The Certificate in Documentary Studies program attracts undergraduates to the Center for Documentary Studies from across the arts and sciences. Under the guidance of Nancy Kalow, Chris Sims, and Alex Harris, twelve seniors in the Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 Documentary Capstone Seminars completed a final project as the culmination of their documentary studies classes—ten from Duke University and two from the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.
On April 30, the twelve graduating seniors will present their final projects to the public and receive their certificates, followed by a celebration that includes the opening of an exhibition of their work. Beyond the Front Porch 2017 will be on view in the University and Porch Galleries at the Center for Documentary Studies from April 30, 2017, through November 11, 2017.
The twelve students in the Class of 2017 who will graduate with a Certificate in Documentary Studies describe themselves and their work:
Peachtree City, Georgia | Global Health; International Comparative Studies
My parents exposed me at a young age to the creative uses of photography; my father took the photos, and my mom used his pictures to tell our family’s story through scrapbooking. As a creative person, I always knew I wanted to pursue the art of photography in order to tell stories. My first documentary studies class at Duke, “The U.S. / Mexico Border” with Charlie Thompson, taught me the power of storytelling through images and film, and the Certificate in Documentary Studies program became an obvious choice for me to continue learning and creating. For my capstone project, I chose to explore the world of competitive cycling, one of the major communities that I have belonged to during my time at Duke. I look at the connection of cycling to my childhood and adolescence while telling a story about the sport of collegiate cycling and the people who are part of it. Through my work, I hope to share with others both the sport itself as well as the feelings of community and belonging that come along with it.
Matthews, North Carolina | Biology; Global Health
My classes at the Center for Documentary Studies have transformed my relationship with photography from a high school hobby to a full-blown obsession. My interest in documentary studies stems from a desire to be useful and to find meaning in even the most commonplace events. These past four years have equipped me to use not only photography, but other media as well, to tell a compelling story. The Certificate in Documentary Studies program has paired well with my majors, global health and biology, which together stress the importance of a holistic approach when considering any problem or story, big or small. My capstone project has departed somewhat from photography to dive into the use of GIFs for documentary and visual storytelling. Having lived in the American South my entire life, I wanted to shine a light on this region that is so close to my heart. Through GIFs, whose repetition provides an interesting commentary no matter the subject, my capstone project explores southern food and culture. Capturing the southern food experience involved partnering with and filming at local restaurants, breweries, and distilleries, in addition to spending quality time with my own family and friends.
New York, New York | Psychology
For as long as I can remember, I have been passionate about storytelling. As a little girl, I would play dress up and make up stories that I would then perform for an audience. In high school I began to share other people’s stories through photography. Now, as a senior at Duke, I have channeled my love of storytelling into the form of documentary film. Along the way, my exposure to different people, professors, and courses at Duke has opened my eyes in ways I couldn’t have ever imagined. With my mentor, Professor John Blackshear, I have worked on understanding the ways in which the media affects high profile murder trials. I watched many documentaries during the process, which inspired me to make one of my own. I Thank the Lord for That tells the story of Frankie Washington, a black man from Durham who was sent to prison for a crime he did not commit. I hope this piece will help raise awareness about the issues surrounding wrongful conviction and help to change his life as he battles the state for compensation.
Phoenix, Arizona | Political Science
I have always had a passion for the arts and storytelling, but it was only at the Center for Documentary Studies that I really learned how to use my skills to create engaging works. My classes at CDS have allowed me to grow as a filmmaker and photographer, and I leave Duke ready to continue my growth as an artist through these and other pursuits. During my time here, I became interested in issues related to educational inequality both locally and nationally. My capstone project documents four schools in historically African American Durham neighborhoods that have been forced to shut down for various reasons. Using a combination of video stills overlaid with audio, I examine the process that administrators must take to close a school in North Carolina and explore what happens to the buildings after students depart. In telling this story, I hope to draw attention to educational disparities within Durham and to underscore how race, class, and history must be integral considerations in the process of educational reform. I believe that through exposure and storytelling, more equitable outcomes can be created for all students in the future.
Manhattan Beach, California, and Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina | Psychology; Environmental Science (minor)
Nothing delights me more than losing myself in someone else’s story—sitting quietly across from others, mesmerized by their words, listening in order to understand who they are and how their experiences have shaped them. I love watching people—our eyes, the way our lips curl into barely distinguishable smiles as we travel back to a moment, the way we play with our hands and pause periodically to gather our thoughts before continuing. This capstone project has given me the opportunity to do what I love and enjoy these mesmerizing moments of listening to stories and connecting with people in our final weeks as seniors at Duke. My capstone project is an exploration of place-based memories to create a meaningful Portrait of Duke, as told through seniors’ reflections on the specific locations across campus where they experienced both their highest and lowest moments here. Through the project, I hope to give seniors an opportunity to pause and reflect on their time at Duke, as well as to give everyone an opportunity to reflect on the featured stories and hopefully, their own experiences too.
Valley Mills, Texas | English
Early in life, I became obsessed with storytelling. I read copiously from elementary school through high school, and soon decided that if I could write and work in book production for the rest of my life, I would live contentedly. Coming to Duke, I intended to double major in English and history, but would soon change my mind. As a naïve, dewy-eyed freshman, I thought I could take three English courses simultaneously; however, my advisor suggested otherwise. Knowing about my interest in photography, he suggested the introductory course for the Certificate in Documentary Studies. I soon realized that documentary studies combined my passions for writing, storytelling, photography, and even social justice. I commenced my pursuit. Throughout my three years at Duke, documentary studies has been my outlet and escape. I have been able to take photography classes, a publishing course, a seminar focused on the politics of food production, accessibility, and consumption, and several other incredible courses. While home on medical leave following my sophomore year, I used documentary tools in my healing process, chronicling my recovery through journaling and photography. Now a junior English major and self-love believer, I am focusing my final project on representing my own recovery experience through black-and-white film photography. Through my images, I strive to represent internal sensations that are often difficult to explain and comprehend. My project aims to provoke viewers to see and understand mental illness and the recovery process.
Hendersonville, North Carolina | Southern Studies; Women’s and Gender Studies (UNC–Chapel Hill)
Growing up in a small western North Carolina town, I loved the drawl of folk storytellers. Today, I am a podcast junkie. I love the visual anonymity of audio storytelling, a form that for me is the most intimate and socially engaged type of documentary work. While working on interviews and audio production, I try to answer my own questions. My audio documentary on the sorority system at UNC, for instance, is based in my own questions on where I belong as a queer southern white woman. Even if I do not actually reach an answer, interviewing, audio editing, and documentary writing taps into something essential in my character. I would like to thank two especially formative Center for Documentary Studies professors, Tim Tyson and John Biewen, for teaching me how to write, rewrite, and document. My capstone piece for the Certificate in Documentary Studies is an extension of my previous documentary work on the UNC sorority system. This piece combines audio with signage to replicate my experiences participating in and documenting whiteness in top-tier sororities at UNC.
Doylestown, Pennsylvania | Environmental Sciences & Policy
Since my sophomore year at Duke, documentary studies has set free my creative side and given me an artistic outlet amid my environmental science and pre-med coursework, allowing me to express my love for music, film, history, and photography. Classes in documentary studies have challenged my notions of empathy and artistic license, and have allowed me to develop skills in areas such as film editing, audio editing, cinematography, and, most of all, storytelling. My capstone project represents the culmination of my work at the Center for Documentary Studies. I have collected oral histories from local folk musicians and created an audio project that expresses the personal and universal significance of folk music in North Carolina. Like all of my experiences at CDS, working on this project has introduced me to some extraordinary people and ideas that have revolutionized my way of thinking about the world around me.
Redwood City, California | International Comparative Studies
I came to CDS with an interest in photography, but I soon found that other kinds of storytelling, like film and audio, held my attention. In my four years at Duke, I have become increasingly interested in how “shared experience” can surmount visual, cultural, or linguistic barriers and how stories can make the notion of “other” seem completely meaningless, creating shared experiences even in the face of difference. My love of travel, food, languages, and history, as well as some of the more challenging aspects of our ever-globalizing world, have made storytelling that much more meaningful to me. My capstone project explores how music can make barriers fall away. The band I follow, Diali Cissokho and Kaira Ba, exemplifies how much can be gained when people from very different backgrounds come together to make something new–music that is nothing short of magical.
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania | Public Policy (UNC–Chapel Hill)
“Being young is a solemn business when you really care about someone.” Roger Ebert used these words to close his story on The Spectacular Now, one of the last films he reviewed before his passing. The film is about two eighteen-year-olds who fall in love. “We have gone through senior year with these two,” Ebert writes. “We have known them. We have been them.” Ebert’s tenderness seems saccharine, given the mainstays of young love in the twenty-first century: tangled limbs on dorm-room futons, week-old popcorn pressed into sweaty backs, averted eyes in the morning. We’re familiar with the “no-strings attached sexual opportunism of the hookup culture” that college students seem to have taken up, as Dan Jones, editor of the Modern Love column for the New York Times, describes it. For college-aged Americans outside of warmly lit romantic comedies, tweets seem to have replaced rain-soaked confessions, detachment the “solemn business” of caring. But, then again, maybe not. For my capstone thesis project, I interviewed twelve university students in New York City about their most intense experiences in love during college. The final product is an audio portrait of college romance—strained, confused, and hopeful. As a Robertson Scholar, I’ve been fortunate enough to pursue Duke’s Certificate in Documentary Studies while studying public policy at UNC–Chapel Hill. My classes at the Center for Documentary Studies—with Tom Rankin, Barbara Lau, Tim Tyson, Josh Gibson, Nancy Kalow, and Alex Harris—have been some the most rigorous, exciting classes I’ve taken in college. I plan to carry the lessons I learned at CDS, and in the field, far into the future, exploring the intersections of reality, art, and justice in whatever careers I choose.
Sharpsburg, Georgia | Visual & Media Studies
I came to Duke interested in statistical science. Enrolling in the Humanitarian Challenges FOCUS program during my first semester connected me to Center for Documentary Studies instructor Charlie Thompson. In his FOCUS course, “The U.S. / Mexico Border,” I produced my first documentary project, a short film, leading me to explore more documentary forms. I enrolled in four documentary studies courses in the fall of my sophomore year and participated in the Full Frame Fellows program that spring. At that point, I decided to drop statistics in order to devote myself fully to documentary film. My senior year capstone project at the Center for Documentary Studies is an experimental documentary film showcasing stories—and amazing visuals—from both active and abandoned North Carolina drive-in theaters. After Duke, I plan to continue working within the documentary and film genres.
Busan, Korea, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama | Political Science (Security, Peace, and Conflict concentration)
During summer session of my sophomore year, I took my first documentary film class. We watched one documentary per class, and I always left feeling I had gained a broader perspective and better understanding of the world. When we watched documentaries on social issues, I found myself feeling empathetic and angry at the same time. And like that, I learned the power of documentary stories. After further studies in feminism and storytelling, I applied to the Humanities Writ Large Documentary Summer Fellowship program so that I could follow my interest and passion and create my own film. My capstone documentary, Han (“resentment” in Korean), deals with the Korean “comfort women” issue and sexual slavery during World War II. For the film, I interviewed three social workers in different nonprofit organizations and a movie director. Throughout the process, I was greatly inspired by their passion and commitment to the cause. I also had a chance to work as a translator for an interview with a victim who was bitter at the lack of settlement progress and support from the current Korean government. With the new administration and people’s support, I hope that Korea and Japan can come up with a better resolution for the “comfort women” issue.