Misha Kapany Schwarz Named Marlon T. Riggs Fellow in Documentary Filmmaking

May 7, 2024

A young woman with long brown hair sitting on stairs smiling at the camera.

Misha Schwarz. Photo by Jule-Sofie Hermann (’24).

Producer/director Misha Kapany Schwarz (’24) has been awarded one of Berkeley Journalism’s top honors, the Marlon T. Riggs Fellowship in Documentary Filmmaking.

Named for the late filmmaker, alumnus and Professor Marlon T. Riggs (’81), the fellowship was created in 2014 with funding from Signifyin’ Works, the Ford Foundation, the Filmmaker Fund, and individual donors. The $10,000 Fellowship is awarded annually to a second-year student in the documentary program to support the cost of their academic pursuits, including the production of their thesis film.

“In awarding this fellowship to Schwarz, we recognize and celebrate a documentary filmmaker who brings integrity to her reporting and a strong visual imagination to her craft,” said Professor Jennifer Redfearn, head of the documentary program. “Her documentary film, produced in collaboration with Maarya Zafar (‘24), follows two first responders as they journey to Mexico to undergo psychedelic treatment. At the heart of the film is a powerful question: We turn to first responders in our darkest moments, but who do they turn to in theirs?”

We interviewed Schwarz via email about the honor…

Walk us through your reaction to receiving the Marlon T. Riggs Fellowship, what it means for you as a filmmaker, what does his body of work mean to you?

Receiving the Marlon T. Riggs Fellowship is a tremendous honor. Riggs’ films showed the power of documentary filmmaking to bring underrepresented voices to the forefront; he challenged the status quo in creative and bold yet tender ways, and didn’t shy away from tough conversations. He’s the kind of filmmaker I aspire to be and I feel a deep sense of responsibility to carry his torch forward. I hope that my films, like Riggs’, can unearth and amplify the diverse perspectives held within unique human experiences and foster deeper empathy and understanding in our society.

Who have been your mentors been at the School and what specifically have they done for you in your journey?

Professor Jennifer Redfearn and Lecturer Cassandra Herrman have been instrumental to my success at the J-school. They’ve taught me the nuts and bolts of documentary filmmaking and have encouraged me to take creative risks. I especially appreciate their advice when it comes to combating imposter syndrome and handling sensitive stories in an ethical way.

What is special about the documentary film program at UC Berkeley, your cohort?

It’s been such an incredible experience to be a part of the documentary film program at UC Berkeley. The program encourages sharing diverse perspectives and emphasizes that filmmaking is a team sport, and I’ve really enjoyed collaborating with my peers and professors. Their feedback and support has been endlessly helpful and I am incredibly grateful for this special experience.

About the Documentary Program

The documentary program at UC Berkeley — widely regarded as one of the country’s most important graduate nonfiction film programs and one of the only two remaining two-year professional journalism programs in the country — was launched in the 1980s by veteran producer Andrew Stern and built upon by pioneering filmmaker Marlon T. Riggs.

Since then, award-winning filmmakers and professors Jon Else, Orlando Bagwell, Dawn Porter, Carrie Lozano, Cassandra Herrman, Jennifer Redfearn, Jason Spingarn-Koff and others have trained hundreds of filmmakers of remarkable talent, diversity and accomplishment. Grounded in the values of professional journalism — accuracy, eloquence, aggressive research and reporting, strong writing, ethics and analysis — combined with the fundamentals of the filmmaking craft, documentary at UC Berkeley emphasizes visual storytelling in 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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