Documentary for Health & Social Justice


HED/CINE 527:Documentary for Health & Social Justice

A new cohort will be forming soon. Please check back for enrollment information.


The Health Equity Institute and the SFSU Cinema department collaborate to offer Documentary for Health and Social Justice, a transdisciplinary film production course that has produced more than 50 short documentariesThese films are student-produced and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Health Equity Institute.

  • STUDENTS learn how to blend the art of storytelling with social justice issues. Non-cinema students are strongly encouraged to apply. Faculty use our films to generate discussion and civic engagement.
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS partner with us to create films for a more just, healthy and equitable society.

How We Work

Students looking at camera

Graduate and undergraduate students from disciplines across campus including Cinema, Health Education, Geography, Gerontology, Ethic Studies, Human Sexuality, Journalism and more, team up and work in partnership with community organizations to research, produce, and distribute documentaries that educate and advocate for change.

Our goal is to create documentaries that communities can use to:

1. Raise awareness around health and social justice issues

2. Increase visibility of marginalized populations

3. Advance dialogue toward solutions

4. Highlight initiatives that are making a difference

5. Mobilize people to action 


Developed in 2006 with support from the SF State Health Education Department, the couse is co-taught by:

  • Rachel Poulain, MPH, Associate Director of Communications and Film Production at HEI
  • Greta Snider, Professor of Cinema and M.F.A. Coordinator, or Johnny Symons, Assistant Professor of Cinema

For Organizations


Our goal is to create documentary films organizations, residents, educators and other stakeholders can use as tools to foster discussion around a particular health and social issue. These are not promotional films, rather they seek to explore an issue, raise solutions and best practices, and above all invite action for health and social justice.

Working in Partnership 

The class is organized into four student teams made up of Cinema and Non-cinema students.  Each team works with a different organization over the course of one semesters to create a 15-minute documentary available on DVD and online. Interested in using a film for an event? Please email us to request a DVD.

If your organization is interested in exploring partnership ideas, please contact

The Filmmaking Process


  • Research the issue & write a film proposal to outline the goals, objectives, and story idea for the film
  • Film key interviewees and events to digitally edit the footage into a 15 minute documentary film and create a discussion guide


  • Assign a lead contact to work directly with student teams
  • Provide relevant data, research and information about the issue and their organization
  • Introduce students to key program/agency participants
  • Provide feedback during the editing process

Past Partnerships 

AIDS United partnered with HEI over the couse of two semesters. Together we created five documentaries exploring the impact of HIV on women. View films under the Spring 2008 collection

BAY AREA LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) partnered with HEI over the course of one semester. Together we created four documentaries that explore the impact of neighborhood conditions on health. View films under the Fall 2009 collection.  

HEI partnered with the ELAYO project funded by the Ford Foundation in Spring 2012. Together we created four documentaries that explored Latino youth and sexual health rights and policy issues. View films under the Spring 2012 collection.

For Students

HED/CINE 527: Documentary for Health & Social Justice


HED/CINE 527 is a documentary filmmaking course where students from disciplines across campus team up with Cinema majors to research, shoot and edit a short 15-minute documentary on a health and social justice issue of choice.

Each team must identify and work in partnerhsip with a community-based organization. No filmmaking experience required for majors outside of Cinema. Note: Each team will have access to a Panasonic DVX100B camera + sound and lighting equipment reserved for the class.



    Whatever your major, if you are interested in making a film about a health & social justice issue, we invite you to apply for the class. Just answer the questions below in an email to rpoulain(a) No filmmaking experience required. 

    1. Why are you interested in taking this class?
    2. How have your classes and other experiences prepared you?
    3. In 3 -4 paragraphs, describe the health & social justice issue you would like to address in your film. Be sure to: 1) describe the issue and the community affected; 2) tell us why it is important to make this film and if you have any existing contacts/connections; and 3) list three local community organizations, with your first choice at the top, that you would want to work in partnership with. 
    4. NOTE: This step is optional, you do not need to submit a film idea to be considered for the course. All students are invited to submit film ideas, but only four will be chosen, so please take some time to craft your response.
    5. Attach a copy of your unofficial transcript


    Cinema majors must be part of the Advanced Production Pool to apply.