Online video consumption is soaring, especially among millennials. Scott Kelley, assistant vice president for Vincentian scholarship in the Office of Mission and Values, hopes to capitalize on these trends to deepen popular understanding of the Vincentian tradition.

"New media is a core strategy to introduce a contemporary audience to Vincentian heritage," Kelley says. Short social impact documentaries are the tool the department is using to engage audiences it does not typically reach, an effort undertaken as part of Vision 2018.

Mission and Values partnered with Project Bluelight, the College of Computing and Digital Media's professional production company, to film three mini-documentary projects showcasing the Daughters of Charity's work in Los Angeles.  The roughly 13-minute documentaries include "Angels with a Cause," which documents the largest privately funded Meals on Wheels program in country; "One Child at a Time," telling the story of a neonatal intensive-care unit serving poor and marginalized mothers; and "Casa de Amigos," a look into the Daughters' gang intervention and family development program.

"Angels" has already captured honors at the 2015 Spotlight Documentary Film Awards in Atlanta. That documentary and "One Child" are scheduled to be screened at several film festivals in the coming months, and "Amigos" is receiving final touches before it steps onto the festival circuit. The films are expected to be available for public viewing on the Mission and Values and CDM websites after they complete their festival runs in January 2017.

Six faculty and 13 students from the School of Cinematic Arts made the documentaries between 2012 and 2015. "We hope students and faculty cultivate an interest in telling the Vincentian story, its social ethos and impact," Kelley says.

The timing is perfect because CDM is launching an MFA in Documentary in fall 2016.  Anuradha Rana, professional lecturer of cinema production in SCA who designed the new program, says, "Documentary has historically been the social-justice arm of cinema." She expects the documentary initiative will enable students to galvanize the genre's power to catalyze social change.

"We turn to our phones, tablets and social media accounts to fill in spaces of time we find ourselves with while we ride on trains, wait for appointments or otherwise need a quick break from stressful work," she observes. "Mini-documentaries can fill these spaces with meaningful information about Vincentian works and open their audiences up to considering something they may not have already on their lives' radar.

"JoAnne Zielinski is associate dean of the SCA and produced two of the documentaries. "Social justice is inherent to documentary filmmaking, and the Vincentian emphasis on ethics is central to the curriculum for the MFA in Documentary," she says. "Traditionally, documentary films shed light on marginalized people and issues, creating dialogue within the communities."

Students who participated in the project committed to a three-course series to create the films.  Charlotte Pence was a freshman when she signed on to the documentaries.

"We, as filmmakers, have an immense responsibility to highlight issues in the world as well as groups that are helping to eliminate these issues," she believes. "The Daughters of Charity are one of these groups, and it was an honor to be able to share their story." 

Daniel Martinez was a sophomore when he committed. "You can watch all the documentaries in the world and read an abundance of literature on the subject to prepare yourself, but at the end of the day, actually living it--experiencing the joy of helping others and being able to capture authentic emotions with the camera--is absolutely beautiful."

SCA director Gary Novak, who directed two of the documentaries, says, "Watching these films, viewers see individuals working to improve the lives of the people around them.  Hopefully, the viewers will ask themselves, 'If the people in these films can do it, why can't I?' This doesn't just apply to the viewer but to filmmakers as well.  I hope through these films our students realize that documentary films can have a positive impact on the world and be a vehicle for change."

School of Cinematic Arts students and faculty made three mini-documentaries showcasing the work of the Daughters of Charity in Los Angeles. Bottom row from left are Craig Erpelding and Daniel Martinez. Top row from left are Amanda Dunnal, Elizabeth Chitjin, Ashley Nicolette, Troy Gould, Michael Cappuccilli, Val Flores, Charlotte Pence and Micha Hiessboeck. (Photo provided by the School of Cinematic Arts.)