Monthly documentary series brings film scholars to campus

Media Credit: Dan Rich | Photo Editor

The School of Media and Public Affairs launched a documentary series last week. The series is hosted by the school's documentary center.

A new monthly series will feature documentaries and conversations for students and D.C. residents.

The Documentary Center in the School of Media and Public Affairs launched a series hosting screenings of documentaries that feature discussions with film experts. Nina Gilden Seavey, the director of the center, said the series will fill a void of film screenings on campus and that the documentaries should lead to other conversations in education.

The new monthly series, titled “What’s Up, Docs?” will screen feature-length and short documentaries in the Marvin Center amphitheater, and short question-and-answer sessions with authors, scholars, film directors or documentary creators will follow. Forty students, faculty, alumni and D.C. residents attended the first film screening last Thursday.

Students can easily go to a movie theater to see a film, but documentaries offer different experiences because they can lead to dialogue on real issues, Seavey said.

“Documentary is more of a campfire,” Seavey said. “It breeds conversation. It is both entertaining and thought provoking when you see a documentary you want to talk about it. That is the beauty of documentaries and hopefully the beauty we are going to bring to GW.”

The center received $10,000 in seed funding from Discovery Communications to launch the program, Seavey said. She added that the funding allowed her to purchase the performance rights to the films, bring in special guests and advertise the program.

The documentaries are shown on the second Thursday of every month from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. for the entire academic year. Tickets are $15 for people not affiliated with GW and $10 for students, but Seavey said that students can attend the first few showings for free.

Seavey said that she has reached out to people in the Foggy Bottom area and around the District that want to interact with students to promote the program and create an open dialogue around film and the issues the documentaries address.

“Film is a community experience and we are trying to bring that community experience to GW for our students, alumni, faculty, staff and for the surrounding communities,” Seavey said.

The documentary center was inaugurated in 1990 and offers a graduate degree in documentary filmmaking to about 15 students each year. The center has ranked in the top 10 schools for documentary making for the past 25 years, and Seavey was named one of the top 50 journalism professors in 2012.

Seavey’s goal is to make the documentary series an annual self-sustaining project, but she thinks it will take a season or two before the showings build revenue, she said.

The second film premiering in October is “Primary,” a documentary about the two Democratic front runners vying for presidential nomination in 1960. Paul Stekler, an award-winning political documentary filmmaker and chair of the Department of Radio, Film and Television at the University of Texas at Austin, will lead the post-film discussion.

Stekler said that documentaries can take audiences to places they have never been or can shine a light on events of the past that people may not know about.

“Above all, the best documentaries tell stories that make us understand things much larger than just the narrative we’re watching — about who we are as a country and much broader issues of race, class, politics and societal change,” Stekler said.

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