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Why Documentary and Why Now?

When CA+S faculty member and documentary filmmaker Ruth Leitman walked into her first MIP I Foundations class of the semester, she felt a welcome change. This group of incoming freshman wanted an authenticity to permeate their work. Students are coming in this year with a zeal for making and studying the documentary form. "Half of my class cited studying documentary as why they’d decided to come to Columbia College," shared Leitman.

"Thrilled as I am, I sought to know why and why now?” Leitman remembered. Paul Brennan ('17) raised his hand, understanding the historical context of his own name. Paul Brennan is the name of a memorable character, a bible salesman in the 1962 classic Maysles Brothers documentary film, Salesman. Leitman was impressed, "That's an enigmatic character to share a name with.” Brennan concurred explaining his passion for documentary, "Narrative is the art of invention.  Documentary is the art of preservation. It's powerful when you watch a film like Hoop Dreams. You feel that you are going through an experience of years with the characters. With documentary there's no escape. There’s always some segment of reality that you have to come to terms with."

Eve Studnicka ('17), who’s been making documentary films since she was 14, was home schooled or as she puts it, “Unschooled. I was self-educated. I made my own curriculum with my mother’s approval. I selected documentaries as my junk food. If I wanted to make films and watch them, I had to do my calculus first.” Studnicka was recently featured as a guest blogger for Miramax Films Online Blog. Her first feature documentary, Of Some Fair Place, will premiere at Driftless Film Festival in November 2013.

Michael Fischer
('17), another student in the class and Viva Doc member, explains his pursuit of documentary at Columbia in this way, " I am making documentary because it captures the human soul through philosophy, religion, and how people are in different parts of the world.“

Leitman is excited to be working on a feature with her Documentary Projects students this semester. Still Point Theater Collective will be filming formerly incarcerated women integrating back into society. She is currently a director and producer with Kartemquin Films for the new Al Jazeera America Network documentary series. Several of Leitman’s students, Alex Cox ('14), Kazuko Golden (MFA Candidate), and Marriah Kern ('14) are working on the series that will be broadcast in 2014.

For Leitman, making documentary is so closely linked to her teaching of the form, “Paramount is the moment of discovery captured on film. In the case of working with students, it is observing the recognition of that discovery on a student's face, while seizing the fleeting images of wonder that will only happen once.”