Rosa Tuirán Awarded Brian Pollack Documentary Fellowship

October 31, 2019

Photo: Clara Mokri (’21)

For a journalist, rejection is part of life. Sources don’t respond to you, pitches get declined, stories sometimes don’t seem good enough. Realizing that others recognize your talent can be a powerful boost to a young journalist’s confidence and career.

The Brian A. Pollack Fellowship aims to provide exactly that sort of boost to gifted filmmakers. The fund was established in 2018, and it’s awarded annually to a promising documentary film student based on recommendations from the prestigious program’s faculty. This year, talented second-year master’s candidate and filmmaker Rosa Tuirán was named to receive the $3,000 award.

“It’s quite an honor. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it,” Tuirán said.

This is the first award that Tuirán, whose work focuses on the environment and immigration, has received since she started at UC Berkeley. She said it’s the type of recognition that can help validate her hard work and affirm the decision she made to pursue this career. It also made her realize that her mentors in the program had her back.

“To be honest…I had a difficult, rough start to the semester. Getting the award is kind of reassuring,” she said. “I’m supposed to be here. People trust who I want to be, what I want to become, and the work that I want to do.”

“Rosa shares many of the attributes of Brian Pollack. She is outgoing, engaging and a dogged reporter,” said Cassandra Herrman, a veteran instructor in the documentary track. “[She] is passionate about pursuing stories that are impactful, reveal something about the human condition, and illuminate important social issues.”

Brian Pollack (‘08) is remembered as a warm and gregarious producer and documentary filmmaker who was passionate about shedding light on important issues worldwide. His investigative reporting took him around the U.S. and the world, where he covered such issues as the disposal of oil waste in California, the power of voting in swing states, and the sacrifices of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Last year’s recipient, Eva Rendle, recently won a bronze medal in the Student Academy Awards for her thesis documentary “All That Remains,” and is a finalist in the International Documentary Association’s David L. Wolper Student Documentary Award.

Tuirán’s family is from Mexico, where she got her B.A in International Relations at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México. She originally came to Berkeley Journalism to pursue environmental and investigative reporting, focusing on topics like ocean conservation and sustainability. That’s part of the reason, she said, that she so was excited to receive a fellowship in honor of a journalist with whom she shared reporting interests..

“[His work] matches who I am and who I want to be,” Tuirán said

For her thesis documentary, Tuirán is pursuing two stories concurrently, unsure which she’ll ultimately choose as her final project.

The first examines the sometimes fraught relationship between the soy-growing Mennonite community and the beekeeping Mayans in the Mexican state of Campeche. The other juxtaposes the multi-million dollar horse-racing industry with those who tend the horses. That film hopes to examine the inner workings of the racing and the struggles of undocumented workers laboring behind the scenes.

Tuirán has always loved film and photography, but she said coming to Berkeley has helped expand her view of stories. She originally studied international relations, and wanted to find a way to combine that interest with film and photography. Documentary film seemed the natural path. She worked as a video producer at Buzzfeed in New York City for a few years, but soon realized she wanted something more.

“I just wanted to be working, pouring my heart and soul into a film, into a story,” Tuirán said.

She now believes it is one of the best decisions she ever made. Her experience at the School has opened her up to the possibilities of journalism, and given her a more solid grasp on what it takes to produce films with dimension and significance.

“I had an idea before I came to Berkeley of what a documentary filmmaker was. There’s this romantic idea of someone traveling the world with a camera trying to capture the story,” Tuirán said. “Yeah, and it’s nothing like that. It’s way more complicated.”

The School also helped her dive into ethical dilemmas and meet new friends and mentors. She’s learned to enjoy all parts of the process. The Brian Pollack Fellowship, in some ways, is a culmination of all the good experiences she has had at UC Berkeley.

By Will McCarthy (‘21)


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


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