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Northwestern to Launch MFA Program in Documentary Media

Two-year program will emphasize production and storytelling across media

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January 8, 2014 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- In fall 2014, Northwestern University will launch a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Program in Documentary Media. With an emphasis on the crosspollination of documentary and narrative and on the use of traditional and emerging forms, the two-year professional program will differ from other MFA programs.

The new program will build on Northwestern’s faculty strengths in filmmaking, media and production as well as the University’s location just minutes from Chicago -- a city with a long, rich history of documentary media practice and one of the nation’s documentary hubs. It will accept up to 12 students each academic year. Applications are due Feb. 15.

“The need for actuality-based images and the people who can create them is continuously multiplying,” says Debra Tolchinsky, who will direct the new MFA program. “Think Google, Netflix, news outlets, companies with social media campaigns, advertising as well as conventional theaters. Documentary was once considered secondary to narrative media. Today it’s a vital part of entertainment, promotion and advocacy.”

“We’ll give our students a solid foundation in traditional documentary media-making while also preparing them to look beyond the traditional and to innovate by plugging into new strategies and emerging formats,” Tolchinsky adds. An award-winning documentary filmmaker whose work has been featured at Sundance and other film festivals, Tolchinsky is associate professor of radio/television/film.

By the time Northwestern MFA candidates complete the two-year program, at minimum, they will have built a portfolio of work that includes one short documentary as well as one narrative film and one interactive project that either use documentary techniques or are rooted in actuality.

In the course of the program, each MFA candidate will have access to a guaranteed $5,000 grant to help produce a thesis project; first-class technical facilities and equipment; internship opportunities in Chicago, Los Angeles or New York; and a network of colleagues, consisting of the program’s faculty and visiting artists.

“What will distinguish the new MFA program is its hybrid approach to documentary, its emphasis on professional training, its Chicago location and an outstanding faculty with real world experience,” said filmmaker Kyle Henry, the program’s associate director.

“We will train participants to be savvy filmmakers and media-makers, and give them the skills they need to pursue opportunities across platforms and markets,” added Henry, whose work has been screened at Sundance, Cannes and other film festivals.

The MFA in Documentary Media is offered by the School of Communication -- home not only to Northwestern’s top-ranked film program but also to the MFA in Writing for Screen and Stage program. Both have successfully launched directors, producers, screenwriters and development executives.

The new program will stress collaboration. Students will travel in unison through six core courses, encouraging them to work together and look to one another for feedback, crewing and creative support. On graduation, they can tap into the Northwestern University Entertainment Alliance, an organization that helps alumni working in or looking to break into the entertainment industry.

Teaching the students will be faculty who have screened their work at major festivals such as Sundance, Cannes and SXSW; have aired work for venues such as PBS, Showtime and HBO, and have had work distributed by Cinema Guild, IFC, Celluloid Dreams and iTunes.

For more about the program or to apply, visit MFA in Documentary Media.

Topics: University News