Judith Helfand | Columbia Journalism School

Judith Helfand

James Madison Visiting Professor on First Amendment Issues

Judith Helfand is best known for her ability to use her quirky sense of humor and irony, first-person storytelling chops and the power of transparency to tackle some of the most pressing issues of our time — from reproductive technology, corporate malfeasance and toxic chemical exposure to the climate crisis, the “politics of disaster" and deep grief. Three of her films premiered at Sundance and were broadcast nationally on PBS (POV, Independent Lens), HBO and The Sundance Channel. “Blue Vinyl” received the 2002 Sundance Excellence Award in Cinematography along with two Emmy nominations and its prequel, “A Healthy Baby Girl,” won a 1997 Peabody Award, possibly one of the only such awards to be accepted by the filmmaker's mother and "star." Helfand’s other long-form films include “Everything’s Cool,” “The Uprising of ‘34,” “Cooked” and “Love & Stuff.”

Helfand helped reshape the documentary landscape by co-founding Working Films and Chicken & Egg Pictures. As Creative Director she helped design and lead Chicken & Egg Pictures’ mentorship and funding programs for nearly a decade, served as a Producer on the Oscar-nominated, Dupont-winning short, “The Barber of Birmingham” and Executive Producer on “Semper Fi: Always Faithful” and “Private Violence.” She is now a Senior Creative Consultant at Chicken & Egg Pictures.

In 2007, Helfand received a United States Artist Fellowship, one of 50 awarded annually to “America’s finest living artists.” In 2016 she joined the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Documentary Branch. In late 2018 she launched “COOKED: Survival By Zip Code,” an award-winning feature documentary about extreme heat, the politics of disaster and survival by zip code (SFJFF 2019 Freedom of Expression Award). “COOKED” was broadcast on PBS’ Independent Lens (February 2020) and rebroadcast in July to provide a way of framing the racial and health disparities linked to Covid-19, which is the focus of the film’s current virtual engagement campaign. Helfand's newest feature “Love & Stuff,” inspired by the 2014 NYT Op-Doc of the same name, had its world premiere at Hot Docs 2020, is currently on the film festival circuit, will be released theatrically and more in 2021 and via Helfand’s virtual workshops is inspiring communities to talk about love, mourning and grief in this time of Covid, zoom, and alone-together. 

Helfand is the 2020 Bob Allison (Allesee) Endowed Chair in Media at Wayne State University’s Department of Communications and is on faculty at SVA’s Social Documentary Program. She taught at NYU’s undergraduate film and television program from 1999 through 2007 and was filmmaker-in-residence at UW Madison in 2007 and 2009 where she taught environmental documentary making to non-film graduate and undergraduate students, including a class built around leveraging the city's environmental film festival.  She is recognized by many in the documentary field to be a highly skilled pitch trainer and has done intensive training and moderation for Chicken & Egg Pictures' annual live pitch at the Sheffield Doc Festival/Market, The Athena Festival's Work-in-Progress Program and most recently the Student Pitch at Double Exposure. She lives in NYC with her six-year-old daughter Theodora.