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MFA Social Documentary Film at SVA provides students with a solid foundation in the fundamentals of nonfiction filmmaking and an immersion into the critical and analytical processes necessary to conceptualize and develop film projects with content of significant social relevance. The program—which represents the convergence of journalism, social activism and the art of filmmaking—prepares students to find and capture stories that raise social, political and cultural consciousness on issues of public concern.

In their first year, MFA Social Documentary Film students study the history of filmic practice as it relates to documentary and master the necessary tools and techniques of the social documentary form while creating a series of short films. In their second year, students receive advanced instruction in directing, producing and editing as they focus on completing an individual thesis film, which will be suitable for broadcast and meet festival standards.

2016 – 2017 student population

31 matriculated students

Department chair

Maro Chermayeff, director, (Half the Sky); producer, (Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present)

Faculty members

Julie Anderson, executive producer (Documentaries & Development, WNET Ch.13), Axel Baumann, cinematographer (Liberia: An Uncivil War), Alan Berliner, filmmaker (First Cousin Once Removed), Mira Chang, producer (A Path Appears), Lori Cheatle, producer (51 Birch Street), Peter Chelkowski, filmmaker (Carnival Roots), Ann Collins, editor (Sound and Fury), Deborah Dickson, filmmaker (Lalee’s Kin), Michael Epstein, filmmaker (MAKERS: Once and For All), Micah Fink, filmmaker (PBS’ Wide Angle), Richard Hankin, editor (The Jinx), Tom Hurwitz, ASC, cinematographer (Queen of Versailles), Kirsten Johnson, filmmaker (Citizenfour), Amitabh Joshi, filmmaker (Tashi’s Turbine), Ross Kauffman, filmmaker (Born into Brothels), Beth Levison, producer (Lemon), Mark Mandler, production sound (Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief), Samuel D. Pollard, filmmaker (4 Little Girls, When the Levees Broke), Thom Powers, programmer, Toronto Int’l Film Festival, Robert Richman, cinematographer (An Inconvenient Truth), Jerry Risius, cinematographer (Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations), Amy Schewel, archival producer (American Experience: Clinton), E. Donna Shepherd, editor (Soundbreaking), Toby Shimin, editor (Buck), Eric Spink, director (Hart Island: How the Other Half Dies), J.T. Takagi, sound recordist (Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution)

Past lecturers, mentors, and advisors

Film Industry:

Molly Thompson, A&E IndieFilms; Judith Helfand, Chicken & Egg Pictures; Abigail Disney, Fork Films; Sheila Nevins & Nancy Abraham, HBO Documentary; Simon Kilmurry, International Documentary Association; Tamara Gould, ITVS; Beth Hoppe, PBS; Michael Kantor & Susan Lacy, PBS American Masters; Vee Bravo & Jose Rodriguez, Tribeca Film Institute


Natalia Almada (El General); Joe Berlinger (Paradise Lost); Doug Block (21 Birch Street); Christine Choy (Who Killed Vincent Chin?); Marshall Curry (If A Tree Falls); Jason DaSilva (When I Walk); Susan Froemke  (Escape Fire); Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side); Sam Green (Utopia in Four Movements); Lauren Greenfield (The Queen of Versailles), Zachary Heinzerling (Cutie and the Boxer); Ellen Kuras, ASC, cinematographer; Darius Clark Monroe (Evolution of a Criminal); Ross McElwee (Shermans’ March); Muffie Meyer (Grey Gardens); Brett Morgen (Cobain: Montage of Heck); Marcel Ophuls (The Sorrow and the Pity); DA Pennebaker (Don’t Look Back); Yoruba Richen (The New Black); Jay Rosenblatt (I Used to Be a Filmmaker); Kazuhiro Sôda (Campaign); Ondi Timoner (We Live In Public); Pamela Yates (Granito); Jeremiah Zagar (In A Dream); Caveh Zahedi (The Sheikh and I)

Some notable alumni

Sasha Friedlander (Where Heaven Meets Hell), Mark Kendall (La Camioneta, Guggenheim Fellow), Rachel Loube (Every Tuesday: A Portrait of New Yorker Cartoonists, Student Academy Award winner), Bao Nguyen (Live From New York), David Osit (Building BabelThank You For Playing)

Student exhibitions

There are screenings of student films each semester and a thesis festival in the third week of September. First-year students present their short films and second-year students present their thesis films.

Department website

More information

SVA Admissions: 212.592.2107 | [email protected]

Media requests

SVA Communication: 212.592.2010 | [email protected]


209 East 23 Street, New York, NY 10010-3994 Tel 212.592.2000 | sva.edu

School of Visual Arts | 209 East 23 Street, NY, NY 10010-3994 | Tel: 212.592.2000 | Fax: 212.725.3587