Documentary | Columbia Journalism School

Documentary

Tell stories in video.

Documentary classes are hands-on and immersive. Student work has impact and wins awards. The third-semester Documentary Program allows students to focus in-depth on a story.

Apply to Columbia Documentary Journalism Program

Film Fridays

Overview

The Journalism School is deeply engaged with the burgeoning world of journalistic documentaries. The faculty of working filmmakers trains students to report and produce short and long-form documentaries. The entire school community has the opportunity to encounter some of the most acclaimed documentarians of the day with the Film Fridays series, which brings first‐run films and their directors to the Journalism School to screen and discuss their latest work. Recent visitors include Alex Gibney, Kirsten Johnson, Matthew Heinemann, Betsy West & Julie Cohen, and Josh Oppenheimer. You can listen to some of these conversations on the On Assignment podcast.

During the spring semester, students in the regular M.S. Program have several choices to explore longer-form video including Video for the Web, Multimedia, and our new Data and Animation course. Cinematographer, Duy Linh Tu regularly partners with professors in a subject area like science and education. 

For students who want further immersion and a chance to produce a longer documentary, the school offers a Documentary Program concentration. Students stay a third semester, and work over the summer in teams of two to report, shoot and edit a 20-30 minute film. Projects from recent Documentary classes have screened at festivals across the country, including Tribeca and DOC NYC, and have been licensed by distributors like Netflix, The New York Times video, PBS and Fusion. Student documentaries are featured a DocFest, an all‐school screening event in December.

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Classes

Our classes allow students to gain the technical and storytelling skills needed to report and produce award-winning documentaries that have impact. 

Please note: The classes listed here represent recent offerings at the Journalism School. Choices vary each semester depending on faculty availability and other considerations. Classes described now may change or be dropped to make room for new additions.

Documentary Specialization Seminar

Video 1/Web & Documentary

Video 2

Student Work

Still from film: young girl's face

Reuniting with their children is one of the most underappreciated challenges facing formerly incarcerated mothers. This is the story of one woman who will do anything to prove that she is worthy of a second chance. Love, Mommy by Doc ‘17 students Tala Hadavi and Yeong-Ung Yang was named Winner for Student Entry at the 2019 About Women and Girls film festival and was broadcast on PBS.

Documentary: She's Not a Boy

She's Not a Boy by '18 M.S. Documentary students Yuhong Pang and Robert Tokanel follows Tatenda Ngwaru, an asylum-seeking intersex woman from Zimbabwe as she tries to make a home in New York City. The film was published by The Atlantic.

young man and his  reflection in subway window

With ninety days left before he ages out of foster care, Alex has to get it together, or risk going back to the world he’s trying to escape. A film by Christina Shaman and Anakha Arikara, both '19 M.S. Documentary.

Aged and Confused

Faculty

Nina Alvarez

CBS Assistant Professor of International Journalism; Director of Global Journalism

June Cross

Professor of Journalism; Director, Documentary Journalism Program

Judith Helfand

James Madison Visiting Professor on First Amendment Issues

Duy Linh Tu

Associate Professor of Professional Practice

Lisa R. Cohen

Adjunct Faculty; Director, duPont/Professional Prizes

Betsy West

Fred W. Friendly Professor of Professional Practice in Media Society Emeritus