Video feature: 'Social Issue Filmmaking at Princeton University'

May 16, 2011 noon
Social Issue Filmmaking index

Emily Abt, a lecturer in the University Center for Human Values, leads the course "Social Issue Filmmaking," in which she challenges Princeton students to make documentaries about social issues that are of interest to them. Abt believes that the best way for students to learn how to make films is through hands-on experience.

Photo by Nick Barberio

Video stills courtesy of Jack Thornton

Video stills courtesy of Savannah Hankinson

Video stills courtesy of Lisa Carmona

This spring Princeton students got hands-on filmmaking experience with Emily Abt, a lecturer in the University Center for Human Values, and her course, "Social Issue Filmmaking." This video feature about the course includes excerpts from three students' original work.

Because Abt is an award-winning filmmaker, has her own Brooklyn-based production company called Pureland Pictures, and currently is doing projects for clients such as the Sundance Channel and PBS, she has insights and contacts that have created extraordinary access to the film industry for the students.

"I think it's really interesting seeing the ins and outs of making movies -- the things you can't really learn just by reading a book," said junior Jamie Ding.

Ding edited the short film "Out of Sight," which along with two other films from the course, "Clear the Slate" and "Tony," can be viewed on the Princeton Campus Life channel on YouTube.

Over the 12-week course, students have been offered an opportunity to critically examine a selection of documentary and narrative films, and learn the essential aspects of social issue filmmaking. In addition, the students -- who come from disciplines ranging from molecular biology to visual arts -- each have taken a role in shooting, directing, producing and editing. The students worked in teams to create mini-documentaries for their midterm projects, focusing on topics that emerged from the diverse interests of the students, such as transgender issues, the environment and the wrongly accused in the American prison system.

Sophomore Shikha Uberoi, a student in the class, said, "I do want to make documentaries. I am planning on going this summer to India to film. I wasn't planning on editing myself or even shooting [originally]. … I was just planning on being the journalist, but … I do have a spark of confidence now due to this class."

Sophomore Jack Thornton, another budding filmmaker and the director of "Out of Sight," said of the course, "This fed very well into my real-life experience and helped me this semester as I was working on my own projects, so I definitely got a lot out of it."