MFA programs for documentary filmmakers


New Member
Hi, everyone. Was wondering if anyone can share some insight on which MFA programs are good for documentary filmmakers. I'm most likely going to apply to MFA programs this fall and am trying to get a better feel for them. There is a documentary MFA program at Stanford in the Art History department that I'm looking into, but I keep going back and forth between the the purely documentary route or one that incorporates both narrative and documentary. It seems that UCLA may be a good choice and Columbia probably isn't (based on some previous posts that have mentioned Columbia not having a strong doc faculty). Any advice or input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.


UCLA has an amazing amazing award-winning documentary prof -- Marina Goldovskaya. Most students are focused on narrative projects, but if you choose to do the doc track you will get a lot of attention and support from her. However everyone must do narrative filmmaking in their first year, and people who choose the doc track don't start it until second year. I've also heard that Temple University has a good doc program.


Well-Known Member
USC also has a documentary track, the school funds four 547 films every semester (the documentary counterpart to the narrative 546), there's the 499, and you can make your first year 508 a documentary if you wish, several did this spring. I saw several documentary theses as well this year at First Look. I would contact them for more info, because I don't know much more than that.

Mark Harris (lord, I hope that's his name, the guy who's won two or three Oscars for docs??) and Ted Braun are both on faculty, I know Mark Harris teaches 499, and I just saw Braun's "DARFUR NOW" screened at Norris last week.

Best of luck!

Daniel G

Yeah it is Mark Harris. He was my interviewer for Grad Production. Really interesting down to earth guy. And amazing body of work. I look forward to having him as a prof.


Well-Known Member
Thanks, DanG. I was in a huge hurry when I wrote that!

USC's been doing these great alumni screenings all summer, and he moderated a panel at one I went to earlier this month...I'm glad his name stayed with me!


New Member
Hey - I'm in the same boat as you, looking at doc programs, wondering if I should go for just doc or doc integrated with narrative.

What I think is this: experience in both seems beneficial, because if filmmaking is essentially learning to tell a story, whether it's doc or narrative., then it seems that learning all aspects, all facets of visual story-telling can only help you become a better filmmaker.

I don't know where you're at, but I know that Stanford looks for people with "real world" experience beyond undergrad, so I'm unable to apply there. Though I've heard great things about the program.

As someone said, American is supposed to be one of the best doc programs in the country. And USC is king at integrating doc and narrative.

UT Austin has a doc program, Temple University has one... Let me know what you find out about any of these or other programs. I wish someone could compare American's program with USC's program for me. They both seem fantastic: AU being in Washington (the mecca of change, if you're into the social aspects of doc), with its centers on Environmental and Social documentary, with access to National Geographic and Discovery headquarters, with its documentary reputation. And USC as a top film school, with its networking and its prestige and it's faculty.

I don't know. Can anyone enlighten me? Are they on par or is one glaringly better?


New Member
A big thank you to everyone who's responded.

Sarka, I couldn't agree with you more about filmmaking being about how to tell a story, which why I'm also looking at doc-narrative programs. Oh and I'm 28 so I guess you can say that I have some real world experience in the job sense, but I'd like to think I've had more life experiences. I lived in Japan for 2 years after graduating and then spent a little over a year taking care of my mom. To me, life experience can really mean anything and it's not necessarily something you can only gain upon graduating. I guess what I'm trying to say is that maybe you shouldn't count Stanford out.

If anyone can share particular differences between USC and AU, I'd like to hear this too. I think USC is a definite possibility for me - especially after Jayimess mentioned that you can make a doc in the first year. But I think you can start making docs your first year at AU too.


Active Member
Just thought I'd chime in...
NYU has a short doc as part of it's first year curriculum. I think the doc is where most people do their best work in the first year.

Also, if you want to focus on docs, there are plenty of classes to take, and faculty with good connections (I can't remember everyone, but I remember Sheila Nevins). You can also choose to direct a doc as your thesis film. A few people each year do that, since it's sometimes the fastest way to graduate.

Make no mistake, NYU is definitely more geared towards traditional narrative storytelling, but if you want to make docs, there is definitely a place for you there and great faculty to help guide you with your work/career.


New Member
I'm also interested in eventually applying to documentary production grad programs. These are some programs I've found that I don't think have been mentioned yet:
Ryerson University in Toronto has a very new M.F.A. program in Documentary Media.

Hofstra University on Long Island has an MFA program called Documentary Studies and Production.

You can also apply to City College of New York as a Documentary Writer/Director.

The New School in New York City has a one year graduate cretificate in Documentary Media Studies.

All of these seem to be mostly production-based. If anyone knows anything about them, I'd be interested in what you know. Thanks!
Look at Ohio University in Athens, OH. This area is right on the doorstep of Appalachia and full of great stories to tell. The cost of living is low and grad students in the School of Film are really well funded.

Tim Jackson,1st year MFA
School of Film, Ohio University
Nontraditional Films Blog

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