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Behind the camera by Nancy Kolsti

Read more about some of the current and former students of UNT's M.F.A. program in documentary film.

Leah Bell ('03, '06 M.F.A.)

The 1976 film Harlan County, U.S.A, about a coal miners' strike in Kentucky, had a profound influence on Leah Bell, who saw the film as a UNT undergraduate. She wanted to do what its director had done — educate people and address social issues through film.

Her final film as a UNT graduate student, Access Denied, is about sculptor Eric McGehearty ('04 M.F.A.), who incorporates his experiences with dyslexia into his art. In addition to having McGehearty explain his disability in the documentary, Bell incorporated experimental elements so viewers could "see the world through the eyes of those with dyslexia."

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Access Denied

Access Denied is about sculptor Eric McGehearty ('04 M.F.A.), who incorporates his experiences with dyslexia into his art.

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Jami Clayman

As a youngster Jami Clayman enjoyed the creativity of shooting photos and always had her camera with her. While a student at Houston Baptist University, she took a course in television news broadcasting and learned she loved the process of telling a story through film. In UNT's documentary film program she found an environment that encouraged creativity in storytelling.

"It takes time to develop a story in documentary film, but if you have a compelling subject, the film often creates itself," she says.

Since last summer, Clayman has balanced her work for the M.F.A. program with her full-time job as a producer and writer for Simply Beautiful, a series for Veria, a new high definition TV station.

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Simply Beautiful

Simply Beautiful is a 26-episode high definition television show that explores the world of natural beauty and fashion.

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Nefin Dinc ('05 M.F.A.)

Nefin Dinc spent more than 10 years working in the media in her native country of Turkey, making TV commercials and a feature film. In 1999 she was commissioned to direct a documentary that followed a tour of museum artifacts from Turkey's War of Independence. After the film was named the Best Documentary for 2000 by the Turkish Journalists' Association, Dinc knew she would rather create films than commercials.

Her thesis film for the M.F.A. program, I Named Her Angel, follows a 12-year-old Turkish girl who is learning the religion of Mevlevism, which was founded by Mevlana, or Rumi in the Western world. In addition to learning Rumi's teachings, the girl is shown training in the art of "Sema," or whirling.

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I Named Her Angel

I Named Her Angel, follows a Turkish girl who is learning the religion of the Mevlevis, known to most of the world as Whirling Dervishes.

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Mika Ferris ('07 M.F.A.)

After receiving his bachelor's degree in film studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara, Mika Ferris worked as a freelance camera operator on film crews for nine years. But he kept remembering an undergraduate course he had taken in documentary film and a professor who had produced documentaries.

"I like what the medium allows you to do, and I like smaller production crews," says Ferris.

Bramblitt, a film he created as a student, has received numerous awards. Ferris created the film after reading a newspaper story about John Bramblitt, who became blind in 2001 and began painting a few years later, though he'd never taken an art class.

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Bramblitt tells the story of UNT English major John Bramblitt and the technique he developed to paint after losing his sight.

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Danny Greer

Danny Greer thought he would be going to law school after he graduated with a bachelor's degree from Austin College in Sherman.

But after spending a semester in Washington, D.C., interning for Ventana Productions — which produced a Discovery Channel series — he swapped his law school applications for an application to UNT's program in documentary film.

His first film, Ghost Town, chronicles the ghost stories that surround the East Texas town of Jefferson. He is currently directing a documentary about a curling club in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

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Tania Khalaf

Tania Khalaf thought her trip back to her hometown of Beirut, Lebanon, last summer would be an uneventful working vacation with her family. She planned to start shooting footage for a documentary about Lebanon's homeless children to be her thesis film for UNT's program in documentary film.

Her plans changed when war erupted between Israeli forces and Shiite Lebanese Hezbollah forces in July. The war brought back vivid memories for Khalaf of growing up in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War.

She decided to switch the subject of her film to how growing up in a war zone influenced her life. She titled the new film Born in Beirut.

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Born in Beirut

Born in Beirut tells the personal story of how growing up in a war zone influenced the filmmaker's life.

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James K. Lambert ('05 M.F.A.)

As a student in UNT's program in documentary film, James K. Lambert interned with Deep Ellum Pictures in Dallas — and got to work on a film that received a Special Jury Award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.

While an intern, Lambert began screening footage for the documentary TV Junkie, which follows a television reporter for Inside Edition who is addicted to crack.

From That Moment On, Lambert's second-year film in the M.F.A. program, tracks the history of Dallas' Dealey Plaza, where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Lambert interviewed visitors to the plaza; staff members of the adjacent Sixth Floor Museum; the president and chair of Belo Corp., whose great-grandfather was George Bannerman Dealey; and UNT Chancellor Lee Jackson, a former Dallas County judge.

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From That Moment On

From That Moment On features President John F. Kennedy's assassination site in downtown Dallas.

TV Junkie

TV Junkie follows a television reporter who is addicted to crack.


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Patricio Salinas

Patricio Salinas says he first became interested in documentaries while completing his bachelor's degree in radio, television and film at the University of Texas at Austin. After graduating in 2000, he returned to his hometown of Laredo and became a reporter for KVTV-TV, the city's CBS affiliate. He covered local politics and closely followed the Texas Legislature's redistricting in 2003, which shifted most of Laredo from the 23rd to the 28th U.S. congressional district.

As a UNT graduate student, Salinas began following Ciro Rodriguez and other Democratic candidates for District 28 to gather footage for his documentary Texas 28. He is now completing his second documentary for the M.F.A. program — Solo Vives Una Vez (You Only Live Once), which examines the Day of the Dead.

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Jessica Schoenbaechler ('06 M.F.A.)

Three days into a trip last summer with Melinda Levin, associate professor of radio, television and film, Jessica Schoenbaechler woke to stationary gun explosions. She had traveled to Nahariya, Israel, with Levin to assist her in shooting footage for a documentary Levin was creating about traditional Israeli women. Plans changed when Shiite Lebanese Hezbollah forces launched a rocket and mortar attack on northern Israel.

Being caught in a war zone — and learning that funding for a film can be lost with changes in a shooting schedule — didn't discourage Schoenbaechler from continuing to pursue her dream to be an independent filmmaker.

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Arvind Singh

Though Arvind Singh began acting in Punjab, India, when she was 4, she couldn't see herself working on the flashy musicals that are so popular in her native country.

In 1992, she made a documentary to bring attention to women's issues and continued creating films for the next eight years. Singh says the response to Oh God! Couldn't You Have Mercy?, a documentary she produced about the killing of the Sikhs, forced her to seek political asylum in the United States.

One of her student films, The Weary Veil, addresses the issues of the wearing of Islamic veils in Western societies.

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The Weary Veil

The Weary Veil addresses the issues of the wearing of Islamic veils in Western societies, particularly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

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