The Documentary bachelor’s degree at Columbia College Chicago explores the diverse and innovative ways we collectively craft truth in story, image, text, and sound. As a Documentary major, you’ll be at the forefront of this multimedia practice.
With curricula and award-winning faculty members from Columbia’s cinema, creative writing, journalism, photography, radio, and television programs, you’ll gain a comprehensive education in all forms of nonfiction storytelling. In addition to the technical skills needed to work in these diverse disciplines, you’ll develop an overarching sense of documentary style. As a Documentary major, you’ll have the chance to create compelling nonfiction narratives in video, audio, journalism, and photography. You’ll also work in new formats like AR/VR, 360 video, and interactive documentary.
After graduation, you’ll have a portfolio that spans disciplines and media formats. Your portfolio may land you jobs with documentary production and postproduction companies or may launch your career as an independent documentary filmmaker.
In the Classroom
What to expect your first year
The courses you’ll take reflect the flexible and interdisciplinary nature of the program. You’ll take classes like Introduction to Documentary, Foundations of Photography, Introduction to Journalism, or Creative Nonfiction Workshop to enhance your storytelling techniques in various mediums. In Documentary Production Module I and II, you’ll go into the field and begin creating. In your first year, you’ll learn camera techniques along with interviewing and sound recording techniques. You don’t have to wait until your last year to create a documentary. Our students begin shooting as early as possible so that they can test ideas, practice techniques, and grow professionally.
What to expect your last year
After taking classes on methods and concepts in each discipline, you’ll concentrate on two disciplines. In advanced electives like Web Design for Storytelling, Writing for Radio, or Documentary Cinematography, you’ll develop intermediate and advanced skills in your concentration.
Your capstone class, called Documentary Arts Laboratory, ties together all your work in a high-level, research-intensive, nonfiction project. You’ll collaborate with your peers to create pieces that you can highlight in your professional portfolio when you go on the job market.
Student Organizations and Opportunities
Chicago is a thriving center of documentary filmmaking, and we encourage our students to take advantage of the internship opportunities at local production companies.
Our students have interned at companies like Kartemquin Films, Kindling Group, Media Process Group, Siskel/Jacobs Productions, Green River Films, Scrappers Film Group, Tremolo Productions, Yellowing Productions, 371 Productions, WTTW-Chicago, Groundswell Films, Montrose Pictures, and Ruthless Films.
Learn more about how Columbia’s Career Center can help you find the right internship.
Columbia alumni practice documentary techniques in a variety of fields from podcasts to films. Here is a small sample of alumni success stories that demonstrate our commitment to documentary:
- Caryn Capotosto’99 is a documentary filmmaker and producer at Tremolo Productions whose credits include Won’t You Be My Neighbor and 20 Feet from Stardom.
- John Fecile’11 is a journalist and filmmaker who has produced and reported stories for WNYC’s Snap Judgement, Radiotopia’s 99% Invisible, and Love + Radio.
- Alaana Saad’18 is an assistant production coordinator at Tremolo Productions.
- Alex Wroblewski’16 is a photojournalist based in Washington, D.C. His clients include the New York Times, Getty Images, Bloomberg News, and Thomson Reuters. During his time at Columbia, Wroblewski was named the 2016 Student Still Photographer of the Year by the White House News Photographers Association.
Creative Spaces and Facilities
Columbia College Chicago offers a variety of spaces and industry-standard software and equipment to help you complete your documentary projects in whatever medium you choose. In addition to the facilities available to all the cinema and photography students, Documentary students have access to their own set of equipment for documentary projects.
In the News
Our faculty members are award-winning writers, photographers, filmmakers, and storytellers with deep connections to the local and national documentary industries.
- David Berner, Associate Professor, Communication
- Dawoud Bey, Professor, Photography
- Michael Caplan, Associate Professor, Cinema and Television Arts
- Paul D’Amato, Professor, Photography
- Ted Hardin, Associate Professor, Cinema and Television Arts
- Ruth Leitman, Associate Professor, Cinema and Television Arts; Documentary program coordinator
- Joe Meno, Professor, English and Creative Writing
- Eric Scholl, Associate Professor, Cinema and Television Arts
- Dan Rybicky, Associate Professor, Cinema and Television Arts
- Jackie Spinner, Associate Professor, Communication
- Jeff Spitz, Associate Professor, Cinema and Television Arts