by Marjan Koffa, Class of 2017
When I first declared a Media Studies and Communication major, the thought of taking a production class, let alone any type of film course, frightened me. Filmmaking was not something I thought I would excel in, or would truly capture my interest. Fast-forward three years, and not only have I realized my love for filmmaking and production, I have also completed my senior thesis documentary TOKEN. The film explores the experiences of black students at their predominantly white university. I am fortunate enough that the student government association here at Catholic saw how impactful my film could be on campus and are hosting a screening and dialogue discussion regarding the themes explored in the film at the end of March. I am also lucky enough to have TOKEN screened at Cardinal Reels in April. The Media and Communication Studies Department here at CUA is the reason I have been able to discover my passion and excitement for documentary filmmaking.
To gain professional filmmaking experience, I searched for an internship that would not only allow me to immerse totally myself in a film production company, but would also combine my love of production with my passion for social justice and storytelling.
This collaboration of my interests is exactly what I have been able to do by interning at Meridian Hill Pictures, a small DC based documentary filmmaking company. Having the opportunity to intern with the Meridian Hill Pictures team has heightened my love for documentary filmmaking and allowed me to apply the skills I’ve learned in the classroom to real work situations. More than anything, my role as Outreach and Distribution Intern has taught me a great deal about the extensive work that is needed to promote a film and expand its audience. Focusing on this area of filmmaking has been personally beneficial, as I have gained a sense of which festivals I would like to submit my own documentary to, and how the submission process works.
Meridian Hill Pictures (MHP) strives to make films that capture authentic stories of different communities, especially those of marginalized and underrepresented people. By using a cinema verité style, their films are honest, informative, and call an audience to action. MHP’s first feature-length documentary, CITY OF TREES, debuted at the American Conservation Film Festival in October 2015 and has been in the film festival circuit ever since. It is currently being screened by organizations, universities, and at conferences. The film follows returning citizens and unemployed residents of Ward 8 in DC as they are selected for a green job training program under a grant given by Washington Parks and People, a non-profit organization that works on green initiatives around the DC area. While watching CITY OF TREES, not only did I learn about urban forestry, I was also moved by the stories of the film’s subjects, and their desire to provide stable income for the sake of themselves and their loved ones.
At Meridian Hill Pictures, I can easily see that the content I create and the projects that I work on are actually contributing to the operation of the company, which makes interning at MHP feel as though I am not interning at all. I have only been at MHP for a month, but I have already gained a keen understanding of how a production company works and the amount of effort required both in pre-production and especially in post-production. What I love most about interning at Meridian Hill Pictures is that everyday I’m learning something new, not only in the work I do, but also in the many conversations that I have with my colleagues about politics and social justice.
One of the most rewarding things about interning at MHP is the opportunities that I am given and the organizations and people I have access to. Earlier this week, I had the privilege of interviewing Jana Carter, director of Magic Labs Media, a film production company she started with her husband, CNN commentator and political activist, Van Jones. This was an incredible experience interviewing such an interesting person. The MHP team has also granted me a yearlong membership to Women in Film and Video in DC, which will allow me to look for opportunities to continue working in filmmaking even after my internship is over.
The most powerful lesson I have learned from the filmmakers at MHP is that documentary filmmaking is less about making something solely based on public interest, and more about creating meaningful work that can impact people’s lives and allow others to experience a world or a voice that they never knew existed. I am so very fortunate to have this experience and am even happier that this opportunity has come at such a pivotal moment in my life as I head towards graduation this spring.