About the CDRP

The Center for Documentary Research and Practice is a multidisciplinary unit with The Media School at Indiana University that brings together scholars and artists from across Indiana University who are working on an array on nonfiction media projects. It also serves as a home to visiting artists and postdoctoral scholars who are working on projects with nonfiction media components.

The Center supports faculty and graduate students who make documentaries as part of their research and serves as a research hub for those doing historical, theoretical and critical research on nonfiction film and video. The Center provides direct assistance in the form of technological and creative support for projects, and it also serves as a forum for faculty and graduate students to present completed and in-process work.

Mission Statement

Documentary in the World

In the past two decades documentary has exploded in popularity with the changing media landscape lending itself to media forms that represent the real world. Documentary images and approaches have emerged in film, television, radio, on the Internet, in journals, in museums, in galleries, and on billboards. We see the influence of documentary form, method, and ethos in personal YouTube videos, in the proliferation of radio documentaries, in multimedia blogs, in personal websites, as well as in certain Reality TV and comedy genres, to name just a few. Documentaries have also found a place on large theatrical screens, prompting new industrial investments and sparking high production values. Concomitantly, documentary has exploded as an area of critical inquiry.

Documentary, in its diverse and multimedia forms, relies on a direct engagement with and commitment to the lived world. Documentary media makers work creatively with nonfiction audiovisual material for the purposes of preservation and revelation, persuasion, analysis, and expression. Put differently, documentaries combine images and sounds from the real world to say something about that world.

Documentary work has a vital communicative function. From its inception, documentary has been imagined as bringing people together, playing a key role in the building and constituting of publics for the purpose of expressing and explaining increasingly complex and intricate systems and ideas. It can make visible to the public the deep inner-workings of institutions. And it can communicate scientific ideas, historical events, and social problems, for example, in a way that brings the world alive to those publics. In other words, it can explain complex concepts and processes to a diverse constituency and help them know the objects of thought in ways previously not possible. In the new media culture, this way of speaking has become increasingly influential. Documentary has become one of the dominant forms of political, artistic, personal, and academic speech, informing and infusing previous models in the process.

Documentary Across the University

The methods and intentions of documentary work resonate with the work of scholars from across the academy. Many academics likewise work with materials from the real world in order to explain and help people know that world anew in all its complexity. Documentary thus provides a model of how to speak about the historical world and a vehicle for communicating complex ideas to a broad audience (and often doing so pleasurably). As a media genre, as an artistic form of cultural expression, and as an approach to engaging the natural world, history, and contemporary society, therefore, documentary connects disciplines and practices from across the university in a way that has rarely been recognized. The Center for Documentary Research and Practice (CDRP) sees this connection as an opportunity—one that brings together scholars and artists from across the university in an effort to explore how we express ourselves, critically and creatively, when we speak about, and with, the lived world. At CDRP, we do so not only by presenting and analyzing our own methods of research and writing—in the process developing new forms of academic scholarship—but by studying how some of the most innovative historical and contemporary documentary filmmakers have approached the multiple challenges inherent in documentary work, as an art and as scholarship.

The multidisciplinary reach of documentary, while at first glance obvious in that documentaries are about a host of topics of interest to multiple disciplines, has rarely been explored with the depth we engage in CDRP. Documentary’s history, form, politics, and ethics have been most carefully examined in the field of Cinema and Media Studies. Film scholars have theorized documentary in relation to other film forms, marking its production histories, forms of sponsorship, purposes, aesthetics, performances, circulation practices, and political/ethical implications in relation other film forms such as feature-length fiction, the avant-garde, and other nonfiction sub-genres. They have also reminded us that, despite its kinship with other nonfictional systems that have instrumental power—such as politics, economics, and science—documentary is a form of artistic expression. The films’ ability to persuade and promote rely on their ability to induce our pleasures and engage our senses. Moreover, this artistic dimension does not always serve the rhetorical dimension. Rather, the history of documentary reveals numerous films and movements that highlight nonfiction film’s particular capacity for expressivity.

But in addition to the work produced in Cinema and Media Studies, documentary also has direct connections with a host of fields across the academy. Documentary can be understood as essentially an historiographic practice—documentary filmmakers, like professional historians, make arguments about historical events and processes by organizing historical documents into a logical sequence or argument. Moreover, documentary filmmakers have consistently explored fundamental questions related to history, memory, and trauma through this form—its reliance on witness testimony mark it as a privileged form of oral history. Documentary filmmakers also can be thought to function as ethnographers—they spend considerable time with members of another social group and aim to communicate, through thick, indexical description, the central tenets of that group’s culture to an audience. Or, documentary can be seen as a practice particularly suited to do policy work—its simultaneous function as witness to the world and argument about the world prompting such associations. And the associations with Journalism, Rhetoric and Public Culture, and History of Science are likewise deep.

In addition to the connections with the humanities and social sciences, documentary resonates deeply with the hard sciences. Both traditions are associated with positivism and its accompanying realist models of communication. But documentary filmmakers and scientists have long recognized the challenge of communicating complex research and have consistently developed innovative forms of expression as a solution to those challenges. That is not to say they abandon their connections to the historical world. Rather, they have strived to develop methods of image management that make it possible to see or hear objects of study that would otherwise be unavailable to human perception. This may be a problem of scale (micro cellular photography and macro images of galaxies), a problem of time, a problem of access, or a problem of concept. Documentary filmmakers and scientists thus not only converge on films about scientific matters, many of which can be understood as documentaries, but moreover, their experiments in communicating visible evidence of the world to an audience also have the potential to spark new ideas in each community.

Documentary’s capacity for articulating social problems, presenting evidence, and engaging in the art of persuasion are increasingly well known to lawyers. Documentary media not only functions as witness to social problems, it can utilize visual tools to illuminate the complexity of legal history, legal systems and political problems, while also engaging audiences’ visceral sensibilities of, for example, overcrowded prisons, the dangers of illegal border crossing, or the challenges posed by the current state of Second Amendment law. Legal scholars increasingly require fluency in the language of documentary, not only in support of their own advocacy work, but so as to account for the varied ways that mediated documents function in an evidentiary capacity across legal practices.

The Center’s Place in Indiana University

Indiana University is extraordinarily well-positioned to be a leader in the field of documentary studies and production. We have a tradition of excellence in film study and a highly rated PhD program in Cinema and Media Studies. We boast one of the top university cinemas (IU Cinema) in the world. We have unparalleled nonfiction film holdings—the Black Film Center/Archive, the Kinsey Institute, and the educational film collections that are part of the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive. And we have internationally-renowned scholars (Jeffrey Gould, Christiana Ochoa, Susan Seizer, Michael Martin, and Sarah Phillips) who have expanded their research profiles by making documentaries in association with their written scholarship. In addition, the University’s world-class Jacobs School of Music and Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts are home to musicians and artists who, increasingly, find expressive outlets in documentary work. Finally, the Media School has plans to develop an MFA in documentary in the near future.

Historical documentary, in particular, is a genre of growing importance both as a practice and as a field of inquiry. IU is particularly well suited to address both dimensions: among our historians we have faculty and doctoral students who make documentaries and numerous others who study and write about them. And virtually all faculty use them in their teaching. Many of our historians and others interested in the relation between visual media and history have been grouped within the Center for the Study of History and Memory (CSHM). CDRP maintains CSHM’s overall mission as well as its oral history archive (certainly the largest in Indiana and one of the largest in the Midwest).

The Center for Documentary Research and Practice is the research center that both supports these endeavors and does what no unit, department, or school can—it functions as a multidisciplinary center that brings together scholars and artists from across Indiana University. It has the potential to change the field by greatly expanding the field of documentary studies. And it has a public-facing mission while providing scholars the tools to achieve that mission.

Goals of the Center

  • The Center for Documentary Research and Practice brings together scholars and artists from across Indiana University who work on an array of documentary projects, including:
    –traditional scholarly written work
    –experimental/creative documentary production
    –critical/creative production work that connects with larger research projects
  • The Center brings these people and their projects together by:
    –offering technological and artistic support for ongoing projects
    –creating a forum for faculty and graduate students to present both in progress and completed scholarly and critical creative work
  • The Center serves as a space of innovation and experimentation for the production of new forms of multimedia scholarly publication.
  • The Center works with IU collections (the Black Film Center/Archive (BFC/A), the Kinsey Institute, and the Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive (IULMIA)) to facilitate research on and exhibition of their holdings.
  • The Center coordinates programs with IU Cinema on documentary and nonfiction-specific film and media.
  • The Center serves as one of the institutional homes for visiting artists and postdoctoral scholars who work on projects with a documentary and nonfiction media component. It also supports and promotes doctoral research on documentary-related topics.
  • The Center supports teaching of documentary and nonfiction media at both the graduate and undergraduate level by coordinating events associated with courses and serving as a community for ideas about films and videos to teach.
  • The Center hosts documentary symposia and conferences, out of which book and journal publications develop. In particular, the Center hosted the Visible Evidence International Documentary Conference—the leading international, interdisciplinary conference of scholars and artists devoted to documentary film, media, culture, and politics—in August 2018.
  • The Center serves as web host for the Visible Evidence International Documentary Community. This involves development and expansion of current site, including a new curated forum on critical issues related to documentary. Developing and maintaining the premier website and academic forum associated with the critical study of documentary calls significant attention to the Center and IU’s film community and institutions.
  • The Center encourages development of collaborative multidisciplinary documentary research and creative projects by faculty and graduate students.
  • The Center supports initiatives that focus on documentaries with local or Indiana state issues and concerns.


The Center for Documentary Research and Practice was founded in 2015. Its founding director, Joshua Malitsky (Cinema and Media Studies), and associate directors, Jeffrey Gould (History) and Christiana Ochoa (Law) recognized a need at the university to critically address non-fiction media as a research subject, and to promote professional standards and practices in the creation of documentary in all its forms. The CDRP absorbed the former Center for the Study of History and Memory, and became part of the newly formed IU Media School.

Staff and Advisory Board

Joshua Malitsky is Associate Professor in the Media School and Director of the Center for Documentary Research and Practice.  He is also adjunct faculty in the Russian and East European Institute, the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.  He works on a range of topics related to documentary and other nonfiction media genres, focusing on films made as part of revolutionary political movements in East Europe (USSR, and Yugoslavia) and Latin America (Cuba).  He has published a number of articles on documentary history and theory including topics such as nonfiction film and nation-building, the relationship between documentary and science, the conceptual intersections between both documentary studies and science studies and between documentary studies and linguistic anthropology, and on the sports documentary.  He teaches courses on contemporary and historical issues in documentary, ethnographic film, 1920s Soviet cinema and art, media theory, media authorship, film and propaganda, Marxism and cinema, and sports media.  His book Post-Revolution Non-Fiction Film: Building the Soviet and Cuban Nations was published by Indiana University Press in 2013.  He has two current book projects: (Supra)national Geographical Imaginaries: The Birth and Growth of Yugoslav Non-Fiction Film, 1944-1958 and A Companion to Documentary Film History (Wiley-Blackwell).

Christiana Ochoa, Associate Director of the CDRP, is Dean of the Maurer School of Law and Herman B Wells Endowed Professor. Christiana Ochoa’s research seeks to understand how economic activity impacts human and ecological well-being. Her theoretical and empirical research relies on international and comparative law, particularly in the fields of Business & Human Rights, Law & Development, International Finance, and Foreign Direct Investment. She brings her field work—as well as her practice experience at the global law firm Clifford Chance and with a number of human rights and humanitarian non-governmental organizations in Latin America—to her research questions and classroom teaching. She teaches Contracts as well as International Law, International Business Transactions, Human Rights, and Law & Development. Her scholarship in these areas has been published and is forthcoming in the Yale Journal of International Law, Harvard International Law Journal, Virginia Journal of International Law, Michigan Journal of Environmental & Administrative Law, Duke Journal of International & Comparative Law, and Human Rights Quarterly, among others. Her work has also been published internationally, including in Germany, Colombia, and Korea. Her first documentary film, Otra Cosa No Hay (There is Nothing Else), was completed in 2014, received film festival acclaim, and has been viewed by audiences around the world. Professor Ochoa has been recognized for her research, teaching, and service, and has held numerous administrative positions at the Law School, campus, and university level.

Barbara Truesdell, Assistant Director of the CDRP and Program Administrator of the Arnolt Center for Investigative Journalism. She received her Ph.D. in Folklore and American Studies from IU in 1996. She administers the CDRP’s projects, events, and grants. She manages the Center’s Oral History Archive and has provided consultations and training workshops on oral history best practices since 1992. She teaches a summer evening class on oral history methodology in the Department of Information and Library Science in the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering. She was one of the original stakeholders in IU’s Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative and one of the founding members of the IU Bicentennial Oral History Project. She has been a member of the IU Bloomington Human Subjects Committee since 2008.

Tim Bell, CDRP Advisory Board Member and Lecturer in the Media School, joined the MSCH as a lecturer in 2017. He teaches a diverse slate of undergraduate courses in film and television studies, spanning topics including British Film, Adaptation, Stardom, Documentary and Reality Television. These courses prompt students to explore and think critically about the relationship between cultural, political, and industrial forces and the popular forms of mass-mediated storytelling they shape and are informed by. He is a Kovener Teaching Fellow for the 2022-23 academic year.

Elena Herminia Guzman, CDRP Advisory Board Member and Assistant Professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies and Anthropology, is an Afro-Boricua filmmaker, educator, and scholar raised in the Bronx with deep roots in the LES. She received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Cornell University and is an Assistant Professor in the African American and African Diaspora Studies Department and Anthropology. Her ethnographic manuscript titled Chimera Geographies: Black Feminist Borderland Performances” focuses on the way Black women and non-binary people throughout the African diaspora use ritual performance in African diaspora religion as a means to forge Black feminist borderlands through spiritual crossings. In addition to her work as a scholar, Elena is also a documentary filmmaker. She co-directed a film entitled Bronx Lives (2014) that explores homelessness for Latinx and African Americans in New York. She is also the director of the film Smile4Kime, currently in production, an autoethnographic experimental portrait about friendship, mental health, and Afro-Puerto Rican spirituality. As a part of her work in film, she co-founded a feminist filmmaking collective called Ethnocine and is a producer of the podcast Bad Feminists Making Films.

Narmeen Ijaz, CDRP Advisory Board Member and Ph.D. student in the Media School, is interested in studying transnational non-fiction film cultures. Her interests overlap with the fields of documentary studies, postcolonialism, transnational feminism, and media authorship. Her background consists of both academic and professional experiences as previously she worked as a documentary film editor for international NGO’s and graduated from The Media School (IU) with an MA in Media Arts and Sciences. For her master’s thesis, “Decolonizing Documentary in Pakistan: Representation through Colonial, Activist and State-Sponsored Documentaries,” she studied the implications of colonial, imperial and nationalist histories of Pakistan on the representation of local ethnic, gendered, and cultural identities. Her current work focuses on studying how participatory and interactive approaches in documentary can shape gender representation in documentaries sponsored by transnational social-welfare organizations.

Mallika Khanna, CDRP Advisory Board Member and Ph.D. student in the Media School, is studying social media selfhood narratives and how contemporary neoliberal subjectivities are shaped and narrativized through proximity to trauma. Her MA thesis titled “Desi Diasporic Cultural Entrepreneurs: Trauma, Self-branding and Self-Empowerment in Social Media Spaces” looks at South Asian diasporic cultural entrepreneurs’ self-presentation online to argue that diasporic trauma has become a hot commodity in digital media’s “first person marketplace.” Her current work looks at food media and digital culture.

Novotny Lawrence, Director of the Black Film Center/Archive and Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies, comes to IU from the Greenlee School of Journalism and the English Department at Iowa State University. His research focuses on African American cinematic and mediated experiences, film and media history, and popular culture. He authored Blaxploitation Films of the 1970s, a book discussing trends in black representation in films of the early 1970s. Lawrence has also been the editor-in-chief of  the Journal of Popular Culture since 2019. He was previously chair of the radio, TV, and digital media department at Southern Illinois University.

Sarah Phillips, CDRP Advisory Board Member and Professor of Anthropology, has been conducting anthropological research in Ukraine since 1995. Her broad research interests have been to track the variable effects of socialist collapse on people’s lives, especially in terms of gender formations, health, social inequalities and social justice, and changing citizen-state relations. Areas of major inquiry have included the effects of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster on health and healing strategies, the symbolic fallout of Chernobyl, the role of women in Ukraine’s civil society, the Ukrainian disability rights movement, and service provision for people who use drugs and people living with HIV in Ukraine, especially women. She is currently exploring two major research areas. The first is disability and inclusion in the Russian Federation. This project is under the auspices of IU’s Russian Studies Workshop. The second is the resonance of Kurt Vonnegut’s writing in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and early 1980s. She is working on a book tentatively titled Kurt Vonnegut in the USSR.

Susanne K. Schwibs is a CDRP Advisory Board Member and a Senior Lecturer in Media Arts & Production. She teaches documentary, experimental, and 16mm filmmaking. In collaboration with the Jacobs School of Music, she organizes the annual Double Exposure project: teams of student filmmakers and student composers prepare short films that are screened at the IU Cinema with live music accompaniment. As a filmmaker, she specializes in documentaries dealing with the arts, music, history, and the American landscape. Her work can be seen on public television, and a number of them are distributed nationally through PBS, APT or Netflix and have won Regional Emmys and CINE Golden Eagles.  Some of her long-form docs are: Along the Wabash (2016), Cuba: The Forgotten Revolution (2015), Wilderness Plots in Concert (2011), Harp Dreams: Inside the USA International Harp Competition (2010), Wilderness Plots: Songs and Stories of the Prairie (2008), American Horizons: The Photographs of Art Sinsabaugh (2008), Beaux Arts at 50 (2005), Spanning Time: America’s Covered Bridges (2004), No Compromise: Lessons in Feminist Art with Judy Chicago (2002), and Sugarplum Dreams: Staging the Nutcracker Ballet (2001).