Berkeley's documentary program is grounded in the values of professional journalism—accuracy, clarity, aggressive research and reporting, and ethical practices—combined with fundamentals of solid filmmaking. Documentary production here places great value on visual imagery and a wide range of storytelling styles: investigative, historical, biographical, etc. All courses are practical rather than theoretical and are built around teaching the skills and the sensibility required to make compelling documentaries, with an emphasis on innovative prime-time television.
All documentary students are required to take J282 Introduction to Television News, J283 Reporting for Television and J286 History of Documentary during their first year. In the second year, students take J284 Documentary Production and the J294 Master's Project Seminar, a year-long intensive production seminar in which they produce a professional half-hour documentary suitable for national broadcast. Second-year coursework covers writing, directing, videography, sound recording, production management and editing skills specific to documentary. All work is digital.
"Last January I returned from an exhilarating month teaching documentary filmmaking to former ANC combatants in South Africa. Still reeling from jet lag and culture shock and armed with a healthy dose of attitude, I dragged myself to campus to face the 'privileged' J-School documentary students. Immediately I was jolted awake. These students were engaged, passionate, earnest and bold. We dove into the gloriously collaborative process of structuring their documentaries: stories from Emeryville to Calcutta, from ecological disasters to Olympic champions, from the ethics of photojournalism to the morality of the Catholic Church. Truly nowhere in the world could I have a richer experience than teaching at the J-School." Deborah Hoffmann, lecturer
Master's project films should be adventuresome, meaningful, and suitable for wide prime-time distribution on PBS, commercial networks, or cable TV. Every year several master's project films are picked up for nationwide prime-time broadcast, and nearly all have regional broadcast and extensive exposure at film festivals. Films have covered such wide-ranging topics as robotic flies, step dancing, stuttering, arranged marriages in India, weight lifting in Afghanistan, monster trucks, the introduction of television into the Kingdom of Bhutan, gentrification in Oakland, and frequent flier miles. Over the past several years, student films have won first place in the National Student Emmy and Student Academy Awards and have premiered at numerous film festivals, including Sundance and Cannes.
Graduates of the Documentary program go on to work for FRONTLINE/World, MTV, ABC's "Nightline", NOVA, and many others.