Berkeley Journalism documentary thesis film acquired by L.A. Times Short Docs

August 10, 2023

Linus Unah and Buddy Terry photographed in the hallway of North Gate Hall.

“Split Jury” directors Linus Unah and Buddy Terry.

L.A. Times Short Docs, a platform for innovative short documentaries, is launching a special series in association with Berkeley Journalism as part of its second season. The first film, “Split Jury,” by Linus Unah (‘23) and Buddy Terry (‘23), premiered Aug. 9.

The film details how nearly 90 years after Oregon allowed split jury verdicts, one formerly incarcerated man and a law professor seek justice for hundreds of people as Oregon confronts the long-term consequences of this unconstitutional jury system.

The thesis advisers/supervising producers are Professor Jennifer Redfern, director of the documentary program, and Professor Jason Spingarn-Koff, who is also a consulting producer to the L.A. Times.

“It is wonderful to see our students’ films chosen by one of the world’s most outstanding media publications to be shared widely for the rest of the world to experience,” Geeta Anand, dean of Berkeley Journalism said. “This is a true validation of the quality of our documentary film program and the importance of our students’ work. I am grateful to Professor Jason Spingarn-Koff for his advocacy in getting the students’ work published, and to him and Professor Jennifer Redfearn for their passionate mentoring of the students.”

“Split Jury” directors Unah and Terry said in a joint statement, “Distributing the film via L.A. Times helps us reach a broad audience and it’s important for people to understand that antiquated laws like the non-unanimous jury rule are still operating in the background of our legal system and, if they remain unchecked, will continue to disproportionately affect people and perpetuate inequitable treatment.”

Nani Sahra Walker 

This marks the third Berkeley Journalism documentary thesis film to be acquired by the L.A. Times through curator Nani Sahra Walker (‘18), who serves as senior commissioning producer. Skyler Glover and Goran Zaneti‘s film “innocence”, which follows a group of Black and Latina women activists in San Jose, California, as they drive a grassroots movement to remove police from their children’s schools, was one of five films to launch the series in 2022. And Ley Heimgartner and Cameron Nielsen‘s film “Washed Ashore,” about an international team of marine biologists investigating the mysterious and sudden die-off of the Pacific gray whale, was picked up by Short Docs last fall.

Redfearn credits Spingarn-Koff’’s advocacy in strengthening this relationship that she expects will lead to additional acquisition prospects for documentary film students.

Jason Spingarn-Koff

“There’s never been a more exciting time for making and distributing short documentaries, with premium outlets and international audiences hungry for great true stories,” Spingarn-Koff said. “It’s an honor to collaborate with the L.A.Times and we hope to create more opportunities like this for our exceptional students.”

Walker, who was a Student Academy Award finalist for her Berkeley Journalism documentary thesis project “Forced,” has played a key role in strengthening ties with the Times. “We are thrilled to announce a special series on L.A. Times Short Docs, presenting work from the UC Berkeley Documentary Program. As an alum of the school, I am especially delighted about this association, which aims to nurture documentary filmmakers and amplify diverse narratives.”

In addition to placing films at the L.A. Times, Jule Herrmann (‘24) is currently working as a summer intern there, and Williamena Kwapo (’22) interned there in 2022.

Short Docs can be viewed here.


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 late 1960s by veteran producer Andrew Stern and built upon by pioneering filmmaker, J-School alumnus and Professor Marlon T. Riggs.

Since then, award-winning filmmakers Jon Else, Orlando Bagwell, Dawn Porter, Carrie Lozano, Cassandra Herrman, Jennifer Redfearn 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 filmmaking craft, documentary at UC Berkeley emphasizes visual storytelling in a wide range of styles: investigative, historical, biographical, personal essay and cinéma vérité.


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