CDS Instructor Spotlight: Yasaman Baghban

Yasaman Baghban seated on her desk, surrounded by images pinned to the walls.
Yasaman Baghban

Yasaman Baghban is an Iranian-born experimental and documentary filmmaker who received her MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts (EDA) from Duke last year. She was recently selected to join the Center for Documentary Studies as a part-time instructor in Spring 2024.

Current MFA student Andie Z Chen asked Baghban a few questions about her course, Capstone Seminar in Documentary Studies, and her creative work.

How are you approaching your class at CDS? What will your students do?

I started with a questionnaire for the students. This asked about their skills, background and any documentary-related courses they’ve taken. I request that they bring three ideas to class, which allows them to further develop their projects. Based on their expectations, I include various items in the syllabus to enhance their understanding of documentary concepts in films, photography and other mediums like podcasts. 

Additionally, I invite guest speakers. For instance, to discuss the relationship between documentary and performance art, I invited an MFA in Dance alumna from Duke. Since this is a capstone seminar, and students’ projects vary in mediums, I cover documentary concepts from different aspects with examples from various mediums.

I learned that we’ve interviewed the same person, a local immigrant from Myanmar. How did her story contribute to your thesis? 

My thesis film is a multilayered experimental documentary focusing on heterotopia, immigration and women’s rights. I’m also working on a project about a Myanmar refugee living in Durham. Both films highlight the theme of women’s rights, with a particular focus on the control exerted over their bodies by others, be it through government, ideological or religious rules. This common theme underscores my exploration of these issues in different contexts.

Which electives did you take at Duke while you completed your MFA? 

I took an elective from the Program in Literature on special topics, titled “First Nature Second Nature,” which helped me develop my theoretical ideas. As most of my courses were in production, I needed to strengthen my theoretical understanding. Additionally, I pursued an independent study to learn more about installation and expanded cinema. 

How did your project on living in the U.S. South start? 

Before moving to Durham, I was unfamiliar with southern culture in the U.S. I applied to the MFA EDA program for its courses and documentary focus. However, after spending a month here, I experienced culture shock. Gradually, I realized how fortunate I was to start my life in the U.S. South, a region rich with history and stories, particularly related to human rights.

You also work with the Franklin Humanities Center at Duke. What does that involve? 

At the Franklin Humanities Center, my role as a multimedia intern involves event photography, graphic design, and recording and editing videos for various segments of FHI. I’m always eager to take on new challenges and learn more in this role.

Learn more about Yasaman Baghban and other new instructors in the Center for Documentary Studies’ undergraduate education program.