Documentary Journalists on the Front Line

“In this golden age of documentary filmmaking, documentary films now dominate the narrative landscape on television and online bringing in millions of viewers.”

In our modern age of vanishing journalism outlets, documentary filmmakers are filling the void by doing the investigative journalism traditionally done by print reporters and photojournalists. In this golden age of documentary filmmaking, documentary films now dominate the narrative landscape on television and online bringing in millions of viewers. Documentaries are the centerpiece of programming on major outlets like HBO, CNN, The Discovery Channel, National Geographic, Showtime, PBS and Al Jazeera America/Al Jazeera English as well as network television, online outlets like The New York Times and digital outlets like Netflix and Amazon. CNN Films, HBO Documentaries and The New York Times Op Docs have premiered cutting-edge documentaries that reach large audiences.

Documentary journalists are using this popular medium of documentary to enrich viewers and better our world by exposing corruption, protecting human rights and saving cultural heritage through the following examples: E Team (2014), Citizen Four (2014), Depth of Field (2015), Virunga (2014) and Saving Mes Aynak (2015). These documentary films distill complex issues by telling insider character-based emotional stories. These films have wide-ranging positive impact on audiences around the globe, on policy and on the subjects of the films themselves.

Brent E. Huffman was a Featured Speaker at The Asian Conference on Media & Mass Communication 2015 (MediAsia2015) in Kobe, Japan. Professor Huffman was also the recipient of the IAFOR Documentary Film Award & Festival 2015's (IDFA2015) Honorary Award for his work in Afghanistan and the documentary Saving Mes Aynak.

Assistant Professor Brent E. Huffman*

Brent E. Huffman is an assistant professor of journalism at Medill as well as a working documentary filmmaker and director of long-form television programs. At Medill, Huffman teaches documentary theory and production as well as long-form video storytelling on the undergraduate and graduate levels. He also advises on local and international documentary and long-form video projects. He specialises in international documentary filmmaking in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Recently, he has been examining China’s international presence in Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is passionate about international issues involving human rights and social justice.

Huffman has directed, produced, written, shot and edited documentaries and long-form videos for a variety of outlets including The New York Times, The National Geographic Channel, The Discovery Channel, CNN, TIME, PBS, Al Jazeera and The China Exploration and Research Society. His written work has appeared in online and print outlets like CNN, The New York Times, The Asia Society, Tricycle Magazine, The University of Chicago’s Divinity School, Salon, The Wilson Quarterly, PBS Arts, FRONTLINE and The China Digital Times. He has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley.

Huffman aims to inspire students to create documentary films and videos that push the boundaries of the medium and tell emotionally engaging stories to wide audiences. His students work outside their comfort zone to tell often ignored stories about life in Chicago and around the world. Documentaries made in his classes have gone on to win major industry awards such as Chicago College Emmys, Illinois Press Association Awards, as well as being featured in film festivals and online.

Huffman has been making documentaries examining life within China and China’s recent push into Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Saving Mes Aynak, his recent documentary, is about an ancient archaeological site in Afghanistan threatened by a Chinese state-owned copper mine. The film was awarded a $100,000 MacArthur Grant in 2013. Outreach and distribution are being handled by Kartemquin Films, producers of Hoop Dreams and The Interrupters. Huffman has been interviewed on dozens of domestic and international outlets about this issue including a live interview from Mes Aynak on CNN International. He made a short documentary for The New York Times’ prestigious Op-Docs program called A Chinese Threat to Afghan Buddhas that was featured on the front page of both the domestic and Chinese version of The New York Times. The feature-length documentary Saving Mes Aynak will premiere at IDFA in Amsterdam in 2014, the largest documentary film festival in the world. Huffman is currently making a documentary examining China’s presence in Pakistan.

Huffman’s films and videos have gone on to win numerous awards including a Primetime Emmy, Best Conservation Film-Jackson Hole, Best Documentary-Fresno, three Cine Golden Eagle Awards, a National College Emmy, a Student Academy Award and a Grand Jury Award at American Film Institute’s SILVERDOCS.

*Note: Since this article was published in 2016, Professor Huffman has received tenure at Medill. His current biography can be found here. (added 30/05/2019)

Posted by IAFOR