Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

The John F. Kennedy Jr. Initiative for Documentary Film and Social Progress

Spearheaded by Kennedy’s family, friends, and classmates, the initiative aims to bring film and filmmakers to the University with the goal of shedding light on some of the most urgent, challenging, and complex issues facing society through the prism of documentary. Concurrently, and with the support of the Brown Arts Initiative, the presence of filmmakers on campus will allow Brown students the opportunity to explore the practicalities of filmmaking and to enhance their capacity to make films of their own. 

The John F. Kennedy Jr. Initiative for Documentary Film and Social Progress reflects the values of its namesake, a Brown alumnus who throughout his adult life was committed to the quest for truth and social progress through the creative use of imagery and narrative. In the mid-’90s, Kennedy co-founded George, a magazine covering contemporary politics. The monthly is credited with pioneering many practices that are now standard in print and digital media coverage of international current events.

The initiative will focus on both traditional and innovative modes of storytelling, and in the process, create dynamic correspondence between filmmakers, journalists, and students.


Coup 53 film makers Taghi Amirani (director) and Walter Murch (co-writer, editor) will meet with students over lunch at the Watson Institute on Tuesday, January 28 at 11:30am. Lunch will be hosted by Brown University alum Randall Poster, a music supervisor for film and television.

Screening of the 2019 film, Coup 53 directed by Taghi Amirani and edited and co-written by Academy Award-winning editor and sound designer Walter Murch, depicts the combined efforts of the United Kingdom and the United States to overthrow the democratically elected government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with the filmmakers and Watson Senior Fellow Stephen Kinzer, who is interviewed in the film. 


Emmy-nominated filmmaker, photographer, and investigative journalist Emily Kassie ’14 will hold a screening and master class. 


The inaugural John F. Kennedy Jr. film forum will launch with the theme “Democracy in Peril.” The forum will begin with a screening of three contemporary documentaries: The Edge of Democracy, directed by Petra Costa; The Kingmaker, directed by Lauren Greenfield; and The Great Hack, produced by Geralyn Dreyfous, who also founded the documentary film fund Impact Partners. The forum will culminate in a moderated discussion between the three filmmakers, all of whom will be on campus to celebrate the new initiative and promote film-related scholarship across the University. 


Screening and discussion of Where's My Roy Cohn? by documentarian Matt Tyrnauer, director of the 2018 Studio 54 and a past editor-at-large and special correspondent for Vanity Fair, who will discuss his process and methodology in tackling such explosive, cultural subject matter.

Other practitioners on the line-up for 2020 include:

  • Oscar-winning Errol Morris, director of The Thin Blue Line and The Fog of War, who will screen and discuss American Dharma, his controversial portrait of Steve Bannon.
  • Rory Kennedy ’91, director of numerous documentaries, including Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and Last Days in Vietnam, will screen her most recent film, Above and Beyond, about NASA and climate change, and offer a master class.
  • Davis Guggenheim ’86, director of the documentaries An Inconvenient Truth, Waiting for Superman, and He Named Me Malala, will offer a screening and master class.
  • Richard Linklater will kick off the second John F. Kennedy Film Forum, themed “Pursuing Truth through Fiction.” Following screenings of his films Slacker, Dazed and Confused, and Boyhood, Linklater, named among TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2015, will discuss modes of storytelling and offer a master class. 
  • Producer Christine Vachon ’83 will screen Boys Don’t Cry, as well as two of the many films she has worked on with director Todd Haynes ’83: Velvet Goldmine and Dark Waters, from 2019.  
  • Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson will screen and discuss his directorial debut, Black Woodstock