Documentary Film in the Public Interest

The goal of the Shorenstein Center’s Documentary Film in the Public Interest initiative is to inspire a documentary film practice and infrastructure that can contribute to strong societies.

The initiative’s activities are designed to cross bridges between thinking and acting. We bring together practitioners and researchers, journalists and documentary filmmakers, in a shared project to build a stronger, more resilient field that can serve the needs of a democratic public by design.

Documentary films play a vital role in our civic culture by investigating injustices, unearthing forgotten histories, connecting to new perspectives, and speaking truth to power. Its technologies, methods, creative approaches, institutional infrastructures, and ethical practices have greatly evolved over time. However, within the last five years, both the rate and kinds of change have been radical and destabilizing.

The initiative examines the challenges facing the field through these major research areas and programs:

Research Areas

Distribution Systems, Infrastructure and Audience

Ethical Practice and Journalistic Standards

Generative AI, CHatGPT and New Technologies




Inviting documentary filmmakers, film industry leaders, media policy experts, contemporary media scholars, journalists, and business innovators to generate research and policy recommendations for the field. More information on our current Fellows and application can be found by clicking here.

Annual Convenings

Bringing leaders from within the field and across media disciplines to engage in analysis-informed forums where they can examine shared obstacles and chart courses to systems-wide solutions.

Screening Series

Screening contemporary documentary films that examine issues related to public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School connect these impact-focused films with audiences of current and future policy makers and bring filmmakers into conversation with leaders paving the way toward change. View our upcoming and past screenings here.

Doc Distro Lit Review

In recent years, the global landscape for the distribution of independent documentary films has undergone seismic changes. In response to this crisis, support organizations, industry leaders, journalists, and filmmakers have been organizing convenings, collaborating on fresh solutions, and writing in-depth examinations about how we got here and what comes next. We have compiled the Documentary Distribution Literature Review to capture the quickly evolving landscape through a curated collection of annotated articles, webinars, talks, and convening summaries for an audience of experts and lay people alike.

Documentary Award (Coming in 2024)

A new Documentary award, raising the visibility of public interest filmmaking and elevating the work of winners and finalists demonstrating excellence and best practice. 

Interested in learning more about our work? Contact the team at or sign up to get periodic email updates!


Sara Archambault
Program Director

Enrique Pedráza-Botero
Special Projects Manager

Sydney Tanigawa 
Project Coordinator 


The Documentary Film in the Public Interest Fellowship program is designed to support new research, analysis, innovation and provocation around core issues facing the documentary field. Through the fellows’ projects, the Shorenstein Center will engage in examinations of best practice, industry ecosystems, public impact and media policy. 

Click here to learn more about the fellowship program and how to apply.

Announcing Spring 2024 Cohort of Documentary Film Fellows

The Shorenstein Center is excited to announce the Spring 2024 cohort of documentary film fellows. The group joins the Center under the auspices of the newly-established Documentary Film in the Public Interest research initiative and will spend the semester conducting research and engaging with the HKS community about the challenges facing the field and its

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Announcing the inaugural class of fellows for documentary film professionals and scholars

This fall, the Shorenstein Center is thrilled to welcome its first cohort of documentary film fellows under the auspices of the center’s newly-established Documentary Film in the Public Interest research initiative. Documentary films play a vital role in our civic culture by investigating injustices, unearthing forgotten histories, connecting to new perspectives and speaking truth to

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Chinese Independent Film and Distribution of Public Interest Media

Karin Chien, in conversation with Jian Yi, charts the evolution of her work at dGenerate Films, acquiring independent Chinese films and releasing them in the US through a partnership with Icarus Films. Karin is a fellow for the Documentary Film in the Public Interest program at the Shorenstein Center. Elsie Chen will moderate this talk. This event is co-sponsored by the Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.

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