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Movie Lovers We Love: Jason Spingarn-Koff Brings Docs to the New York Times

Photo of Bryce J. Renninger By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire May 11, 2012 at 10:14AM

Documentary filmmaker Jason Spingarn-Koff ("Life 2.0") has a pretty sweet deal. He gets to work with documentary filmmakers to help them make short videos for one the world's most respected media outlets, The New York Times.
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Jason Spingarn-Koff.
Jason Spingarn-Koff.

Documentary filmmaker Jason Spingarn-Koff ("Life 2.0") has a pretty sweet deal.  He gets to work with documentary filmmakers to help them make short videos for one the world's most respected media outlets, The New York Times.  

Spingarn-Koff, whose own film debuted at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and went on to debut on OWN last year, is now working as the first video journalist for the Times's Opinion section and as the producer and curator of the Times's new Op-Docs initiative.

With Op-Docs, Spingarn-Koff told Indiewire, "We're trying to create a forum for filmmakers to express themselves using their medium, just like our print Op-Ed contributors use their talents as writers."

He continued, "I've been working to create an outlet that's diverse in subject matter but also style.  It has a distinct feel from most news.  Here we're working with indie filmmakers, animators, artists, to create films that can spark dialogue around topical and historical subjects."

Currently, the Op-Docs series is publishing about two films a month, each of which go through the Op-Ed section’s stringent fact checking process.  There is an impressive roster of filmmakers:  Errol Morris ("The Thin Blue Line," "Tabloid"), Jessica Yu (the Oscar-winning short "Breathing Lessons"), Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing ("Detropia," "Jesus Camp"), Alison Klayman ("Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry") and John Shenk ("The Island President").  Coming up is a humorous music video by The Gregory Brothers (Auto-tune the News) about a certain presidential candidate.

How does he find the filmmakers that get featured in Op-Docs?  "I solicit some of the work, based on what I know people are working on.  There's also an open call for public submissions, and we do a certain amount of works for hire."  The Sundance Institute recently sent out the call to all of its filmmaking alums, encouraging them to contribute.  "About half the films we've published are adaptations of longer works.  It's important that anything we post stands alone as a short film:  no trailers, no clips."

Spingarn-Koff is busy making his own videos too, including collaborations with the Op-Ed columnists.  He's currently working with Nicholas Kristof on a story about a young war victim from Sierra Leone who was adopted by an American family.

Compared to his prior work as an independent filmmaker, Spingarn-Koff says producing videos for The Times brings some advantages: “These projects can reach a broad global audience,” he said.  “We can just make stuff and put it out, and don't need to worry about fundraising.  I find a lot of indie filmmakers I talk to are like, 'How'd you get that job?'  It's a really special thing."

Visit the article's second page for some of our favorite Op-Docs videos.

This article is related to: Movie Lovers We Love