written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Amanda Grove•updated: 4/16/2010
Take a look at a few of the best documentary film graduate programs in the United States.
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Documentary Graduate Programs
Documentary film is the integration of journalism and artistic filmmaking in a way that few other art and communication forms can take. If you want to really work at driving your own documentary film projects and gear yourself toward real theatrical filmmaking then a graduate program in documentary production is the best academic focus you can have. It is in a graduate situation that you can really hone in on your ability in a way that will not just give you the skills to work in the industry, but to allow yourself to really drive your own projects. Documentary is not a cut and dry style of filmmaking, so there are as many approaches as there are filmmakers. Here is a look at some of the best and diverse graduate programs in documentary film.
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Stanford University has long been considered one of the top documentary programs in the country, not to mention that you can ride on Stanford's pedigree. Like many standard film production programs, the Stanford University program is a Master's of Fine Arts degree so that you know that it is project based instead of just focused on coursework. The degree program is focused directly around methods of production for non-fiction filmmaking ranging from standard production classes, focuses on digital technology, and advanced production methods. This is intermixed with film studies and electives to get a well rounded experience. The Stanford University documentary program really is modeled after a traditional film production program except that it shifts the focus over to non-fiction filmmaking exclusively. There is not as much focus on advanced technical areas of cinematography or post-production, so if you want to be a complete filmmaker with these skills then you are going to have to supplement your education a little bit. Once positive aspect of the Stanford documentary program is that you have to take Producing Practicum that will educate you as to how to propose and execute your documentary films in a real world setting.
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School of Visual Arts
New York City's School of Visual Arts presents a unique Master's of Fine Arts program in what they call Social Documentary. Through this they hope to foster student work and perspectives that put forth documentary projects with social issues and change at their center. It works as you may expect most Master's of Fine Arts programs in documentary film may with a heavy focus on production techniques that outweighs Stanford. The program at the Visual Arts is a substantially expensive one, however. The application fee itself is $80, which is excessive, and the yearly cost is almost $37,000. This is also parallel to the requirement of having a Macbook Pro that holds a Terabyte and has Final Cut Pro on it. If you can afford this then you are going to find the Social Documentary MFA program interesting.
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If you want a shorter program that does not go through all the requirements of a Master's of Fine Arts you can look into the Master's of Arts program in Documentary and Film History at Syracuse University. The program's focus is on bringing the concept of historiography, physical film production, and the whole funding and distribution process together in one educational form. Through this you do a four semester program running from one summer through the following summer. Here you take classes in documentary production, history, dramatic writing, and specific communications courses. This program is in no way production heavy, but for certain types of history focuses this is very appropriate. Since this is a shorter program you may want to combine it with a second Master's degree in Television - Radio - Film offered by Syracuse, which will help you cover all of your bases.
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Montana State University
One of the most interesting documentary graduate programs in the U.S. is Montana State University's MFA in Science and Natural History Filmmaking. This complete documentary program focuses in on nature and science documentaries, though instead of putting itself into a normal category of science journalism it focuses in on documentary filmmaking as a complete art form. The coursework itself focuses in on the physical production needed in general filmmaking, documentary filmmaking, and then this special sub-genre of science and nature history specific documentary. This is a great choice for a very specific type of filmmaking, but may not be the choice for all students. This is also a much less expensive program compared with others, especially if you can become a Graduate Teaching Assistant.