Producing A Documentary: The Personal Piece

What if the character in your next piece isn’t a stranger at all? What if it’s a family member? Could you interrogate your parents and get them to reveal secrets they’ve buried since before you were born? Could you delve into the personal accounts of people you’ve known your whole life? How would you even approach it? This is exactly what documentary filmmaker, Lacey Schwartz, had to do in order to produce her documentary, Little White Lie. Recently, Columbia Visuals talked to Schwartz about the process of producing a documentary and turning the cameras on her own family.

“it’s about our world today, and what we are willing to sacrifice to maintain a lifestyle”

Mélanie Gouby didn’t expect to star in a documentary when she began reporting on the Congo, but the independent journalist from France found herself as a tour guide in the award-winning documentary Virunga.

The film is about Virunga National Park, the oldest and most biodiverse park on the African continent. The story revolves around four main characters,  including an ex-child soldier turned park ranger, a caretaker for orphan gorillas, a Belgian conservationist and journalist Mélanie Gouby.  As the film’s tagline says, “Virunga is the incredible true story of a group of brave people risking their lives to build a better in a part of Africa the world’s forgotten and a gripping exposé of the realities of life in the Congo.” (more…)

“If you actually listen to people, they will talk to you.”

GIDEON’S ARMY, an award winning documentary that premiered at Sundance Film Festival and on HBO in 2013, follows the stories of three young public defenders who are part of a small group of idealistic lawyers in the Deep South.

The main characters work to challenge the assumptions that drive a criminal justice system strained to the breaking point.  They struggle against long hours, low pay and staggering caseloads; even the most committed often give up in their first year.

The director of Gideon’s Army, Dawn Porter, recently spoke at the Columbia Journalism School during Film Fridays. These are some highlights from the conversation, led by professor Betsy West.

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“They wanted others to know about their experiences.”

Documentary film program alumni Jeng-Tyng Hong and Matthew Claiborne, both class of 2013, spent their time at Columbia Journalism School working on a short documentary about the use of solitary confinement in New York prisons. They screened their film at the Catskill Mountains Film Festival and their characters use the film to raise awareness about fair treatment in prison. 

We interviewed Jeng-Tyng about their film, The Ex-Periment, and what they learned during production.

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“less about raising money and more about marketing the film”

Filmmakers today have to be their own production companies, PR agencies, and distributors. Columbia Journalism School alum  Salima Amina Koroma, class of 2013, exemplifies the way young filmmakers have taken control of all aspects of producing a documentary. (more…)

“I had almost no experience shooting, editing or producing video”

The process of creating a documentary often follows its own narrative arc: a filmmaker sets out to create a film, faces a set of successes and failures, and eventually triumphs.  For Mayeta Clark, her journey began with a walk on a December day.

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