Celebrated filmmaker Orlando Bagwell to direct UC Berkeley J-School’s Documentary program

July 30, 2014

BERKELEY, Calif.–The University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism announces the appointment of filmmaker Orlando Bagwell as professor of documentary and director of the school’s prestigious documentary program. One of the foremost documentarians of his generation, Bagwell brings a career-long commitment to producing distinguished documentaries of his own as well as nurturing the work of aspiring filmmakers. He was selected after a five-month search from a field of more than 100 applicants.

Bagwell’s work represents some of the industry’s most influential films about the civil rights movement and the history of American race relations. He is best known for producing and directing Citizen King, a PBS documentary about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, and Eyes on the Prize, the 14-part series about the civil rights movement. He also produced and directed Roots of Resistance: The Story of the Underground Railroad, Malcolm X: Make It Plain, and Frederick Douglass: When the Lion Wrote History.

“Bagwell is a remarkably accomplished writer and producer, a mentor and role model to a generation of younger filmmakers, and a hugely influential sponsor of independent film in his former capacity as head of the Ford Foundation’s $50 million documentary fund,” said J-School Dean Edward Wasserman. “He is both an acclaimed artist and a seasoned professional, and the ideal candidate to sustain, expand and enhance our marquee instructional program, already recognized as a leader in the documentary world.”

Bagwell is a former director at the Ford Foundation, where he led the Freedom of Expression unit and served as the director of JustFilms, a foundation-wide initiative to support and inform social justice documentaries in Ford Foundation offices around the world. “It’s hard not to be enthusiastic about Orlando, if you care about social justice documentary,” Ford Foundation president Darren Walker told the New York Times last year. “He’s the pre-eminent person in the field today.”

At Berkeley, Bagwell will succeed Jon Else, who will continue to work part-time as documentary instructor at the J-School. As an educator, Else has had a towering impact on the field. Under Else’s leadership Berkeley’s J-School has won more national student Emmys for documentary than any other university program in the country, its alumni have been nominated and won Academy Awards, and its students and graduates have routinely held premiere screenings at the top film festivals in the world: Sundance, Cannes, SXSW, and Tribeca. J-School student and alumni work regularly appears in the New York Times, on PBS “Frontline,” and HBO.

Alumnus Jason Spingarn-Koff (MJ 2001), now Commissioning Editor for Opinion Video at The New York Times, says, “Orlando Bagwell will be a strong successor to Jon Else. His extensive filmmaking experience, deep knowledge of the documentary landscape, skill in supporting and mentoring filmmakers, and his relationships with other organizations will be fantastic assets to the university.”

Orlando Bagwell and Jon Else.

Else applauded Bagwell’s appointment, and says that Bagwell–with whom he worked on Eyes on the Prize–has been an inspiration to him for the past 25 years. “He is one of those rare non-fiction warriors unafraid of telling truth to power, unafraid of complex intractable issues, willing to tell the story from the inside, not from the outside, stories that drive the national conversation in ways that no other media can, and to do it all with style and craft.”

Recognized as one of the strongest graduate documentary programs in the country, the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism trains nonfiction filmmakers of talent, diversity, and accomplishment to help create the future of film production, schooling them in the full range of component crafts, from the basics of operating cameras to constructing complex narratives.

Grounded in the values of professional journalism: accuracy, eloquence, clarity, aggressive research and reporting, fine writing, ethical care and sharp analysis, combined with the fundamentals of filmmaking, documentary production at Berkeley emphasizes visual imagery and a wide range of storytelling styles investigative, historical, biography, personal essay, and cinema verite.

The quality of their training leads Berkeley’s alums to positions at industry powerhouses such as HBO, PBS, and Discovery, and to executive and production positions at the BBC, Ken Burns’ and Alex Gibney’s production companies, the Pixar documentary unit and numerous production houses around the world.

–Marlena Telvick


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