BERKELEY, Calif.–The University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism announces the appointment of filmmaker Jennifer Redfearn as professor of documentary and director of the School’s prestigious documentary program.
Redfearn, whose work has been called “engrossing,” “poignant,” “beautifully cinematic” and “intensely human”—directed and produced the 2011 Academy Award-nominated film, Sun Come Up, about an island community in the remote South Pacific that was forced to relocate by rising seas and climate change. It was also nominated for the International Documentary Association’s Pare Lorentz Award.
She is currently finishing Apart, a feature documentary about three mothers returning home from prison and rebuilding their lives after years of separation from their children. Her previous work includes Tocando la Luz (Touch the Light)—an intimate story about three blind women from Havana, Cuba, and their strivings for personal independence. Released in 2015, Tocando premiered at the Full Frame Documentary festival, where it won the Charles E. Guggenheim Award. She was also a field director, consulting producer, and additional cameraperson on the 2015 SXSW award-winning film, Landfill Harmonic, about Los Reciclados, a Paraguayan youth orchestra from a town built on a landfill that plays classical music with instruments made by the community of recycled trash.
For more than a decade, Redfearn produced independent documentaries, multimedia, and nonfiction content for PBS, HBO, National Geographic, CNN, and Discovery in various roles as a producer, director, camera operator and editor. She has taught journalism since 2007 at Columbia University, New York University, and most recently at Boston University. From 2016-2018, she taught New York University’s intermediate documentary course in Havana, where she supervised the production of as many as 36 short films each year.
The documentary program at UC Berkeley— widely considered one of the most important graduate nonfiction film programs in the country— was launched in the 1980s by veteran producer Andrew Stern and pioneering African American filmmaker Marlon T. Riggs, whose cultural relevance is still celebrated today, as seen in a special tribute presented at the 2019 Peabody Awards.
The work coming out of the program is routinely recognized by the industry, notably by the Student Academy Awards. In 2019, filmmaker Eva Rendle won a Bronze medal for her thesis film All That Remains, continuing a record five-year run of students either winning or medaling in the Student Oscars competition. And three Class of 2019 producer/directors— JoeBill Muñoz, Eva Rendle, and Emma Schwartz—were nominated for the International Documentary Association’s David l. Wolper Student documentary award. Emma Schwartz took home the gold. Alumni films routinely premiere at the world’s top festivals, among them Sundance, Cannes, SXSW, and Tribeca.
“As a woman documentary filmmaker and someone who grew up in a low-income family, I’m committed to understanding the experiences of underrepresented groups and marginalized people,” Redfearn says. “My practice as a storyteller, educator, and leader is grounded in the unwavering belief that all people deserve equal treatment and respect without regard to race, gender, class, religion, disabilities or sexual orientation.”
Redfearn discovered her passion for storytelling after working around the world for four years in the late ’90s, as everything from a roustabout on sheep stations in the Australian outback to a deckhand on boats sailing the South Pacific. But it’s teaching that really captured her.
“In a profession that is rich with discovery, working with students has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career,” said Redfearn. “I believe documentary filmmaking offers students profound and exciting ways of seeing and translating the world around them. My aim as an educator is to help students create incisive, innovative, and visually compelling work, giving them the tools to make valuable contributions to society and public discourse.”
“The documentary track at Berkeley Journalism is one of our most celebrated and consistently successful programs,” said Berkeley Journalism Dean Edward Wasserman. “It was critical to choose a highly respected filmmaker who brings a passionate commitment to nurturing student talent and a demonstrated ability to continue to attract the resources a program of this caliber demands.”
Redfearn is enthusiastic about sharing her knowledge and connections with students, and using her professional network to promote their work. Perhaps above all else, she said, she is “as enthusiastic about this field as I was the first day I picked up a camera. In fact, my commitment and enthusiasm has deepened. I can’t imagine a more important time to make films and to teach young people the skills to tell important stories.”
Her appointment begins July 1.