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Dhont Family Foundation establishes documentary center with $3.6 million gift

December 7, 2011
Artist's rendering of planned Millenial Studios, where Dhont Family Foundation Documentary Film Center will be housed.

Artist's rendering of planned Millenial Studios, where Dhont Family Foundation Documentary Film Center will be housed.

A $3.6 million gift from the Dhont Family Foundation of Santa Ana, Calif. to Chapman University will establish the Dhont Family Foundation Documentary Film Center in the planned Millennial Studios expansion of Chapman’s Marion Knott Studios. The gift will also support an innovative Chapman documentary film project that is assisting local community organizations. 

Of the gift, $3 millionwill go to the $50 million Millennial Studios Campaign to create the documentary center, augmenting the already robust documentary film program within Chapman’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.  The center will dramatically enhance the university’s resources and facilities for student and faculty documentary filmmakers. 

In addition, the gift includes $600,000 to expand the university’s current “Community Voices” program, a unique initiative in which Chapman students create films about local non-profit organizations.  The films are then screened publicly and provided to the organizations, helping them to draw the public’s attention to the community’s most challenging and important social, political and environmental issues.

“We are extraordinarily grateful to the Dhont Family Foundation for this transformative gift, which will add an advanced, state-of-the-art workspace and center for student documentary filmmakers to our plans for Dodge College’s Millennial Studios,” said James L. Doti, Ph.D., president of Chapman University. 

“This gift will make possible the expansion of student and faculty documentary exchanges with domestic and overseas film schools, help us grow our database for documentary jobs and internships, and assist us in developing a roster of documentary events that will benefit our students and appeal to public audiences,” added Bob Bassett, dean of Dodge College.  “These offerings will no doubt include special screenings, panels, film festivals, award events, lectures and hands-on demos by some of the world’s leading practitioners of the documentary art form.”

Community Voices is much more than just a classroom experience or everyday student film project, Bassett said.  “It’s an agent for social change, a wide-ranging forum for talented Chapman students to create powerful works that address social justice, poverty and discrimination, public health, the environment and other relevant issues that plague our communities.” 

The Dhont Family Foundation began its support for Community Voices in 2009, making it possible for 50 students to produce 15 documentaries since then.  The experience is often life-changing for students.  Mauri Zingarelli, who participated in the fall 2010 Community Voices class, said, “The documentary genre can and will make the world a better place.  I now know what I want to do with my life: spread knowledge and power through documentary filmmaking.”  Zingarelli worked on the film Breaking Through, which focused on Girls, Inc., a non-profit organization aimed at empowering young girls.

Dodge College enrolled its first Community Voices students two years ago, with a class of 15.  The class is now so popular that students have to go through an approval process to become one of the 21 or 22 students accepted into the program each semester. 

“All 15 films produced so far by the Community Voices program have gone on to earn critical acclaim at film festivals around the nation,” said Bassett, “and many will be broadcast in the next few months on several different PBS stations, including PBS SoCal, SOPTV in Oregon, KET in Kentucky and potentially on PBS nationally through the National Educational Telecommunications Association. Collectively, tens of thousands of people will be seeing our students’ documentaries via broadcast.”

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