Students Screen Original Documentaries

From breastfeeding to undocumented workers, Harvard students tackled a wide range of subjects in five short documentary films showcased at Doc Festival 2012, the inaugural film festival hosted by the Harvard Law Documentary Studio on Saturday.

The films were created in the last year by students at the Law School, the Kennedy School, the Divinity School, and the College, with assistance from HLDOCS.

The festival was “a really well-deserved celebration of student work,” said Rebecca Richman Cohen, a documentary filmmaker and lecturer at the Law School who serves as a faculty adviser for HLDOCS. “Everyone involved in the organization, all the filmmakers, the board members, everyone who worked on a project, gave a whole lot of time and emotional investment,” she continued.

Five films were shown at the festival: “Naranjeros,” about undocumented citrus workers; “Staking Ground,” about a drag queen and a lesbian minister; “The Reservation,” about Native Americans of the Navajo Nation; “Transgression,” about a transgender woman’s harsh treatment in the U.S. immigration system; and “Milk,” about breastfeeding.

HLDOCS President and second year law student Victor D. Ban ’04 said that the festival was an opportunity for students to share their work with the broader community. “The festival itself is really meant as just a celebration of the student work that has come together over the last year,” he said.

But Ban also noted that the festival is not meant to be “the end of the process.” While it is “a great celebration, a recognition of [the filmmakers’] efforts for the year,” some of the filmmakers plan to expand on their work in the future. “[It is] certainly not the end and not necessarily the focus of what we’re doing,” Ban said.

Elizabeth B. Nguyen, a student at the Divinity School who is featured in “Staking Ground,” said that “in some way, being here together and watching it and then talking about it feels like the project continues.”

Ban founded HLDOCS last year after he discovered that he was not alone in his desire to pursue documentary filmmaking outside of the classroom. Though HLDOCS is based at the Law School, it welcomes members from across the University.

“There’s a demand for resources and support,” said Ban. According to Ban, the organization provides members with production equipment, a unique outlet for extracurricular documentary filmmaking, and improved access to potential documentary subjects.

Alexandra I. Gliga, a first year law student, said that HLDOCS has provided her with a place to screen raw footage, a forum for receiving feedback and critique, and “a community of people to talk to.”

Gliga said that she plans to expand her film, “Milk,” over the summer and will travel to Romania and London to shoot additional footage.

Though filmmaking may not appear to be directly related to legal studies, Cohen said that documentary filmmaking can benefit soon-to-be lawyers. By participating in some part of the filmmaking process, law students can develop skills that will help them manage new media campaigns and will give them a way “to tell a story through means other than...typing or print.”

The festival received support from Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz PC, a New York-based entertainment law firm.

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