Damani Baker

BA, Sarah Lawrence College. BA, MFA, University of California-Los Angeles, School of Film and Television. Baker’s more than 20-year directing career includes work that spans museum exhibits, feature documentaries, music videos, and advertising. Most recently, in his critically acclaimed feature, The House on Coco Road (acquired by Ava Duvernay’s ARRAY RELEASING), Baker combines family Super-8 with archival news and family interviews to weave his mother’s personal story with broader historical threads in order to tell a story of migration and the Grenada Revolution. The House On Coco Road and his first feature, Still Bill—on the life and music of the legendary Bill Withers—have been critically acclaimed and have enjoyed worldwide distribution on Showtime, Netflix, and BBC. With Ralph Appelbaum Associates, Baker has directed more than 20 films for museums around the world, featuring notables such as President Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan, and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf—all stories rooted in understanding the human story and its connection to place. Baker has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Los Angeles Times, and Time Out among other publications. He is a tenured professor at Sarah Lawrence College, where he teaches filmmaking to a diverse group of creatives and ensuring that stories from all communities continue to be told with grace, dignity, and power. SLC, 2003–

Undergraduate Courses 2022-2023

Filmmaking and Moving Image Arts

Documentary Filmmaking: The Personal Is Political I

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this documentary course, students will locate themselves in larger movements for change in order to produce a three-to-five minute film. The projects may be grounded in portraiture, historically informed, and even the experimental and will exist through a lens of social change and personal experience. Students will work in teams to produce their films, building trust among each other as collaborators and practicing filmmaking as essentially interdependent creative work. Students will be required to make their work public and create social-engagement strategies for their final films. Given these unprecedented times—as we are presented with new opportunities to shift our understanding of self, community, and the roles that we can play in pursuing a just future—this course is for those who are committed to using filmmaking as a tool for change. This semester-long collaboration is equal parts media creation, screenings, and an understanding of the power of artists in movements for justice.

Faculty

Documentary Filmmaking: The Personal Is Political II

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this documentary course, students will locate themselves in larger movements for change in order to produce a three-to-five minute film. The projects may be grounded in portraiture, historically informed, and even the experimental and will exist through a lens of social change and personal experience. Students will work in teams to produce their films, building trust among each other as collaborators and practicing filmmaking as essentially interdependent creative work. Students will be required to make their work public and create social-engagement strategies for their final films. Given these unprecedented times—as we are presented with new opportunities to shift our understanding of self, community, and the roles that we can play in pursuing a just future—this course is for those who are committed to using filmmaking as a tool for change. This semester-long collaboration is equal parts media creation and an understanding of the power of artists in movements for justice.

Faculty

Previous Courses

Filmmaking and Moving Image Arts

Advanced Collective for Filmmakers and Screenwriters

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Spring

This independent-study collective will provide a framework for advanced screenwriting and filmmaking students to pursue material toward an advanced project that could take the shape of a short film and/or screenplay. Led by a team of filmmaking and moving-image arts faculty, students will be interviewed during registration to evaluate their proposed material and their role on the project. The week-to-week structure of the collective will be tailored to meet the needs of the individual projects/groups as the semester progresses. The collective will be open to screenwriting, documentary, and fiction filmmaking students. Both individual and group projects are invited to apply to the class. Interested students should come to the interview prepared to present a project proposal.

Faculty

Documentary Filmmaking: Truth, Freedom, and Bearing Witness

Open, Seminar—Year

Nonfiction is our search for the truth; it is an exploration in humanity—our beauty, complexities, and the often unimaginable. This class is designed for students who, through filmmaking, hope to move humanity one step closer to understanding who we are and how connected our life experiences may be. In this yearlong course, students produce one 15- to 30-minute documentary on the subject of their own choosing. Students will develop treatments, pitch their projects, create production schedules, and work in small teams to create their films. Each week, students must demonstrate clear progress on their projects, including outlined shoot dates, updates on production needs, screening of unedited material, assembly cuts, rough cuts, and the eventual final delivery of their conference films. During class, we will screen short- and long-form documentary films from around the world, complemented by hands-on production techniques and experience. Although this is an open class, students must be prepared to learn camera operation, sound recording, and lighting with diligence and professionalism. Each student will direct his/her own project; however, the crew will be made up of the student’s peers, who will be entrusted with delivering strong technical material. This course will challenge students to think beyond the beautiful gates of Sarah Lawrence and take on subjects and opportunities that are new spaces both emotionally and physically. Nonfiction requires passion for storytelling and, ultimately, a passion for people. We hope to finish the year with a lens on the world that’s evolved to new heights of understanding and compassion.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Introduction to Documentary Filmmaking

Open, FYS 1C—Year

Nonfiction filmmaking is a tool and practice of observation. It has a way of starting out as a quest for truth and becoming a new way to be in the world—as a witness, a scholar, and an artist. During the course, we will hone our creative practice alongside building a foundation of practical, hands-on production experience. This art form requires an ability to both co-create and lead, to build relationships and practice humility as you honor your subjects. In this introductory course, students will be exposed to a wide range of nonfiction possibilities, particularly those opened up as we “decolonize the archives.” Screenings will also vary, tailored to the interests and questions that students bring to class. Each student will make several 1-2 minute, short exercises in addition to a 4-5 minute conference film. Finally, students will be asked to create a digital space where all of their work will live, learning how film is professionally distributed and innovating themselves as they lean into their own knowledge as digital natives. This course will have weekly conferences for the first six weeks; biweekly conferences thereafter.

Faculty

Visions of Social Justice

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this documentary course, students will collaborate with local nonprofit organizations and/or individual activists to produce a three-to-five minute film. The projects are a combination of advertising, research, and social justice, providing valuable content for underresourced efforts while centering the powerful work of people challenging destructive paradigms. The class members will work in teams to produce their films and, ultimately, deliver material to their partner organizations to be used online and beyond. When appropriate, limited local travel will be involved, along with an opportunity to collaborate with organizers, activists, and community partners. Students will be encouraged to create social-engagement strategies in partnership with the organization or subjects that elevate their mission and work. Given these unprecedented times—as we are presented with new opportunities to shift our understanding of self, community, and the roles that we can play in pursuing a just future—this course is for those who are committed to using filmmaking as a tool for change. This semester-long collaboration is equal parts media creation and an understanding of the power of artists in movements for justice.

Faculty

Visions of Social Justice II

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

In this intermediate documentary course, students will collaborate with local nonprofit organizations and/or individual activists to produce a three-to-five minute film. The projects are a combination of advertising, research, and social justice, providing valuable content for underresourced efforts while centering on the powerful work of people challenging destructive paradigms. The class will work in teams to produce their films and, ultimately, deliver material to their partner organizations to be used online and beyond. When appropriate, there will be limited local travel and an opportunity to collaborate with organizers, activists, and community partners. Students will be encouraged to create social engagement strategies in partnership with the organization or subjects that elevate their mission and work. Given these unprecedented times—as we are presented with new opportunities to shift our understanding of self, community, and the roles that we can play in pursuing a just future—this course is for those who are committed to using filmmaking as a tool for change. This semester-long collaboration is equal parts media creation and understanding of the power of artists in movements for justice.

Faculty