Award-winning documentary filmmaker Dawn Porter joins faculty

May 25, 2018


Award-winning filmmaker Dawn Porter, whose acclaimed four-part documentary series “Bobby Kennedy For President” debuted on Netflix this month, is joining the faculty of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

As adjunct professor of documentary, Porter will teach production and will serve as lead adviser to the School’s documentary students and as interim director of the Documentary Program for the ‘18-19 academic year.

Porter, who is founder of Trilogy Films, directed and produced the documentary “Gideon’s Army,” which told the stories of public defenders in the South who work against staggering caseloads and low pay to help defend poor people accused of crime.  The film won the Sundance Film Festival Editing Award and the Tribeca All Access Creative Promise Award, as well as the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award for Media and the Arts and the prestigious Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize.  It aired on HBO in July 2013 and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, a Cinema Eye Award, and an Emmy.

Her 2016 film, “Trapped,” explored the impact of laws regulating abortion clinics in the South as they struggle in the face of an increasingly hostile legal and political climate. The film premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Award for Social Impact Filmmaking. Among its numerous prizes and recognitions were the Silver Gavel Award and a Peabody Award.

Porter’s other films include the Independent Lens film “Spies of Mississippi” (2014, PBS) on the little-known story of a state-sponsored campaign to defeat the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, and “Rise: The Promise of My Brother’s Keeper,” chronicling President Obama’s program to help young men and boys of color succeed. Porter interviewed Obama for the film, which aired nationally on The Discovery Channel and The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) in 2015.

Her short films have been distributed by Time Inc., Amazon, and The New York Times Op Docs. In 2015, Alex Gibney’s production company Jigsaw Productions selected her to direct a centerpiece film for the well-regarded series “The New Yorker Presents” for Amazon. In 2016, Porter was named to Variety’s 10 Documakers to Watch” and received the Robert and Anne Drew Award for Documentary Excellence at DOC NYC’s Visionaries Tribute.

A frequent lecturer, Porter has spoken to colleges and universities around the world about criminal justice, filmmaking, women’s rights and social equality. Her work has received generous grant awards from the MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Tribeca Film Institute, Sundance Film Institute, and Chicken & Egg Pictures. She is a member of the Directors Guild of America, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and the documentary branch of the Academy of Motion Pictures.   

Before she began her career as a filmmaker, Porter was an attorney with the firm of Baker & Hostetler in Washington, D.C. She then worked as director of Standards and Practices at ABC News and as vice president of Standards and Practices at A&E Television Networks. She is a graduate of Swarthmore College and the Georgetown University Law Center and practiced law for five years.

“Having a producer with Dawn’s remarkable body of work and her interest in social justice teach the next generation of documentary filmmakers is a major gift to our already extraordinary program,” says Edward Wasserman, dean of Berkeley Journalism. “It’s exciting to anticipate the impact she will have on the School.”

Porter is ready, and says: “I am thrilled to join the remarkable faculty and students of Berkeley and excited to continue the tradition of excellence the program is known for.  This is an incredibly exciting time to be working in documentary film, and it is an honor to have the opportunity to work with the next generation of voices.”

About the Documentary Program at UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley’s documentary program is widely considered one of the most important graduate nonfiction film programs in the country. Carrying on the work begun in the 1980s by producer Andrew Stern and pioneering African American filmmaker Marlon T. Riggs, professors Jon Else, Orlando Bagwell and others have trained hundreds of filmmakers of talent, diversity and accomplishment.

Grounded in the values of professional journalism–accuracy, eloquence, aggressive research and reporting, strong writing, ethics and analysis–combined with fundamentals of solid filmmaking, documentary storytelling at UC Berkeley emphasizes visual imagery and a wide range of storytelling styles: investigative, historical, biography, personal essay and cinéma vérité.

Help the next generation by making a tax-deductible donation to our Fine Cut Fund today. The fund supports documentary and multimedia projects and helps defray the hard costs of production—travel and shooting expenses, outlays for equipment and research.



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