Collaborative Documentary

In the Collaborative Documentary Social Impact Studio (VM 331x20 / SI 300), students learn the fundamentals of collaborative design and documentary production skills, and are challenged to apply their art and craft in direct collaboration with members of the community.


Course Information

Visual & Media Arts

Theodore "Regge" Life, Eric Gordon


Elexxus Ryan Perea, Brother Chris Womack, Jabari Martin, Rahsaan Peters, Will Dunn

The Collaborative Documentary Studio invites students to co-create a non-fiction story about the impacts of violence on Boston communities. Community members will join the class each week and work alongside Emerson students to tell powerful, authentic, and purposeful stories that can impact policy and decision-making. Class times: Tuesdays from 4pm-7:45pm.

Emerson students with Learning Partner Will Dunn

A Look Inside the Co-Creation Process

by Amina Adeyola, student


I initially joined this class because I was excited to see what was possible for Emerson to do beyond its campus. Emerson students tend to seclude themselves within the “Emerson bubble,” and it is important for an institution to continue to find ways to contribute to the surrounding Bostonian communities rather than only contributing to the city’s gentrification. While this class, and the work of the Engagement Lab as a whole, is only one small step toward Emerson creating better relationships with the people around us, it is a good first step. That said, one thing that was expressed in these first few classes was the importance of the Emerson students not being voyeuristic, and to understand the power that comes with bringing a camera into a community.


The class environment was energetic and open, which was necessary to build the foundation for the two communities to come together within this class, and to help identify what kind of story the documentary would tell. There was also an emphasis on allowing the story to be guided by the people who lived these experiences, rather than having the class decide on a narrative. In the early part of the semester, we had continuous conversations with the Learning Partners from Uncornered around what the community needs, and those conversations kept revolving around one thing in particular — real love as the answer to curbing community violence. 

Over a number of class visits to Dorchester, it became clear that this documentary should tell a story that centers community, transformation, and love rather than a story that shows only a single perspective of the interviewees. Each time we visited the neighborhood, we were reminded that we were creating a story about a full, vibrant, complex community. We were able to interview fathers, judges, city workers, and more — many of whom were involved in community violence when they were young. Instead of retelling a story about gun violence centered in hopelessness, by listening to these men’s perspectives and transformational experiences, we were able to collaborate with them to tell a new narrative that is based in hope.


During the post-production phase of the film, we found ways to weave our different interviewees’ stories together. There were bumps in the road to get toward the editing process, but the continued collaboration between students and Learning Partners really helped guide how this story should be told, making sure that we do not replicate harmful behaviors and tendencies of other documentaries focused on gun violence [like the 1991 PBS Frontline documentary “A Kid Kills,” to which the class’s film serves as both a response and a critique]. We constantly returned to the central theme of love that we’d identified early in the process, which guided us even down to the final editing process. By remembering that love was at the core of this project, the students were able to understand where the story was supposed to end. 

“30 years ago, PBS brought a camera into Orchard Park projects and they tried to tell a story about kids who play with guns. They never after that story decided to go back and see what happened to them, or what those kids needed, or who they became. I wish that PBS or GBH went back and showed that... but I know that we're blessed to have been the ones to showcase these people's lives and honored, honestly, to have been let in on their brotherhood and trusted enough to be the ones to tell their story." 

Elexxus Ryan Perea, Learning Partner  

A draft of the documentary “Incorrigible” was first screened at the fall 2023 Peace in Process event on December 12, 2023. The film is now in post-production, and will be available to view online later this spring.

Fall 2023 - Documentary Studio Participants

Studio Contact

Are you an Emerson student interested in enrolling in this course in the future? Please contact to learn more!

Fall 2023 - Documentary Partner