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Credit: Edited by Aom Prapaporm Pinyopusarerk (MFA 2016 SocDoc)
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SocDoc seeks curious and passionate storytellers to share diverse experiences and explore the complex subject matter which illuminates the world around us through documentary filmmaking.
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Maro Chermayeff
Department Founder, Chair

MFA Social Documentary Film is a hands-on program where you can hone your skills and find your voice — not just technologically, but artistically, socially and critically.

Documentary film has changed dramatically over the years, evolving into a fully realized art form with tens of millions of engaged viewers worldwide. Growing audiences watch nonfiction on television and streaming platforms, in theaters and at festivals. This medium provides fresh global perspectives inspired by the stories of change-makers, artists and everyday people. These films delve into our history, explore the immediacy of our present and inspire action, allowing us to discover distant regions and our own communities with a fresh eye.

Located in the heart of New York City, MFA ‘SocDoc’ is an active part of the most thriving documentary film community in the world. Students work directly with accomplished filmmakers — who are faculty, mentors, collaborators and guests — and benefit from their expertise.

As evolutions in technology make filmmaking easier, more content competes for the opportunity to be seen. With this reality, it becomes vital to have the skillset and cultivated talent to create a film that stands out. Those with true fluency in the medium — and a network of like-minded filmmakers and mentors — have a crucial advantage.

MFA candidates make many films throughout their time in the program; each is an opportunity for experimentation and to define their vision and style with support, guidance and analysis. The students are introduced to the industry at large through an unparalleled faculty of active, award-winning filmmakers at the height of their careers, as well as through guest speakers, internships, film festivals, screenings and other events. The department works to foster a direct line into the production community that will be students′ best network after graduation.

To date, SocDoc alumni have made an impressive impact. Their films have received more than a million dollars in production funding and support from essential film organizations including Sundance Institute, ITVS, Frameline, Center for Asian American Media, IDFA BERTHA Fund, Chicken and Egg Pictures, BAFTA New Filmmakers and more. They have won Emmys, a Student Academy Award and received many nominations. Alumni work, both feature length and short films, has been streamed, broadcast and received theatrical release across the U.S., as well as in Thailand, Russia, Germany and Japan; and played in top festivals and film markets around the world including Sundance, Tribeca, Berlin, IDFA, SXSW, Full Frame, Hot Docs, Fresh Pitch China, Doc Buenos Aires, Gotham Week and DOC NYC — where a recent thesis film took the Grand Jury Prize.

Why We Stand Out:
  • A unique, hands-on curriculum designed specifically by renowned documentary filmmakers for our MFA candidates to attain artistic and technical fluency.

  • Final Thesis Showcase screenings present student work to a public audience, including industry mentors and guests tracking new work.

  • An engaged alumni community working in the industry and mentoring enrolled students. Alumni also receive long-term creative and technical support from faculty and staff.

Student Work

More About the Department

Student filmmakers in an outdoor location filming schoolwork.
Credit: Erik Spink

SVA’s MFA program in Social Documentary Film provides a solid foundation in the fundamentals of nonfiction filmmaking production, including distribution and audience engagement, and an immersion into the critical and analytical process necessary to develop significant, socially relevant films. This program represents the convergence of the art of filmmaking, journalistic research and social activism.

Our program is open to qualified students from varying backgrounds — prior filmmaking experience is encouraged, but not required. Ultimately, we are looking for passionate, insightful individuals who recognize the potential of a great story and are eager to learn how to share these stories through documentary film.

Students receive 24/7 access to department facilities throughout their time in the program, including AVID edit suites, up-to-date professional camera and sound equipment and SocDoc’s exclusive department theater.

The first year’s core curriculum is devoted to exploring the history and future of the art of documentary film, while mastering the tools and techniques needed to tell compelling stories. Each student will complete five to seven documentary short films, in addition to other class assignments.

During the second year, students focus on their thesis films, and courses are designed to support them in their productions. Each student directs their own thesis film, primarily filmed in the summer between first and second year, and serves as a key production crew member on at least one other thesis project. Thesis projects must be reviewed and approved by the department chair and thesis committee in order for the student to be eligible for degree conferral.

Degree candidates must successfully complete 60 credits, including all required courses, with a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.0. A residency of two academic years is required.


The MFA Social Documentary Film department offers top-of-the-line professional grade equipment, including the latest 4K video cameras, lighting and sound recorders, to all students in the program. There is a 2:1 (or better) student to camera ratio, and students are lent a camera package for thesis production, wherever in the world that takes them. The department houses state-of-the-art editing suites with color-calibrated monitors and professional sound, as well as a voiceover booth, allowing for a film’s completion through the post-production process.

  • Production Equipment

  • Editing Suites

  • SocDoc Theater

Guest Lecturers

Below is just a sample of the filmmakers and film industry who have spoken with SocDoc students.

  • Film Industry

  • Filmmakers