Columbia’s non-fiction film program opens door to all departments

By Ivana Hester

Renewed, refreshed and revamped, the Film & Video Department’s documentary concentration will soon allow students from all majors to learn more about this genre of filmmaking.

As interest in nonfiction filmmaking continues to grow, the department has made documentary classes available to all students to expand the curriculum and encourage more collaboration with

other departments.

Dan Rybicky, an associate film & video professor and coordinator of the documentary concentration, said the golden age of documentaries is now, and the department has found many opportunities for students to work in the field.

“I see the documentary concentration becoming less of a concentration because documentaries are just another form of filmmaking,” Rybicky said. “We are creating classes that will allow [all] filmmakers to examine cinematography or editing through the prism of documentary filmmaking.”

In previous years, documentary classes could not be taken without prerequisites, according to Don Smith, an associate professor in the Film & Video Department.

“Prerequisites are kind of less meaningful now,” Smith said. “Instead, the curriculum will be more horizontal [to include more students].”

Rybicky said the Michael Rabiger Center for Documentary Film, located in the Conaway Center, is being renovated to accommodate the growing interest in documentary filmmaking. He said the improved “Doc Center” will be a place where students can collaborate.

Viva Doc, Columbia’s documentary filmmaking student organization, hosted the Doc Class Fair Oct. 30, during which students of all majors were invited to tour the Doc Center and talk with faculty and staff about classes offered for the spring semester.

According to Smith, some classes will be taught in conjunction with other departments, like Topics in Documentary: The Music Documentary Film, which will collaborate with the Audio Arts & Acoustics Department, and Topics in Documentary: Natural History and Science, which will be taught concurrently with a course in the Science & Mathematics Department.

The documentary program is also encouraging students to take reporting classes to improve their storytelling skills, Smith added.

“We hope to foster further collaborations with the Journalism Department, the Interactive Arts & Media Department and the Photography Department,” Rybicky said. “We see documentary being further beyond film.”

Alex Cox, a junior film & video major, said she has been taking classes in the documentary concentration for about two years. She said she was drawn to documentary filmmaking because of its social justice component.

“I found that real life is a lot more entertaining than narrative [films],” Cox said. “There are so many interesting stories to tell, and I want to facilitate that.”

Cox has made two documentary shorts, one a PSA about Charity Water, a nonprofit that brings clean drinking water to developing countries, and the other, a reflection about being gay and growing up Catholic.

“[The changes] will make documentaries a lot more visible and get many more people interested in [the genre] as a way to tell their stories,” Cox said.