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Photo: Raffi Roy (’18)

A multilingual international student and former radio reporter has been awarded one of Berkeley Journalism’s top honors. Serginho Roosblad (’18), a documentary film student whose most recent work focuses on telling stories about homelessness and displacement, is winner of this year’s Marlon T. Riggs Fellowship in Documentary Filmmaking.

Named for the late filmmaker, J-School alumnus and Professor Marlon T. Riggs (’81), the fellowship was created in 2015 with funding from Signifyin’ Works, the Ford Foundation, and The Filmmaker Fund, and is awarded exclusively to students of documentary film.

“I became familiar with Riggs’ work during my graduate studies at the University of Cape Town back in 2010,” says Roosblad. “I remember his film ‘Ethnic Notions,’ and how it explores race and deals with the creation of the negative stereotypes of black people having a big impact on me, and in some ways, informing my work as a black journalist.”

He said getting the fellowship is a huge honor, “not only in financial terms, which will enable me to focus on my thesis documentary, but it’s also a motivational boost. Getting this recognition in Riggs’ name will further encourage me to tell stories about those who are marginalized.”

Roosblad is currently researching ideas for two films, one of which he hopes will become his thesis project. The first examines the relationship between the Netherlands and Dutch Caribbean islands in the aftermath of this year’s hurricane season. The second—focused on the MacArthur Maze, a large freeway interchange in Oakland—investigates how freeways divide communities and urban spaces.

“It’s a weird combination,” he said. “Across the freeway you have Ikea and Pixar Animation, and it looks very set, gentrified. And then you have West Oakland, with all these homeless encampments, and the tents under the freeway, a mix of people and present-day issues that all come together there.”

Before attending graduate school, much of Roosblad’s work was in radio. Originally from Amsterdam, Netherlands, he spent the year and a half before coming to Berkeley working in Uganda as a freelance correspondent for Voice of America, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Dutch Public Radio, and Radio France International. He chose to attend the J-School because he felt he was “hitting a wall in terms of visual storytelling” and wanted to learn to tell longer stories through documentary film.

“Serginho is already a seriously accomplished journalist,” said Berkeley Journalism Dean Ed Wasserman. “We’re really proud to be able to give him this honor.”

Although he’s focused on documentary, since starting his studies at Berkeley, Roosblad has told stories across media platforms. One that remains close to his heart covered Proposition 64 in the 2016 election cycle, which was a voter initiative to legalize cannabis in California. He created a photo series profiling a number of players involved in the debate. In another project, Roosblad worked with classmates to profile a heroin user in California’s Central Valley. The group shed light on the struggle faced by female victims of the opioid crisis.

Last summer, Roosblad began an internship with KQED, and found a mentor in his supervisor and J-School alumnus Adam Grossberg (’13). Roosblad said he has found Grossberg’s mentorship especially valuable, specifically his focus on the importance of creating scenes in video storytelling.

“Before I’d film and edit footage that I felt was ‘pretty’ enough to match what someone was saying in interviews,” says Roosblad. “Now, I’m much more aware of creating a scene: keeping my eye open to film a sequence of actions that show what is going in a particular space.”

Now in his second year at the J-School, Roosblad particularly enjoyed his classes with Orlando Bagwell, director of the J-School’s documentary program. “Once I was in his class I knew for sure that I wanted to pursue documentary film,” Roosblad said. “He taught me how to look at documentaries. Like, [how to analyze] the grammar of the film, even just how the film opens. What does it say about the film? What does it say about the story?”

He is currently studying under videography instructors Jon Else and Spencer Nakasako. “Already I’ve learned a ton from them, whether it’s on the cinematography side of things, crafting a story, or writing a pitch or proposal,” Roosblad said.

“Serginho is a young man who has an incredible future ahead of him as a documentary filmmaker,” Else said. “[He] is just an amazing standout among a class of standouts in documentary.”

By Caron Creighton (’19)

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