment. In that way it was an easy step for me."

When she was a student, Bryn Mawr had little to offer in the way of film studies.Now it offers a film studies minor; recent graduates with film studies minors, Kristy Fallica '06, Kristen Coveleskie '06, and Andrea Piskora '04 worked with Schenck on Slippery Slope.Margaret Sclafani '08 is working on the Primitive Streak shoot and managing the Slippery Slope websites.

Other Bryn Mawrters have played important roles in Schenck's filmmaking.Nora Lavori '71 hosted a fundraiser for Sarah's screenplay,"The Cult of Fudge," about plus-size female superheroes, and hired her to make a documentary on the explorer Bruce Klepinger. Lavori also introduced Sarah to filmmaker Tim Blake Nelson, son of Ruth Kaiser Nelson '58, Schenck's mentor.

In 2004, Schenck was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for producing Virgin, a $65,000 feature with Robin Wright Penn and Elisabeth Moss. Schenck's short narrative films as writer/director/producer have won prizes in the U.K. and Belgium.

All the while she's continued making documentaries, especially for Project Renewal, New York City's largest nonprofit providing services to the homeless. Her narrative short honoring National Hispanic Heritage Month aired on The Discovery Channel in September and October.

"Film is an art form," Schenck said, "a compelling way to tell stories. I see myself first and foremost as a storyteller. Stories affect people profoundly.We all have stories that we tell and construct.We all make choices about life, and those choices—and how we frame the issues that affect us—have profound effect on the quality of our lives."

'The hidden sides of common stories'

"Funding, hands down, is the most challenging aspect of documentary filmmaking,"back stage pass said Vanessa Ingle Warheit '90 in a recent phone interview from her studio, Horse Opera Productions, in Vancouver. "There are the lucky few who pitch an idea, get it picked up, and get the film made in a year or two. Then, there's everyone else."

In Canada, government agencies fund many films, but filmmakers still must compete to get broadcasters to back their projects. "The broadcasters are the gatekeepers," Warheit said. "And they want films that will sell to their demographic of 19- to 35-year-old males. I just have to keep reminding myself that it's a tough industry, and that it's extra hard for women, because it's supported by this commercial industry.

"I am both proud and appalled at the fact that I haven't given up on The Insular Empire," she said.

That film, which Warheit has been making for seven years, tells the current and past stories of indigenous Chamorro and Carolinian people in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands—both small, heavily-militarized U.S. territories in the Western Pacific.

She was inspired to investigate that part of the world after hearing about the island of Saipan's thriving garment industry, and how Saipan companies stamped "Made in the USA" on their clothing labels,much to the chagrin of American labor unions.Warheit remembered that her friend Sharon Kucera '90 had spent time on Saipan—but she had no idea why the island was American.

"I wanted to know who lives in these territories, and why aren't they states?"Warheit said. "I asked around, but nobody I talked to had any idea. That seemed weird to me, and made me that much more curious.

"Filmmaking is like turning over the rock to find out what's underneath.Making a documentary is understanding the hidden sides of common stories."

As luck would have it, a friend of Warheit's—this one from Stanford,where she went to film school—got a job in Saipan and invited her to visit.Warheit wrote a proposal for The Insular Empire and convinced another well-heeled friend to give her $11,000 to cover initial travel, research and shooting costs.

Soon after, terrorists crashed jets into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. "So we started shooting during this time of overwhelming patriotism and the simultaneous eroding of civil rights,"Warheit said. "And that made me even more interested in what's under that rock.What is that all about? How is it that the citizens of Guam can't vote in U.S. presidential elections, but they can die fighting in Iraq?

"While I've been making this film, the United States has been preparing a massive military buildup for Guam,"Warheit said. "But the people of these strategically vital American islands—which have been key to America's 'defense of the free world' for over a century—have absolutely no say in the matter. They are truly second-class citizens."

Warheit and her crew shot the film on three separate trips to the islands. The first and second trips lasted six weeks, and the third lasted two months.

"On that last trip, we thought we knew who our main characters were," Warheit said.

But one man, a civilian working at an Air Force base on Guam, dropped out of the movie at the last minute, after the base wouldn't allow Warheit on the premises (despite her go-ahead from the Pentagon). "He was afraid that if he lost his security clearance as a result of the film, he would lose his job.

"We were leaving in one week, I had a horrible sinus infection, and I remember lying on the bed in the hotel and saying, 'Okay, who else do we have, who is compelling, and who can be a counterpart to the other three main characters?'We decided on someone else, and it worked out, but it's a very different film than it would have been.

"The most important part of any film is the characters," Warheit said. "People want to care. People care about other people, and they want to know what's going to happen next.

"The film is about history, but the current trend in both narrative and documentary filmmaking is to capture things in the moment, as they happen. So we chose characters whose personal stories intersect with the islands' political history. The main characters are historically important, and are also currently suffering.

"The people of the Mariana Islands are so warmhearted, so generous, so patriotic. They are also so grateful to be only partially mistreated, because in the past, before U.S. involvement, they were grossly mistreated."

The Insular Empire is now in post-production and is almost complete. Its run time is 71 minutes, whittled down from 160 hours of Warheit's own footage, plus 60 additional hours of archival footage

Recently at Hot Docs, the biggest documentary film festival in North America,Warheit participated in a women's caucus of 30 filmmakers."It was really inspiring to be with all those women," she said."We're all trying to raise families, get funding, and make films that are important to us. One thing I learned in that caucus was that a very low percentage of women filmmakers get their second films made. The first film is almost always no good, because filmmaking is something that takes a lot of time and practice to perfect. And because it's taken me seven years to complete my second film, I have nothing to submit to festival panels in the meantime. I'm trying to get Sundance to fund The Insular Empire, but when they ask for other samples of my work, what do I have to show them? My really old student stuff, or my commercial work."

As of October, Warheit is trying to secure final funding to air The Insular Empire on PBS (which along with NBC aired her Stanford thesis, Constructing Experience: The Many Lives of Treasure Island, about a manmade island in San Francisco Bay).

A fickle business

The work of documentarian Sheena Joyce '98 will be familiar to anyone using the Bryn Mawr website: she created a series of webisodes for the admissions office ( admissions/webisodes),back stage pass including the popular rollercoaster tour, which other college admissions offices now are imitating.

Joyce runs the fourperson, Philadelphia based 9.14 Pictures with her fiancé, Don Argott. The pair first came into the spotlight in 2004 with their film Rock School, about The Paul Green School of Rock Music, where young students learn guitar-thrashing and other essential rock performance techniques. Rock School was acquired by Newmarket Films and enjoyed a worldwide theatrical release. It received two thumbs up from Ebert and Roeper, was an official Sundance selection in 2005, and aired on A&E in 2006.

9.14 now is producing The C Word, about Andrea Collins Smith, the 37-year-old punk rock mom of six, and her battle with inflammatory breast cancer. Her twin boys were featured in Rock School, and she appeared in that film, as well.

Another doc in production, Last Rites, centers on a once-failed rock star's second chance at success, and his struggle with old demons that return to haunt him.

"We read a lot and constantly search for stories or people who would make interesting characters, who have a story with a good, dramatic arc," Joyce said. "We're lucky here at 9.14 in that we all have very different personalities with very different backgrounds and interests, so we're each tapped into worlds that the other may not know. Good stories and characters are all around you."

Such as the story of four college footballers entering the NFL Draft, the subject of 9.14's most recent release, the Netflix-funded Two Days in April. It's now airing on the Documentary Film Channel, is available for rental on Netflix, and soon will be available for retail.

And now in post-production at 9.14 is their featurelength doc (untitled as of this writing) about the struggle for control of the Barnes Foundation.

"There are far more platforms now to show your projects to the world than there were when I first got started 10 years ago," said Joyce about the documentary film industry. "There are more film festivals,more cable and satellite television channels, and more opportunities for developing content on the web.

"By contrast, though, there are fewer indie distributors, and fewer opportunities for small films to find their way in a theatrical market.Most films are no longer given time to build an audience by word-of-mouth. If you don't do it in the first day, you're not going to do it.

"The biggest challenge, always, is keeping this going—keep the momentum building, keep the work coming in the door, keep paying the bills, keep building our reputation. I sometimes wonder if there will ever be a time when I feel like we're 'safe.' I doubt it. It's a fickle business." bills, keep building our reputation. I sometimes wonder if there will ever be a time when I feel like we're 'safe.' I doubt it. It's a fickle business."

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Another Bryn Mawr filmmaker, Alexandria Levitt '84, hopes to marry her documentary skills with a relatively new passion: gerontology.

When she first attended the University of Southern California in the 1980s, she was a film student. Now, 20 years later, she finds herself returning—this time to the Davis School of Gerontology, for a master of science degree.

"I don't know how my films skills will tie in yet, but I know that will happen," she said of her new pursuit, in a recent email.

Levitt's first job after Bryn Mawr was for the television show Cagney & Lacey, an unpaid internship which soon became a paid position and exposed her to the rigors of episodic television.

During and after film school, Levitt made two independent documentaries, which are still available for purchase through New Day Films.When The News Went to New Orleans tells the story of media crews at the 1988 Republican National Convention. Tell Them Who We Are chronicles a drill team and drum squad in South Central Los Angeles.

Since those days Levitt has worked for PBS on a number of projects, including The Pacific Century, a 10-part series on the history and economics of China, Japan, Korea and the Philippines. She also was an associate producer of The Great War, a six-part series about World War I, coproduced with the BBC.

Lately she's done research and grant-writing for other filmmakers while raising her two children and serving as president of their school's PTA.Most recently she secured three grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities for a another PBS series—a three-hour television documentary chronicling the rise and fall of the Spanish Empire from the reign of Ferdinand and Isabel through Philip II's reign— called In the Name of God and King.

"It is all about the stories— whether you are making documentary films or narratives. If you have an idea that you are truly passionate about, follow it up and devote yourself to it. Your passion will come through, and you will make a film that people will care about and want to see."

Levitt volunteers at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, helping with outreach to seniors. She starts gerontology school in January

The lives of others
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As with many documentarians, Joanna Chejade-Bloom '02 seeks a wide array of different cultures and experiences.

Her first short film,made in 2007, was well received and shown in the prestigious BRITDOC film festival in the UK. I Remain the Same follows a young Chechen below-the knee amputee who trains in New York City for the marathon.

Adam lost his leg as a boy in Chechnya, when he was playing with friends and came across a landmine.

"Not knowing any better, they picked it up and started to play with it," Chejade-Bloom emailed recently from New York. "Adam lost his leg. His friends lost their lives. He's so young and so wise and despite such a major tragedy, he tackles life with such grace and optimism. Seeing him run the five miles on his prosthesis was so inspiring."

Chejade-Bloom aims to widen the film's audience and perhaps make a feature-length film telling Adam's story.

She started learning about documentary two years after graduating from Bryn Mawr, as an apprentice to Academy Award-winning filmmaker Jonathan Stack. "He basically sat me down and told me that as long as I worked for him I would be on call 24-7—he wasn't joking—and that he couldn't afford to pay me much, but that by the time I left, I would know all there was to know about making a documentary. He really threw me straight into the fire and for a year and a half, I breathed, slept, ate, and thought of nothing else but documentary."

Chejade-Bloom filled various roles from production coordinator to coproducer on Stack's projects such as Liberia: An Uncivil War; an episode of "Megastructures" for National Geographic; and a series for the Discovery Times Channel called Only In America, about the country's subcultures.

She then produced many episodes of the Discovery Health Channel's Mystery Diagnosis, overseeing virtually every related task from start to finish. "On Mystery Diagnosis," she said, "I had a couple weeks to research the subject, conduct phone interviews, and write a shooting script, which is the structure of how I planned to tell the story. That structure almost invariably changes once you go into the field, but it's good to have an organizing template.

"After that, I went out into the field and directed the interviews and the recreations, which were very fun to do on Mystery, because they let us get very abstract and creative." She followed up with six additional weeks of rewriting the script and editing the material she'd shot.

Chejade-Bloom's other credits include The History Channel's Engineering An Empire: China, her first producing job. "It was the first time I was really in charge of an edit, which is a process I really enjoy. It's like putting a puzzle together—always searching for the piece of music, of footage, an effect, that will make the sequence work."

"I love the window documentary provides into the lives of others," Chejade-Bloom said. "What could be more compelling than exploring the diversity and complexities of the human species? Trying to get at why we do what we do, and how we've gotten where we are, is consistently fascinating. And I've discovered that fact truly is stranger than fiction.

"I've lugged equipment up the side of a pyramid in Mexico and driven cross-country in a biodiesel-converted bus, never getting more than three hours of sleep in a given night.

"I love that one day I can be in an operating room, five feet from a living brain, and the next week I can be talking to a snake-handling, tent-revivalist, speaking-in-tongues preacher in the Appalachians, and the week after that I'm at a U.S. munitions depot learning about World War I artillery shells.

"I love the way people and places open up to you when you have a camera crew behind you. I love the people from all walks of life that I've gotten to not only meet, but who have shared a part of their lives with me."

Koch, too, echoed that sentiment: that an innate, insatiable curiosity is a filmmakers' best asset, and often leads to intensely rewarding human connections.

"I love the entire creative process of making a film," Koch said, "but my favorite part is going into the field and meeting people, and learning and telling their stories. Filmmaking has given me the opportunity to travel to so many places and get to know interesting and inspiring people all over the world. And I just don't get to know them in a superficial way. I feel privileged that they let me into their lives in such an open and honest way. I spend time with them in their homes,meet their families, hear their hopes and dreams, and witness and share their happiest and lowest moments.

"Someone once described documentary filmmaking as having a 'backstage pass to life.' I've never forgotten that, because it's such a perfect description."


"Research companies who have put out documentary films or television programs that you admire, and get in touch with them. Be prepared to perhaps intern or work for free to get a foot in the door. Once you prove yourself to be a hard worker with a good head on your shoulders, paid work will follow. Be prepared to work hard, keep your eyes open for opportunity and jump on it when it comes along. And don't be afraid to get your hands dirty. I emerged from the Mawr with moxie, highly developed problemsolving skills, a well-exercised sense of adventure and a belief in my ability to accomplish anything I set my mind to. This was instilled and constantly reinforced by my professors, deans and other students. I employ the lessons I learned at Bryn Mawr almost every day. I moved to Brooklyn after graduation six years ago with my best friends from Bryn Mawr and to this day we remain within a five block radius of one another. There's a really nice bi-co community in the Boerum Hill/Park Slope section of Brooklyn, and many of us are involved in film. Rebecca Perkins '02 is the key makeup artist on Law And Order: SVU, and Ashley Havey '02 is a sponsorship account manager for the Tribeca Film Festival. It's nice to be surrounded by this collection of old friends who are tackling and succeeding in all different areas of the filmmaking world.""
Joanna Chejade-Bloom '02

One particularly influential professor was Associate Professor of English Linda-Susan Beard. Professor Beard was generous with her time, and unbelievably encouraging. She helped to push me in this direction, and acted as an advisor when I wanted to do an independent study course on women in local television. Without her help, I would not have gotten internships at the local news stations, and might not have been in the position I am in today. Professor Quinn Eli was equally influential and encouraging. He really helped me in my creative writing, allowing me the freedom to find my voice." —Sheena Joyce '98

"Something that sounds so silly, but is quite accurate, is 'the truth is always stranger than fiction.' Keep a file, even if it's in your head, of stories you hear, people you meet, books you read along the way, that when you learn of them, you remark, 'That would make a great movie.' You know what? Maybe it would, and maybe you should be the one to make it." —Sheena Joyce '98 "I say, 'go for it.' It's hard work, and you may not make much money (if that's your goal) but you'll get a great 'backstage pass to life.' And hopefully you'll make films that make a difference. That's most important to me.My younger daughter is a sophomore at NYU, and she is studying filmmaking. Even though I know it's not the easiest occupation, I completely understand why she wants to be a documentary filmmaker. And I look forward to seeing her films! The quality of the education I received helped me develop strong research and analytical skills as well as my writing—all very important in filmmaking. My professors made me excited about learning about new things, and that's perhaps the most important criteria for being a filmmaker—being excited about, and open to, new ideas and stories." —Susan Koch '76

"As technology heats up and forces constant change in the field, being current on all of that makes a person marketable. A note on getting into film school: now that everyone with a cell phone can make some kind of movie, the individual experiences you bring to the school are even more valuable. When I got to USC I was challenged in ways I had never been at Bryn Mawr. At Bryn Mawr I was in a comfortable academic environment, where I understood the rules of homework, exams and research papers. At USC, off you went to make your films and when you came back, the professors had no qualms telling you your work was crappy and if you didn't improve you would be kicked out of the program. Excuses were of no interest; you just had to learn how to take it. In this environment, your best allies were your fellow students, and we learned to help each other out." —Alexandria Levitt '84

"The first thing is to start making films. If you can scrape together a couple thousand dollars, buy a good-quality digital, or even HD, camera, on which you can do broadcast-quality work. You can even start making money—by shooting people's birthday parties or weddings or whatever. Filmmaking is one of those things you have to learn by doing (not to say that the study of film aesthetics isn't valuable, because it is very valuable, and often helps you decide what kind of filmmaker you want to be). The second thing is, do not be discouraged. Be prepared to face failure and setbacks. It's fine to feel upset if you fail at something, but then you need to move on. Setbacks contribute to your learning. Very few people have unalloyed success in this field, and it could be many years until you have critical or financial success. Remember that sometimes the seeds of your greatest success come from a failure. I majored in history of art, which was fantastic preparation for filmmaking in terms of training my eye and thinking about composition and color. In earlier eras, art—painting, architecture, sculpture—served a role very similar to the role that feature films now serve: the dissemination of ideas, entertainment, telling stories, serving as objects of beauty for contemplation."
Sarah Schenck '87

"Learn everything you can about fundraising. Since there is virtually no public funding in the U.S. for documentaries, most of the docs that get made get made through philanthropic funding, usually from a long list of supporters. And the best way to raise money is to raise it from people you know. I also strongly recommend moving to either New York or L.A. (in Canada, you'd need to be in Toronto or Vancouver), at least to get started. That's where the productions are happening, and where the majority of the production talent is working.Watch as many docs as you can.Watch the ones you like two or three times, and figure out what makes them good. If you can afford it, buy yourself a camera and a Final Cut Pro system and start playing with it. If you can't afford it, then take a community college course—they're usually quite affordable, and will provide access to the tools you need to get started. Make sure you learn how to do it all (shoot, produce, edit), because if you want to make your own docs you will probably need to do everything at one point or another. Today there are a lot of outlets online (like the IAM network and that are soliciting input from young people, many of whom have little or no training in filmmaking, so it's a good time to be learning and putting your work out there. And if you want to make your own films, my best advice is to find a partner. It can be very, very lonely trying to do it all yourself, and film is inherently a collaborative medium. If you can find other people you like, respect, and trust, who are as motivated as you are, team up with them and you'll go a long way. I think Bryn Mawr's honor code instilled in me a sense of respect and trust in others that has served me well as a documentary filmmaker—a profession in which you need to relate (often in very personal ways) to a really wide variety of people, to trust them, and to garner their trust as well." —Vanessa Warheit '90


Chejade-Bloom: Darwin's Nightmare by Hubert Sauper was at turns horrifying and riveting; a beautifully shot and very disturbing story about Tanzania. Jesus Camp by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing was a fascinating look into evangelical children's camps. I like documentaries that combine beautiful, well-executed camera work with good stories and interesting people.

Joyce: American Movie by Chris Smith and Sarah Price. Run, don't walk, to see it.

Koch: I try to see as many documentaries as possible. I can't say I have one favorite. There are many that I like for different reasons. Sometimes it's the story, other times it's the craft that went into making the film. And the best films, of course, have both. Of the recent documentaries I've seen, I especially enjoyed Man On Wire and Taxi to the Dark Side—two very different films but wonderfully told by superb filmmakers. Levitt: Currently my two favorite documentaries are Deep Water, about a 1968 round-the-world yacht race and its disastrous toll on one participant in particular, and Young at Heart, about a chorus comprised of senior citizens. Some people have criticized Young at Heart as exploitative, but honestly, all documentaries are in one way or another.What I liked about it was that it took a vibrant group of seniors and made a compelling and successful film about them.Most people can't be dragged to a film about aging, and for that the filmmakers get points.

Schenck: The films of French filmmaker Chris Marker, especially Sans Soleil and La Jetee. He has a beautiful eye and captures quite arresting images. Some of his films have a very specific political outlook and they make a contribution to the debate of certain political subjects, while still being beautiful to look at and having tremendous layers of meaning. Warheit: Stroke (Amseidenenfaden) by Katrina Peters, about a woman whose husband suffers Locked-In Syndrome after a stroke; Fast, Cheap & Out of Control; Grizzly Man.