Joey Horan Named Brian Pollack Fellow in Documentary Filmmaking

December 21, 2021

Photo: Brian Howey (‘22)

Joey Horan (‘22) has been named the Brian Pollack Fellow in Documentary Filmmaking at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

The $5,000 fellowship, established in 2018, is awarded annually by a committee of the program’s faculty to a promising second-year documentary film student with a passion for tackling social justice issues and exploring the outdoors.

The fellowship was established to remember alum Brian Pollack (‘08), who passed away in 2016, leaving behind a community of friends and family who wished to further his interests in documentary filmmaking and the outdoors. A producer and documentary filmmaker, Pollack was passionate about shedding light on important issues worldwide. His investigative reporting took him around the U.S. and the world, where he covered topics ranging from the disposal of oil waste in California, the power of voting in swing states, and the sacrifices of American troops in Afghanistan.

“We had an impressive number of strong applications for this year’s Brian Pollack Fellowship,” said Professor Jennifer Redfearn, head of the documentary program. “The committee chose Horan for the strength of his writing, film proposal, and his deep connection to the environment. Joey’s work is outstanding, and I appreciate his ability to tackle complex issues with a sharp cinematic eye. He also brings a generous, collaborative spirit to our workshop and approaches his colleagues’ work with the same energy and enthusiasm he brings to his projects.”

Joey filming a scene for his thesis film in the Sierra Valley. Photo credit: Manish Khanal

Horan was born and raised in Rhode Island and calls the Atlantic Ocean his first true love. In his adult life, he’s lived in Brazil, Texas, Washington, Ohio, and North Carolina where he worked alternately (and simultaneously) as a teacher, legal aid worker, and reporter. In each place, he’s found another body of water to explore and love.

“It’s a great honor to win the Brian Pollack Fellowship,” Horan said. “Over the past decade, I’ve lived all over the U.S. and worked a lot of jobs. In the middle of all those changes, it’s hard to find the throughline that connects those experiences. But from where I stand now, it’s clear that I’m driven by a love for the outdoors and a commitment to reporting on environmental and social justice.”

“Receiving this fellowship has further illuminated that path and emboldened me to stay on it,” Horan continued. “In addition to being an avid outdoorsman, Brian was a connector. He cherished the relationships he formed at Berkeley’s Journalism School. Reading his remembrances reminds me that relationships are not just a piece of the storytelling process, they are its foundation.”

Joey first began reporting on the environment in Toledo, Ohio, taking a close look at the annual algal blooms that plague western Lake Erie each summer. He then pursued enterprise stories about Detroit’s water and sewer infrastructure for Outlier Media, looking at the root causes of the water affordability crisis in the city. At the onset of the pandemic, he investigated the Michigan Department of Corrections’ response to the virus inside of its prisons. Joey is now pursuing a master’s in journalism with a focus on documentary production and is collaborating on his thesis film with Manish Khanal (’22).

What drives you to be a documentary filmmaker?
Life itself drives me to be a documentary filmmaker. Whether through fiction, investigative reporting, or radio production, my goal as a storyteller has always been to get as close to life as possible. As an aspiring documentary filmmaker, my goal is to dwell in the raw material of life and convert it into a cinematic reality. I am exhilarated and humbled by the creative possibilities and responsibilities that come with that process.

But why get so close to life? To what end? It has something to do with reaching a beautiful viewpoint on a hike and thinking: If only I could bottle this moment up and send it out to friends, enemies, and unknown strangers. In my life, documentary films have arrived as such gifts. They’ve expanded me beyond measure, and I am driven to work as a documentary filmmaker both to expand myself and others.

What is unique about your voice and perspective?
Over the past decade, I’ve worked in courthouses, labor camps, and public schools in Washington, Ohio, and North Carolina. I’ve strung holiday lights from the homes of tech billionaires, delivered pizza, and landscaped lawns. I’ve taught English in Brazil, Emerson and Thoreau in rural New Hampshire, and now U.S. politics at Berkeley.

Each of these experiences molded my perspective and voice as a storyteller. I am reverent and patient. I reject well-worn narratives, particularly ones that simplify vast regions of the country like the South, the Midwest, and rural communities at large. I am drawn to the idea that every place and people is as dense with information and history as the next, and it is my goal as a storyteller to lay bare that dense web of present-tense history and revel in the complexity and surprises it may present.

How are you shedding light on important issues in your work?
As a reporter, I shed light on important issues by centering community needs and pursuing undercovered stories.

Since 2018, I’ve worked for Outlier Media, which sources stories through direct conversations with Detroit residents through an SMS system. These one-to-one interactions led me to report on the finances of the region’s water and sewer system and the Michigan Department of Corrections’ COVID-19 response.

These beats are decidedly unsexy, overlooked, and made deliberately opaque by those in power. By sourcing from the ground up, I was able to center my reporting on the lived reality of people impacted by these agencies and bring important light — and a critical eye — to issues that are often deemed too boring or “in-the-weeds” to deserve media attention.

How has exploring the outdoors enriched your life?
For three years, I had a love affair with the Maumee River in Toledo, Ohio. I watched it freeze in the winter, made walkable to foxes and coyotes. From its summery banks, I spied on blue herons and skinks on sunny rocks.

The river taught me to trust knowledge gained from observation. It also taught me to report. My first magazine feature looked at the currents of pollution running through the river that cause harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie every summer. The piece gave me the confidence to continue reporting and advocating for polluted landscapes. As a New Englander with ocean brine in my veins, I never thought I would love an unsalted body of water. But it’s the Maumee River that taught me to expand my notion of the natural world and to pay closer attention to oft-overlooked ecosystems.

To augment the scholarship fund created in Brian Pollack’s honor, readers are welcome to click here.


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