Public Affairs, The California State University

Student Films Leading Social Change

By Stephanie Thara

Students filming CSU students and graduates have created hundreds of films that document social issues and embed a message of the need for reform. With the help of professionally active faculty and facilities filled with state-of-the-art equipment, students are able to make productions that promote social change.

CSU film and cinema programs provide students with the opportunities to work with award-winning documentarians, allowing up-and-coming filmmakers to learn the skills needed to make an effective documentary.

The CSU maintains numerous film institutions and studios that introduce students to various learning opportunities to become proficient in filmmaking, screenwriting, television production, videography and other technical skills.

The Documentary Film Institute (DocFilm) at San Francisco State involves students in the production of independent documentary films and the sponsorship of film festivals and conferences.

“The Film Institute is really about integrating into the departments within the university and involving students,” said Daniel Bernardi, director of DocFilm and chair of SFSU’s film department. “We bring in highly-accomplished filmmakers who involve students in every film we create.”

At DocFilm, students receive feedback on their documentaries from professional filmmakers, gain connections and internships through the advisory board, get help in obtaining grants for their films, and participate in master classes where students work one-on-one with award-winning filmmakers and receive class credit.

Faculty member showing students a camera in a studio. Similarly, the Cal State L.A. Film Studios hosts innovative faculty who bring a wealth of real-world industry knowledge to the classroom and allow students to utilize digital 3-camera studios, soundstages and high-definition digital postproduction equipment.

San Diego State’s School of Theatre, Television, and Film encourages students to obtain international experience before graduation to gain a better understanding of other cultures, creating a solid foundation for becoming an effective documentarian. For example, SDSU student Nadir Bouhmouch collaborated with Moroccan activists, feminists and filmmakers to make a documentary film that explores women’s rights and the repercussions of sexual violence in Morocco. Two recent graduates also won regional Emmy awards for their films:

  • Iris Caffin documents an eight-year-old girl diagnosed with autism whose life is turned around when she is matched with an autism service dog
  • Pat Clark documents the dangers faced by combat translators and the role language plays in war.

Also, CSU Northridge’s Department of Cinema and Television Arts gave Tara Lucia Prades the opportunity to travel to Thailand to film her culminating project. She took a team of eight CSUN students to be her production crew and tapped into Thailand’s local film industry to document the life of a young rose seller in the red-light district of Bangkok.