Behind the Prizes: Hers to Lose

Brent McDonald was the lead videographer for the New York Times' 'Hers to Lose,' the second-prize long feature winner in the 2014 World Press Photo Multimedia awards. McDonald explains the challenges of filming a campaign that took a turn for the worse, and how he and his team got access in the first place.

Behind the Prizes: A Short History of the Highrise


A Short History of the Highrise is an interactive documentary that “explores the 2,500-year global history of vertical living and the issue of social equality in an increasingly urbanized world.” It was produced by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and the New York Times, and won First Prize at the 2014 World Press Photo Multimedia awards in the Interactive Documentary category. (more…)

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.

Cutting a Trailer

It takes a lot of time and money to make a documentary, especially when you are just starting out. It’s one thing to get the filming done but another to get your film into post-production. One of the first things you can do to draw attention to your film is to make a trailer that will start buzz about your film,  even while it’s still in production.

We spoke to our former staffer Adam Perez and his fellow CUJ alum Jan Hendrik Hinzel (both class of ’13) about making the trailer that’s helping them fundraise and bring interest to their film Who We Become. (more…)

“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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Covering Protest in Ferguson: “I didn’t expect it to feel like war.”

Salima Koroma didn’t think her first first out-of-state assignment would be the historic protests over the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. She’s been producing video for Time’s online video team for just about two months, and last week they bought her a one-way ticket to Ferguson, Missouri.

Before starting at Time, she graduated from the documentary program at the Columbia University Journalism School, where she produced her own documentary, Bad Rap, and was a producer for NowThisNews. Columbia Visuals talked to Koroma about her experience producing video from Ferguson.

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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…)

50 Children. 50 Cameras.

Francis and Stephanie Lane are the founders of Silent Tapes, a non-profit that uses photography to document the lives of people in various slums around the world. Their latest project will take place this summer in the favelas of Fortaleza, Brazil, where they will lead a five-week photography workshop for 50 children.

“It all comes down to building trust.”

Luke Malone, CUJ ’13, is an Australian journalist based in New York City, and the producer of “Secrets of the Living Dolls,” a documentary that features men who dress up in elaborate latex female bodysuits.

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“I felt like the last thing the world needed was another photographer chasing headlines”

Part two of a discussion with Matt Black on forging your own path as a photographer

“photographers can get in the way of themselves, and lose sight of what’s essential”

This is part 1 of a conversation with photographer Matt Black, discussing his NPPA proposal and his Black Okies project.