Nina Gilden Seavey: Emmy Award-winning filmmaker & Director, The Documentary Center at The School of Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University

Nina Gilden Seavey is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and 30-year veteran of the documentary world. Her films can be seen in theaters, on television, in ancillary media, and in museum exhibitions across the globe. Seavey is the director of The Documentary Center in the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, which she founded in 1990.  She holds the academic rank of Full Research Professor of History and Media and Public Affairs with appointments both in the Department of History and in the School of Media and Public Affairs.  In addition to her academic appointment at GW, Seavey is a Visiting Research Scholar at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University. In 2002, Seavey became the Founding Director of SILVERDOCS: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival (now AFI Docs). She continued with the festival as Executive Producer, strand programmer, and senior member of the management team until 2009.

Seavey’s films have appeared in domestic and international festivals and have won numerous awards including five National Emmy nominations (one statue awarded), the Erik Barnouw Prize for Best Historical Film of the Year, The Golden Hugo, Cine Special Jury Prize, The Telly, The Italian National Olympic Cup for Best Sports Film, The Peter C Rollins Prize for Best Film in American Culture, among many others. In addition to many awards received for specific films, Seavey has received a number of professional accolades including being named one of the top 50 professors of journalism in the U.S. in 2012. In 2004 she received a commendation for “Outstanding Service to the Industry” by Discovery Communications and in 2006 she was named a “Woman of Vision” by Women in Film and Video.

What do you love most about Your City?

I live in a place called Takoma Park.  It’s in Maryland – but just barely.  On one side of Carroll Avenue is DC and on the other side of the street is Takoma Park, MD. That’s how close we are to the District of Columbia.  But we are an entirely different kind of a community.  It’s like living in a small town. We are one of the two nuclear free zones in the US, we have street festivals, a weekly farmer’s market and we are a refuge for aging hippies and general liberal do-gooders. But the best part of living in Takoma Park is that for a decade there was a rooster named Roscoe that freely wandered the tree-lined streets.  Every morning Roscoe did what roosters do – at dawn he cock-a-doodle-dooed.  You could hear him throughout the town. He was really loud.  But everyone loved Roscoe so even though it was annoying to hear him every day 5 AM, the city was okay with it.  One day Roscoe was found dead, the victim of a hit and run driver. Everyone was bereft.  So community leaders mounted a statue on the town’s main street to memorialize Roscoe.  I like living in a place that has the right kind of statues – honoring animals that make a lot of noise and no one cares.  

Favorite breakfast meal & restaurant?  

I eat Cheerios at home.  I never go out for breakfast.

What are you doing at:

6:00 AM – Sleeping.  I have two dogs, Frank and Ruby, and they wake me up every morning exactly at 7:00 AM.  I don’t know how it is that dogs know how to tell time.  But they do.  So they are my alarm clock (at least now that Roscoe is gone)

10:00 AM - Every day for the past 3 years I have been doing the same thing every morning.  I read government documents.  A few years ago I sued the Federal Government under the Freedom of Information Act in what became known as Seavey v. Department of Justice et al for the release of documents from the FBI, the CIA, the Department of Army, and the National Archives relating to my most recent film and media project.  I won and now the government releases 5000 pages a month to me.  So every day I have to review at least 300 pages, in what I call my  “document diet,” to keep up with this tidal wave of material.  I begin reading at around 8 AM and keep going until I’ve satisfied my daily quota.

12:00 PM - Favorite Power Lunch spot/meal? 

I don’t eat lunch - out or otherwise. At 2:00 PM I swim at my local gym and then have a light snack afterwards.   

7:00 PM - On the nights that I teach my graduate students I begin class at 6:30 PM.  Class goes until 8 PM.  So that’s work time.  If I’m not teaching, my husband and I believe in eating a traditional Midwestern dinner – I’m from Missouri and he’s from Minnesota - so every night we have a protein, a starch, and a vegetable.  And then we watch Jeopardy.  As you get older you have to keep your brain moving all the time.

11:00 PM - I am catching up on television shows and movies that I missed out on when I was raising our three children.  Thank goodness for Netflix and Hulu. Sometimes I keep watching until really late. (This is not good for my early morning document review.  

What drink do you need to get through the day and at the end (and how many)? 

I drink a lot of water all day.  Then at dinnertime I have what I call my “cocktail.”  It’s one shot of vodka, a lemon, a lime, and a can of seltzer.  I drink it every night.  I consider it my reward for having lived a good life.  

Most used App/Favorite Instagram Account?

I use the apps and platforms that I have to in order to promote my work.  I don’t like any of them.  I find social media an intrusion into our lives and I would be thrilled to live without any of them.  But that’s not possible in this day and age.

What should everyone try at least once?

Everyone should spend some significant time in the Midwest.   So many people – journalists, filmmakers, thought-leaders, and policy-makers - have moved to the East and West Coasts and they have no context for how Trump got elected President.  There is a huge country out there that has very different attitudes, worldview, and values than that which exist in the bubbles of the coasts.  People should get to know this vast part of our nation and not just fly over it.

Where do you enjoy getting lost?

I am addicted to podcasts. I love getting lost in the world of tales well told. Even though I’m a long-time filmmaker I actually find that stories that don’t have visuals, i.e. audio stories that illuminate the imagination, are truly the ones that are the most satisfying. I love that feeling of losing a sense of place and time brought on just by listening. . .