Documentary Center celebrates 20th anniversary

For Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and School of Media and Public Affairs professor Nina Gilden Seavey, the driving force behind a powerful documentary is truth.

Seavey set out to establish an institute that would teach students how to use storytelling tools – including characters and plot structure – to effectively communicate a piece of the human experience to viewers.

Tuesday night, Seavey’s institute, The Documentary Center, celebrated its 20th anniversary of existence at GW with a sneak preview of her new film “4th and Goal.”

Over the course of twenty years, The Documentary Center has solidified its place as one of the nation’s top 10 schools in documentary filmmaking, according to rankings published by The Independent, an independent filmmaking journal.

The Institute for Documentary Film Making, a six-month program through which students earn a certificate in documentary film making, selects between 15 and 18 applicants per year out of dozens of applications.

Seavey attributes the center’s success to its heavy emphasis on great teaching. For the first two months of the program, students never touch a camera.

“The technology comprises the buttons you push, but it’s the world class instructors that give students a profound sense of what a documentary is,” Seavey said.

The center’s instructors mentor students beyond their few months in the program.

“We mentor these students for years,” she said. “Now some of them have films in major international film festivals and you remember when you handed them their first camera.”

Seavey said the center’s students leave the program with a greater appreciation for the journey it takes to become a filmmaker, a lesson that allows for the center to garner respect.

“A documentary filmmaker isn’t something you can just say you are,” she said. “It would be like saying, ‘I want to be a brain surgeon. I know where the head is and here is my knife.”

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