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Documentary by Jon Alpert ’70 earns Oscar nod

By Tim O'Keeffe on February 3, 2010
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Jon Alpert ’70, an investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker, has been nominated for an Academy Award for his film about the 2008 earthquake in China that killed at least 68,000 people, including many children trapped in collapsed school buildings.

Alpert and Matthew O’Neill were nominated for best documentary in the short subject category for China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province.

Alpert went to Sichuan province in May 2008 and soon discovered an emerging protest movement led by parents who could not get information from government officials about why so many schools were destroyed while other buildings remained standing.

Washington Post columnist Tom Shales said that the film, which aired on HBO in May 2009, “might pack more power per moment of any documentary in recent memory.”

Alpert has won 15 Emmy Awards and four DuPont-Columbia Awards. He has traveled widely as a journalist, reporting from Vietnam, Cambodia,
Iran, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Cuba, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

His many films and reports have documented some of the most important social issues and compelling stories of the past four decades. In 1974, he became the first American journalist in 10 years to produce a television program inside Cuba. In 1977, he made the first television program in Vietnam since the end of the war.

His more recent work includes Baghdad ER and Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery, and films about street gangs in New York, crack drug use in Lowell, Mass., and the impact of auto industry layoffs in the Midwest.

 

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Jon Alpert ’70 and more than a dozen other alumni involved in documentary filmmaking returned to campus for a special film series.

 

The Port Chester, N.Y., native also is the co-founder and co-director of the Downtown Community Television Center, a nonprofit community media center in New York City.

John Knecht, Russell Colgate Distinguished University Professor of art and art history and film and media studies, said this about Alpert:

“Jon is a filmmaker who stands alone in the world of video documentarians. His work, like all great art, exists somewhere in between the usual genre classifications. His work is in the spirit of Vertov in that it is devoted to unpacking any surface dressing and getting to the real.

“His pieces expose layers of power that are sometimes corporate and sometimes governmental. The work sometimes crosses over to traditional journalism but usually has a sharper edge to it than the processed things seen on the networks or cable news venues. As an artist, I have always respected him for that.

“It is nice to see the academy recognize his work. It is so well deserved.”

The Oscars will be presented Sunday, March 7.

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