Serial Documentaries … Changing the Rules of Documentary Filmmaking

Serial Documentaries … Changing the Rules of Documentary Filmmaking

Serial documentaries now pepper our visual landscapes. Everyone from Netflix, to Showtime, from PBS to HBO, has jumped on-board with nail-biting crime dramas, and in-depth historical storytelling. They have engaged audiences with an almost cult-like following with each cliff-hanging episode. But can these mini-series documentaries work in other genres or are they relegated to crime and history alone? What makes them different from binge watching 48 Hours or the new crime channel? What gives these serials the power to engage an audience? Subject? Notoriety of event? Or something else? What makes a compelling serial documentary?

As filmmakers, we rely on a good story, but do our storytelling techniques change to fit such a large canvas? Three producers will discuss these challenges and solutions: Caroline Waterlow (Producer, O.J. Made in America), Jessica Hargrave (Executive ProducerThe Keepers), Vanessa Roth (The Girl and The PictureDaughters of Destiny) and Lynn Novick (Producer, The Vietnam War). The panel will be moderated by Kahane Cooperman(Documentary Filmmaker and Television Producer).


Jessica Hargrave is a partner in Tripod Media, a production company based in Los Angeles that specializes in documentary film. She is executive producer of The Keepers, a 7-part Emmy-nominated documentary series now streaming on Netflix and producer of Good Ol’ Freda (Magnolia Pictures), which tells the story of the Beatles’ longtime secretary Freda Kelly. Hargrave is co-producer of The Case Against 8 (HBO), a behind-the-scenes look at the five-year battle to overturn Proposition 8. The film was nominated for two Emmys and was shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Documentary. Hargrave was also producer of marketing and distribution for Pelada (PBS, Cinetic), a journey around the world through the lens of pick-up soccer. Hargrave was a longstanding correspondent for DailyCandy, a popular online lifestyle magazine, and has extensive industry experience at major entertainment companies including Live Nation and William Morris.

Vanessa Roth is an Academy Award winning filmmaker and has written, produced and directed non-fiction films, series, shorts and campaigns through storytelling about young people, social justice and equity for over 20 years. Her work has earned her dozens of honors including an Oscar, a Dupont-Columbia Award, The Sundance Special Jury Prize, and International awards for Social Justice and Women in Film. Her latest work is a series for Netflix called, Daughters of Destiny. Her most current film, which she wrote, produced and directed,The Girl and The Picture, made in partnership with the Shoah Foundation about three generations of women, will be released globally in this spring. Her work has delved into gender, identity, motherhood, childhood, adolescence, the justice system, immigration, mental health, poverty, public education, memory and legacy. The goal of Roth’s work is to tell compelling stories through authentic and intimate storytelling that is both beautiful and real. Her work is always accompanied by outreach and education projects for young people.


Lynn Novick is an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning documentary filmmaker. For nearly 30 years, she has been directing and producing films about American history and culture, most recently The Vietnam War, an immersive, 10-part, 18-hour epic, directed with Ken Burns, that aired on PBS in the fall of 2017. Novick and Burns have long been creative partners and collaborators, responsible for some of the most respected and top- rated documentaries to have aired on PBS, including ProhibitionBaseballJazzFrank Lloyd Wright and The War, a seven part, 15-hour exploration of ordinary Americans’ experiences in World War II. The Vietnam War, produced with Sarah Botstein and written by Geoffrey C. Ward, received widespread critical acclaim and was seen by nearly 50 million viewers in the USA as well as millions more around the globe. A groundbreaking 360-degree exploration of the conflict, the series features testimony from nearly 100 witnesses, including many Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as dozens of Vietnamese combatants and civilians from the winning and losing sides. Novick is currently directing College Behind Bars(working title), a contemporary documentary produced by Sarah Botstein, Salimah El Amin and Mariah Doran, about a group of men and women imprisoned in New York State for serious crimes, struggling to earn degrees in a rigorous liberal arts college program – the Bard Prison Initiative.

Caroline Waterlow is an award-winning documentary film producer who was produced OJ: Made in America, an ESPN Films documentary directed by Ezra Edelman and winner of the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature at the 89th Academy Awards and awarded a Peabody. Waterlow has produced and contributed to documentaries, docu-dramas & public affairs programming for a variety of studios and networks. Recent feature documentaries include Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, the directorial debut of actor Mike Myers which premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival; and the Academy Award-nominated documentary, Cutie and the Boxer, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013 and won Best Director of a U.S. Documentary. In 2013, she was the senior producer of content for, the largest video collection of women’s stories, produced with AOL and PBS. Between 2006 and 2012, Waterlow worked on multiple HBO documentaries, including the Emmy-Award winning films Teddy: In His Own Words and Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush.

Kahane Cooperman (Moderator) is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, television producer and content creator. Her film, Joe’s Violin, which she directed and produced, was nominated for a 2017 Academy Award®. Joe’s Violin had its American broadcast premiere on the PBS series, POV in July 2017 and can be seen online at Most recently, she was the executive producer of seven short documentaries about autism, directing two of them, for Jon Stewart’s Night of Too Many Stars on HBO. She was also the showrunner, executive producer, and a director of the 4-hour non-fiction series Cold Blooded: The Clutter Family Murders with Joe Berlinger and Radical Media for SundanceTV. Prior, she was executive producer and showrunner of The New Yorker Presents, a series with Alex Gibney’s Jigsaw Productions for Amazon Studios. Before The New Yorker Presents, she was the co-executive producer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Originally hired for her documentary background, she was with The Daily Show from its inception in 1996, starting out as a field producer before becoming senior producer, supervising producer and then co-executive producer from 2005-2015. For her work at The Daily Show, Cooperman received eleven Primetime Emmy® awards and three Peabody awards. Additionally, Cooperman was recently honored by Variety Magazine as a 2017 Woman of Impact. Cooperman began her documentary career at Maysles Films in NYC. She directed and produced several documentaries prior to Joe’s Violin including Cool Water, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and Making Dazed about Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, which was broadcast on AMC and acquired by the Criterion Collection. Kahane also produced the feature doc Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam, directed by Nick Broomfield.

Produced by Maria Gambale, Emily Harrold, Anita Holsapple and Marcia Rock 

Hosted by the NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute

Special Thanks to Marcia Rock, Director of News and Documentary
at the NYU Arthur Carter Journalism Institute and
Chair of NYWIFT’s Documentary Committee



March 26 @ 6:00pm
6:00 pm — 8:00 pm (2h)

NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute
20 Cooper Square, 7th Floor
New York, N.Y. 10003


$15 for NYWIFT Members
$25 for Nonmembers
Register by prepayment online

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NYWIFT programs, screenings and events are supported, in part, by grants from New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.