The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Robert Flaherty Film Seminar

The Five College Film Council is now accepting applications for 5C FLAHERTY SUMMER, a week-long intensive summer program for Five College students in partnership with the Flaherty, a nonprofit media arts institution recognized as a leader in its support of documentary and independent film and media. Applications are due February 14, 2020. Details below.

What is the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar?

The Five College Flaherty Program is a week-long summer program for Five College students in partnership with the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar. What is the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar? With a storied history dating back to 1955, the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar (aka “The Flaherty Seminar”) is an annual, week-long seminar devoted to non-fiction film and media. The Flaherty Seminar brings together filmmakers, artists, curators, media professionals, film students, teachers, and enthusiasts for a curated program of films in an intimate, immersive environment. Participants gather for a communal experience that includes housing, meals, social hours, and special events. Each day of the seminar is organized around at least three screening sessions followed by discussion.

When does the Flaherty Seminar take place?

In 2020 the Flaherty Seminar will be held June 13-19, 2020 at Colgate University in Hamilton, NY. Each year the seminar is organized by a different programmer. The 2020 programmer, Janaína Oliveira, is a filmmaker and scholar. For details see Information about the Flaherty and the Seminar’s history can also be found on this site.

Flaherty Seminar
Flaherty Summer Seminar

What is the 5C Flaherty Summer Program?

The 5C Flaherty Summer Program aims to foster learning and networking opportunities for students from constituencies that are underrepresented in leadership positions in film and media. We are currently seeking undergraduate student applicants who are interested in attending the 2020 Flaherty Seminar. One student will be selected from each of the five campuses and this 5C cohort will participate in a week-long guided program during the Flaherty seminar coordinated by a faculty mentor. The student selected to attend from each campus will have the 5C Flaherty Program fee—which covers registration fees for the Seminar, accommodations and meals for the week, and special Five College programming—paid by the 5C Flaherty Program. Student participants will be responsible for arranging their own travel to and from the Seminar. Applying students should be prepared to pay a portion of the travel expenses, but assistance will be available.


The goal of this guided program—qualitatively different from an internship or work experience—is to cultivate learning and networking opportunities for undergraduate students from constituencies that are underrepresented in leadership positions in film and media, including women, LGBTQI+ persons, ethnic minorities, students with disabilities, students with financial need, and undocumented students. In choosing a UMass Amherst student to attend, our selection committee will give particular consideration to applicants who confront multiple challenges to professional advancement in this field. To be considered you must be enrolled as an undergraduate student in the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Preference will be given to undergraduate students enrolled in the Interdepartmental Program in Film Studies Certificate Program and to students who have completed at least one film studies and one film production class. This program is best suited for students who will be entering their junior or senior year in Fall 2020; returning students in these years will be considered over graduating seniors and first year students.


Students selected to be part of the 5C Flaherty Summer cohort will be required to: (A) Attend a half-day orientation in Spring 2020, in which they will meet fellow participants and learn more about the Flaherty and what will be expected of them there (B) Arrive at Colgate University by 2PM on June 13, 2020 and stay for the full duration of the Seminar, which concludes at noon on June 19, 2020. (C) Participate in a guided program of daily lunch and dinner conversations with attending media professionals and filmmakers during the seminar. Additionally, they may be asked to serve as liaisons to next year’s participants and to speak about their experiences and this program with other interested students during the following school year. What we are looking for: We are searching for applicants who have demonstrated passion and inclination for creative and critical work in film and media, with a special interest in nonfiction, and who can integrate themselves respectfully into non-academic venues for discussing nonfiction film and filmmaking. Applicants should demonstrate that they have taken some time to acquaint themselves with the structure and history of the Flaherty Seminar. Applicants should effectively convey reasons why they would like to attend the Flaherty Seminar and also how they feel they can contribute to the event. All attendees are encouraged to participate in discussions and the overall discourse, and we want to know what you can add.

How Can UMass Students Apply?

In Please create your application with the following sections, and submit it via email to Professor Shawn Shimpach at by Friday, Feb 14, 2020. Notifications will be sent out soon after the deadline.
Name, college, year, email address, home address, phone number
SECTION 2 (200 words or less):
Please tell us a little bit about some of the experiences that have shaped your sense of yourself and/or your community in relation to the film and media industry. Please feel free to address issues of access, representation, mentorship, or any other challenges or obstacles to professional advancement that you may have encountered.
SECTION 3 (500 words or less):
Please write a short statement about why you are applying to the 5C Flaherty Summer Program and why you would be a good candidate for the program, addressing: (A) What are your relevant interests in and experiences with film and media, both academic and otherwise? What work do you hope to do in the future, related to these fields? (B) How will participating in the 2020 Flaherty Seminar contribute to your personal and professional goals in and beyond college? (C) What skills/experience will you bring that can contribute to discussions and community at the Seminar?
SECTION 4 (under 1 page):
Please supply a 1-page resume that includes evidence of any achievements or experiences related to film and media (e.g.: coursework, films, community projects, etc.)

Testimonials From Past Participants

Check here UMass students' interviews: Alex Tran (Flaherty recipient in 2018) and Serena Wong (2019) 

"Before attending the Flaherty, I had absolutely NO idea where I was going. I was studying film, sure, but where was that going to lead me? What am I going to do when I get out of college? The “film industry” can most likely feel closed off to students, especially students of color. What the Flaherty did for me was expose me to the countless number of careers that are sustainable in the path I wish to pursue. During the screenings, I saw films that provoked more thought than any other film I had seen in a long time, I met people who provided more insight into the questions I had that I never considered before, and most importantly, I learned more about who I want to become in this one week, than I had learned in any class in school.”
- ALEX TRAN, UMass Amherst

“In an industry where you see so little of your identity represented, you essentially need to become your own role model (a practice that can be discouraging at times). At the Flaherty however, I not only met women of color working in film (like myself) but witnessed the gathering of a diverse group of thinkers who serve as a representation of their own stories…I have never been more inspired to pursue and create film works after such an intensive experience.”
- JANAYAH IVY, Smith College

“As a recent Amherst graduate, I have never encountered discussions of film outside of an academic context, and have a hard time even articulating what exactly is my relation to film when faced with confident professionals. However, meeting the wide range of people at the The 5C Flaherty Program is a Five Colleges Inc. Program funded by equal contributions from each of the Five Colleges. Flaherty (especially during our lunch meetings) I came to realize that so many different paths are possible, and there’s no singular way to relate to film. This unexpectedly helped reaffirm my uncertain position, and gave me confidence to explore a multitude of paths whether it is in writing, curation, making art, or something in between. The ambitious and all-encompassing goals of the Flaherty mean that the seminar strikes an eclectic balance between creative openness and rigorous critique, moving between creator, viewer, curator, insider, outsider with fluid courage—opening up a space in between academia and creation that I have long sought to explore, and giving life to a community I believe can exist nowhere else.”
- JINJIN XU, Amherst College

“The Flaherty provides a unique community and film watching experience unlike any other college students would be able to have access to without the financial means for both attending the seminar and travelling to it. Our group of 5 College students consisted of the youngest people at the seminar which makes being able to attend, be exposed to new media and form important networks at an early point in our careers, all the more useful… Being among a familiar group made it a lot easier to navigate the new space amongst so many people I did not know.”
- HENNA JOSHI, Mount Holyoke College

“When I first arrived to Colgate, I was incredibly intimidated as a burgeoning undergraduate student, surrounded by accomplished academics, artists, and professionals. However, as I had more conversations with attendees—who treated me like a colleague and not a student— I felt a profound change in my attitude… Attending the Flaherty Seminar was not only creatively invigorating, but every conversation I had with an artist, professor, or filmmaker felt like brief moments of mentorship in which I was informed about organizations that I should seek out, and MFA programs that would suit my academic field of interest.”
- DOMINIC SANCHEZ, Hampshire College