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MFA SocDoc Film Preview: 2020-2021 Thesis Showcases

Graduate works-in-progress will be screened this April and September

March 30, 2021 by Maeri Ferguson
Yijia Zeng's stylized and deeply personal essay film "Overseas"

MFA Social Documentary Film fourth-year student Yijia Zeng's on the set of her thesis project Overseas.

Credit: Yijia Zeng.

Ethiopian Orthodox priests, competitive rock-climbing zen monks, found letters from the first group of Chinese students in the United States. The common thread in these stories is they’re all part of thesis films by the 2021 graduating class of SVA’s MFA Social Documentary Film program. Below is a sneak peek at some of the great films you'll see at the department's 11th Annual SocDoc Thesis Showcase online September 16-18.


In the meantime, the class of 2020 will be screening their thesis films online April 1-4. Meant to be in-person last fall, this postponed 2020 showcase features the work of 13 filmmakers with live Q&As throughout. For more on MFA Social Documentary Film's 10th Annual SocDoc Thesis Showcase, click here, and check out the trailer for the event in the Vimeo clip at the bottom.


2021 Showcase Highlights

Lisa Durden’s My Brother: The Ethiopian Orthodox Priest is a quiet meditation about this ancient 2000-year-old religion. It shows us the spiritual awakening of a man, the filmmaker’s brother Kenneth Durden, whose complex journey to the priesthood unfolds as he rises to prominence to become Kesis Amdetsion, a respected priest and leader in this sacred church. The stakes are high as the future of his legacy hangs in the balance.

Alice Chen’s still-untitled film tells us the story of competitive zen monks in China, who scale dangerous rock formations to carry blessings for others. Visitors to the monks pay to have their prayers (in the form of the incense) taken to a special spot in the mountains in this highly visual piece. Chen has been filming remotely in China all year, immersed in the world of three monks, who are also Chinese KungFu experts, and who make this harrowing, dangerous journey to the narrow ridge of a rocky mountain thousands of times a year.


How to calm anxiety and dance during COVID-19 pandemic, directed by Yu Jiang, follows a group of people who have turned to dance—specifically in public—to get through the COVID-19 pandemic. In a more profound sense, it shows the ways spreading love and joy amidst a challenging time is the most impactful way to support each other.


And lastly, Yijia Zeng’s stylized and deeply personal essay film Overseas introduces us to a Chinese student stuck in the United States when the COVID-19 pandemic hits, facing hate crimes and political pressure. By chance, Zeng found letters written by the first group of Chinese students in the U.S. in the 1870s, ultimately leading her to a fascinating parallel between these two experiences. 


Stay tuned for more information on the 2021 showcase as we get closer to the start of the fall semester.


SVA SocDoc 10th Annual Thesis Showcase Trailer

School of Visual Arts (SVA) and MFA Social Documentary Film (SocDoc) present the “10th Annual Thesis Showcase,” a screening series of the documentary work-in-progress thesis films of the class of 2020, which graduated last May. Screenings will take place entirely online from Thursday, April 1, through Sunday, April 4. Showcase Trailer edited by Caroline Berler (SocDoc class of 2017)