Brent-E-Huffman-Documentary-Journalists-on-Front-Line-Mes_Ainak

October 6, 2017

Professor Brent E. Huffman is an award-winning director, writer and cinematographer of documentaries and television programs. Through his work, he aims to inspire others to create documentary films and videos that push the boundaries of the medium and tell emotionally engaging stories to wide audiences.


Documentary journalism: The preeminent home for investigative journalism in our modern era

In the age of vanishing journalism outlets, documentary filmmakers are filling the void by doing the investigative journalism traditionally done by print reporters and photojournalists. Documentary films now dominate the narrative landscape in this golden age of documentary filmmaking and bring in millions of television and online viewers.

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In his presentation, Professor Huffman talks about the inspiration to create documentary films that push the boundaries of the medium and the importance of telling emotionally engaging stories to diverse audiences.

“Why documentary journalism? A documentary can make a cold-hard-fact news story emotional; make it resonate for an audience. A film can make you feel something, make you cry, make you angry, it ceases to be a film and becomes an experience, a learning experience.”

Documentaries are the centrepiece of programming on major outlets like HBO, CNN, The Discovery Channel, National Geographic, Showtime, PBS and Al Jazeera as well as network television, online outlets like The New York Times and digital outlets like Netflix and Amazon. CNN Films, HBO Documentaries and The New York Times Op Docs have premiered cutting edge documentaries that reach large audiences.


According to Professor Huffman, documentary journalists are using this popular medium of documentary to enrich viewers and better our world by exposing corruption, protecting human rights and saving cultural heritage through the following examples: E Team (2014), Citizen Four (2014), Depth of Field (2015), Virunga (2014) and Saving Mes Aynak (2014). These documentary films distill complex issues by telling insider character-based emotional stories that have a wide ranging positive impact on audiences around the globe, on policy and on the subjects of the films themselves.

“Sometimes in print and TV journalism, stories are told from outside the fishbowl looking in. Documentary filmmaking allows us to step into the fishbowl and see things from the fish’s world.”

He goes on to discuss his award-winning film, Saving Mes Aynak which follows archaeologist Qadir Temori as he races against time to save a 5,000-year-old Buddhist archeological site in Afghanistan from imminent demolition by a Chinese State-owned mining company, which plans to destroy Mes Aynak to mine for $100 billion worth of copper.

As well as being a working documentary filmmaker, in his teaching at Medill, School of Journalism, Northwestern University, an IAFOR Institutional Partner, Professor Huffman aims to inspire his students to create documentary films and videos that stretch the limits of the medium.


Brent E. Huffman was a Featured Speaker at The Asian Conference on Media & Mass Communication 2015 (MediAsia2015) in Kobe, Japan. Professor Huffman was also the recipient of the IAFOR Documentary Film Award & Festival 2015’s (IDFA2015) Honorary Award for his work in Afghanistan and the documentary Saving Mes Aynak.

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Image: Mes Aynak hilltop excavation | Wikimedia Commons

Brent E. Huffman

About Brent E. Huffman

Brent E. Huffman is an associate professor of journalism at Medill as well as a working documentary filmmaker and director of long-form television programs. At Medill, Huffman teaches documentary theory and production as well as long-form video storytelling in the undergraduate and graduate levels. He also advises on local and international student documentary and long-form video projects. He specializes in international documentary filmmaking in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Recently, he has been examining China’s international presence in Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is passionate about international issues involving human rights and social justice.

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