Nina Gilden Seavey

Nina Seavey

Director, Documentary Center
MPA 519; Office Hours: T/Th, 4:00-6:00pm
Address: School of Media and Public Affairs
805 21st Street NW
Washington, DC, 20052
Phone: 202-994-6787

Areas of Expertise

Documentary Filmmaking and Critical Analysis, Trends in the production and exhibition of non-fiction films


Nina Gilden Seavey is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and nearly 30-year veteran of the documentary world. Her work can be seen in cinemas, on television, on multiple platforms of ancillary media, and in museum installations across the globe.

Seavey is the director of The Documentary Center in the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, in Washington, DC, which she founded in 1991. She concurrently serves as Co-Director of the Center for Innovative Media at GWU.  In 2012 Seavey was named one of the top fifty journalism professors in the US by  She holds the academic rank of Full Research Professor of History and Media and Public Affairs.

In 2003 Seavey became the Founding Director of the SILVERDOCS: AFI-Discovery Documentary Festival, now the largest documentary festival in the U.S. She continued with the festival as Executive Producer, Programmer, and senior member of the management team from 2004 to 2009.

Seavey has currently two films in production: The first is Healing Wars, based on the upcoming dance and theatrical performance piece by MacArthur Genius Award-winning choreographer Liz Lerman; and the second is A Chessman in Winter: Zbigniew Brzezinski which explores the life and work of the key architect of our nuclear strategic policy.  Both films will be completed in 2014.

Seavey’s most recent released film is THE WAR AT HOME which was commissioned by the National Park Service as the centerpiece installation film for their newest historic site, The Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historic Park on San Francisco Bay.  The 23-minute film will play every thirty minutes in the main theater for the next two decades.  Thus far, the film has been the recipient of 10 national awards including four Tellys, four Communicator Awards from the International Institute of the Visual Arts, a special jury award from World Fest Houston’s International Competition, and a Cine Golden Eagle.

In 2011 Seavey released her film 4TH AND GOAL, the epic story of six young men in their quest to make it to the NFL. The film, shot over six years, in traditional cinema verite style is the first film ever to document the journey that millions of boys each year hope will lead to a career in professional football.  4th & GOAL won the Italian National Olympic Cup for Best Documentary at the 29th Annual FICTS Sports Film Festival in Milan, Italy and continues to tour film festivals around the world.  It aired on ESPN Europe beginning in January, 2012 and was acquired for DVD, digital and pay-per-view distribution by First Run Features, Gravitas Entertainment, and Warner Brothers Entertainment.

Beginning in 2005, Seavey produced and co-directed THE MATADOR, which was released theatrically by City Lights Pictures in 2008 and was subsequently broadcast on The Sundance Channel in 2010. The film follows famed matador, David Fandila, in his quest to become the top ranked bullfighter in the world. The New York Times said of THE MATADOR that it “unspools with more drama than most blockbusters.” The film is represented in foreign distribution by Visit Films International, Inc and was released on DVD and Blu Ray by Warner Brothers Entertainment.  In 2012, the film won a CINE Golden Eagle for Best Independent Documentary Feature.

Seavey’s imaginative and eclectic style in Seavey’s A SHORT HISTORY OF SWEET POTATO PIE AND HOW IT BECAME A FLYING SAUCER, a 17-minute documentary comedy and screened in dozens of film festivals beginning in the spring of 2006.  The film was nominated for the International Documentary Association Award for Best Documentary Short for 2006.

On a more serious note, Seavey produced and directed THE OPEN ROAD:AMERICA LOOKS AT AGING, which aired on public television beginning in July 2005. The film was screened in town meetings in 35 states, before the Senate Select Committee on Aging, and during the White House Conference on Aging.

In 2004, Seavey received an Emmy nomination for Best Director for THE BALLAD OF BERING STRAIT. The film follows the journey of seven Russian teenagers who came to America to become country music stars. BALLAD won the Audience Award at the Washington International Film Festival and was selected for the International Documentary Association’s qualifying run for the Academy Awards. BALLAD was released theatrically by Emerging Pictures, appeared in broadcast on VH1/CMT, and was released on DVD by Koch Lorber, Inc. before being acquired by SnagFilms for a multi-platform digital release.

Seavey’s  film, A PARALYZING FEAR: THE STORY OF POLIO IN AMERICA was nationally broadcast on PBS in October 1998 and garnered three Emmy nominations and won one Emmy Award for Best Research in a Documentary. The film also received the Erik Barnouw Prize for the Best Historical Film of the Year. The film was released theatrically at the Film Forum in New York City and toured 60 cities nationwide. The broadcast of A PARALYZING FEAR was accompanied by the publication of a companion book for which Seavey was the first author.

Seavey is known for the range and diversity both of styles and content found in her work. She has directed large historical re-creations, live multi-camera shoots for music and sports, and is accomplished in the fusion of interview material with extent archival images and live action motion picture. Perhaps her work is most noteworthy for the access to people and places that are unique to her films. Seavey successfully negotiated the right to shoot the Discovery Channel special, THE BATTLE OF THE ALAMO, inside the walls of the Alamo. Seavey’s crew was the first, and still is, the only film crew ever allowed to shoot inside of the shrine in its nearly 150-year history.

As Director of the Documentary Center over the past nearly 25 years, Seavey has mentored and graduated 400 aspiring non-fiction filmmakers who have come from around the U.S. to study in her unique, intensive six-month program. The film was ranked as one of the top ten documentary programs in the nation by THE INDEPENDENT.

In 2008, Seavey launched in the International Emerging Filmmakers Fellowship. Sponsored by the U.S Department of State and the Panasonic Corporation of America, the program brings filmmakers from around the world to GWU for six weeks of cultural exchange and professional development. Between 2008 and 2010 the program has trained filmmakers from Uzbekistan, Jordan, Malaysia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Somalia, India, Lebanon, Burkina Faso, Nicaragua, Kashmir, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Brazil, Armenia, Uganda, Pakistan, South Africa, Colombia, Kyrgyzstan, Egypt, Rwanda, Nepal, Zimbabwe, Ghana, and Cambodia.

Seavey also regularly serves as panelist and advisor to many projects including efforts on behalf of the International Documentary Association, the Duke Ellington School for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, The John Heinz Family Foundation, The Anthony Radziwill Documentary Fund of the IFP, and the Southern Humanities Media Fund,  Seavey was the 2006 Woman of Vision for Women in Film and Television in Washington, DC.

Prior to becoming a filmmaker, Seavey had a career in politics from 1972 until 1980. She served on the Missouri campaign staff for the presidential campaigns of George McGovern and Morris Udall and for the senatorial campaign for Thomas Eagleton (D-MO). Seavey moved to Washington and served as foreign and military policy advisor to Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder (D-CO) and in 1979 became a political appointee in the Office of the Secretary of Defense during the Carter Administration.

Seavey has a B.A. in History and French Literature from Washington University in St. Louis and a Masters Degree in History, with an emphasis on late 19th Century American social history, from George Washington University.

Seavey lives in Takoma Park, MD, with her husband, Ormond, and their three children, Aaron, Eleanor, and Caleb, along with the family dogs, Frank and Ruby.


B.A. Washington University in St. Louis, 1978, History and French Literature
M.A. George Washington University, 1991, American History

Classes Taught

SMPA 1000, Documentary Film: Fact, Fiction or Propaganda (Dean's Seminar)
SMPA 3479, Documentary: Art and Genre
SMPA 6230, Principles and Methods of Documentary Filmmaking
SMPA 6231, Documentary Film Production



Faculty Soundbite

"There's a rise in expectation of how great stories are going to be told and how great filmmaking techniques are going to be brought to screen."

Research Professor of History and of Media and Public Affairs Nina Seavey reveals the primary qualification of becoming a great documentary filmmaker.

The Faculty Soundbites Series reveals the most captivating and rewarding aspects of SMPA professors' work in the field and in the classroom.

Selected Media Clips

"Most entertaining documentary may win the Oscar," Voice of America, February 2013

"Moore explains changes in Oscar documentary rules," Talk of the Nation, NPR, February 2012

"Political movies aim to influence voters," Voice of America, October 2012

"Ken Burns and the debate on artistic freedom," Tell Me More from NPR News, May 2007