Berkeley Journalism Professor Jennifer Redfearn awarded Guggenheim Fellowship

April 12, 2024

Jennifer Redfearn

Berkeley Journalism Professor Jennifer Redfearn has won a 2024 Guggenheim Fellowship, an honor that will support new forms of visual storytelling, her own documentary filmmaking, and work with journalism students to report on the most pressing challenges to humanity. She is currently researching how scientists are using AI and the latest technology to decode animal behavior for conservation efforts. 

“I’m grateful for and energized by this recognition,” said Redfearn, director of Berkeley Journalism’s Documentary Program. “Merging immersive visual storytelling and AI opens up new possibilities for storytelling and audience engagement. I’m inspired to continue finding imaginative ways to engage the public in the critical issues of our time.” 

Berkeley Journalism’s faculty has been honored with a string of Guggenheim Fellowships: Professor Mark Danner in 2019; Reva and David Logan Photojournalism Professor Ken Light in 2021; Emeritus Professor Michael Pollan in 2022; and now Redfearn. 

“Jennifer is one of the most mission-driven, creative and compassionate journalists I have ever met,” Geeta Anand, dean of Berkeley Journalism, said. “It is wonderful that her passion and creativity are being recognized in this way. This is wonderful news for Jennifer, for the journalism school and for her current and future students. The world of journalism is better for having Jennifer Redfearn as a passionate practitioner and teacher.”

For more than fifteen years, Redfearn has produced independent documentaries, multimedia, and nonfiction content for outlets such as PBS, HBO, National Geographic, CNN, Discovery, and MediaStorm. Her films have been called “engrossing,” “poignant,” “beautifully cinematic” and “intensely human.” 

She directed and produced the 2011 Academy Award-nominated film, Sun Come Up, about a South Pacific island community that was forced to relocate due to rising seas and Tocando la Luz (Touch the Light), about three blind women from Havana, Cuba. Her recent feature documentary, the Emmy-nominated PBS film Apart, follows three mothers returning home from prison and rebuilding their lives after years of separation from their children. She was also a field director, consulting producer, and additional cameraperson on the 2015 SXSW award-winning film, Landfill Harmonic, about a Paraguayan youth orchestra that plays classical music with instruments made from recycled trash.

Professor Jennifer Redfearn pictured with her documentary film students in 2022.

Redfearn was also awarded the prestigious Philomathia Prize this year, an award given to a Berkeley faculty member who demonstrates “great distinction and promise in their academic field.” She used the occasion of the prize and some of the funding for an engaging day of interdisciplinary and immersive environmental storytelling with more than 80 participants in Berkeley in January. 

On April 11, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation announced 188 Guggenheim Fellowship recipients across 52 disciplines, a group selected from almost 3,000 applicants. Each fellow receives a monetary stipend “to pursue independent work at the highest level under ‘the freest possible conditions.’” UC Berkeley’s John Connelly, the Sidney Hellman Ehrman Professor of History, also received a Guggenheim Fellowship this year.  

“Humanity faces some profound existential challenges,” said Edward Hirsch, award-winning poet and president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, in a media release. “The Guggenheim Fellowship is a life-changing recognition. It’s a celebrated investment into the lives and careers of distinguished artists, scholars, scientists, writers and other cultural visionaries who are meeting these challenges head-on and generating new possibilities and pathways across the broader culture as they do so.”

Redfearn said her work with students has been one of the most rewarding experiences of her career. She noted that her mission at Berkeley is to “help grow and strengthen the Bay Area documentary community and assist students in creating deeply researched and visually stunning work, giving them the tools to make valuable contributions to society and become thought leaders in the field.”


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