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Summer Programs for Documentary Filmmakers

30 Apr , 2009  

Written by Laura Gallagher | Posted by:

A look at the professional development opportunities aimed at documentary filmmakers throughout New England.

This summer, the New England area is home to several programs for both aspiring and seasoned documentary filmmakers. Varying from a boot camp to a European getaway, the possibilities are endless. If you’re looking to spend your summer making history behind a camera, here are some options to check out.

Digital Media Academy
The Digital Media Academy (DMA) has been accredited by Stanford University as a continuing studies course. This summer, they are offering a five-day “Pro Course” in documentary filmmaking. Despite the title, there are no prerequisites; the course is considered introductory to intermediate. Classes run from 9-5, and are offered at Stanford and Harvard University in July. A typical day begins with a film segment screening and a demo of modern shooting techniques, then after lunch groups break off to shoot their assigned projects and reconvene to discuss their footage. The DMA also offers teen and kid courses. The adult course, with optional housing and food costs is $1,905, but youth courses cost closer to $1,000.

For more information visit… or call (866) 656-3342.

Filmmakers Workshop and the Kopkind/CID Filmmaker’s Retreat
Designed for filmmakers of an independent mind, Filmmakers Workshops are (appropriately enough) a program of the Center for Independent Documentary. This summer, for its 11th year, in addition to their usual year-round workshops held in the Boston area, CID is inviting independent filmmakers to the week-long Kopkind seminar and retreat in southern Vermont. Limited to nine filmmakers, seminar topics will center on the theme of brainstorming to a new future in independent filmmaking; each filmmaker is paired with a mentor who offers guidance on a work-in-progress. If you can’t make the retreat, the final days (August 6-8) start the fourth annual Grassroots Film Festival in the Organ Barn, which is open to the public. If you do want to apply, the cost is $295, which covers cabin lodging, meals, swimming hole and other country excursions, and Wi-Fi. There’s even a teaser for hot-tub film discussions. If that peaks your interest, send a letter to John Scagliotti at explaining where you are from, what media work you have done, and how you could contribute to the theme of the seminars. They also ask that you describe briefly the 20-minute visual media you would be bringing to the evening “film slams.”

For more information, visit or call (781) 784-3627.

The MacDowell Colony
Imagine a private studio available to you 24 hours a day. Lunch is delivered to the door in a woven basket. After dinner in the dining room, you enjoy a reading, open studio, or informal performance by one of your fellow artists. This is life in the MacDowell Colony, an artist’s haven located just two hours from Boston in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire. To apply for a summer stay, which can range from just a couple of weeks to two months, you must send in an application by January 15th, which gives you plenty of time to prepare for next year. As the nation’s “leading art colony,” MacDowell has hosted artists of many types, including writers, filmmakers, painters, and musicians. There is no fee and stipends are available, but the application process is stringent, and involves an application, project description, $20 processing fee, work samples, and a reference.

For more information, visit

Maine Media Workshops
If you’re looking for lobster, hiking, and incredible scenery this summer, go to Rockport, Maine, for the summer Maine Media Workshops (MMW). In a series of workshops between June 7th and August 23rd, this program covers dozens of under-discussed topic areas, including advocacy filmmaking, producing the NGO or political documentary, “The Pitch,” and documentary shorts for the web. There are even courses on funding and distributing your documentary work worldwide. Prices vary, but are close to about $300 per course. If you fall in love with the area, MMW offers a four-week documentary film school beginning August 2nd. There are just 12 spaces available for this individualized immersion course, and tuition is $2,895. The course encourages students to “develop a voice” through a wide range of formats and styles, According to the MMW website, “Students work in teams proposing short, do-able documentary projects which they shoot and edit on DV for screening and review by the class. Subject matter can come from local issues and events, artists and a host of interesting local characters. All work is reviewed and critiqued, and in the end, students take away at least one, possibly more, collaborative documentary pieces.”

For more information, visit

MassArt Summer Film School
The Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) is offering week-long classes throughout June and July. They can be taken individually or as a sequence, and participants can opt for the documentary track, which includes courses in production, writing, and editing. The Summer Film School also offers a course titled “The Evocative Camera” — a self-described exploration as to how the camera can define emotion in a film, taught by Henri Herre, a French filmmaker and artist-in-residence at Harvard University. If you can’t quite make the time for the entire sequence, consider David Tames’ “Documentary Video Bootcamp” in the second week of June. This “immersive hands-on learning experience” goes through the fundamentals of documentary production, including shooting techniques, composition, lighting, editing, and even interviewing. Be prepared for filmmaking exercises followed by screenings and critiques. Bonus: The Bootcamp, which is limited to six or eight students, will provide camcorders for use during the class. Fees run between $400-600 a week.

For more information, visit

Prague Summer Film Program
Looking for a more luxurious way to work the lenses? From June 19th to July 20th, graduate and undergraduate students of Emerson College are given the opportunity to live and study in “the castle,” as it has been affectionately nicknamed. The program in Prague is hosted by the Academy of Performing Arts for Film and Television, and students can receive eight credit hours for the four weeks of special tours and lectures. Between lighting lectures in the intensive production segment of the trip, students travel to the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and tour museums. Not a Fighting Lion? Never fear, non-Emerson applicants can submit two letters of recommendation from faculty and an official college transcript along with their completed online application. Deadline is the end of February and fees come in at just over $10,000.

For more information, visit or call Emerson College at (617) 824-8567.

Whether you have ten grand to spend or you’re short on budget, there are programs throughout New England to help aspiring documentary filmmakers get a head start or increase their skills. There are several other camps available for the pre-college crowd not listed here. For more information on workshops this summer and throughout the year, check out the CID blog, which is frequently updated with upcoming events.