Powerful Political Projects From Columbia Affiliates Nominated for '22 News and Documentary Emmy Awards

Emily Johnson
August 05, 2022

Columbia faculty and alumni are among the nominees for the 2022 News and Documentary Emmy Awards. The nominated projects, recognized in major categories, tackle deeply political and emotional subjects.

Film Alumna Smriti Mundhra ’09 is nominated in the Outstanding Short Documentary category for her film “Shelter.”

Former Adjunct Professor Rich Perello and Creative Producing Alumna Mahak Jiwani ’18 served as Executive Producer and Associate Producer respectively for the HBO documentary The Forever Prisoner, which has been nominated in major categories Outstanding Writing: Documentary, and Outstanding Investigative Documentary.

The Forever Prisoner is a stark and unflinching reflection on the War on Terror. It examines the institutional cruelty and deceit which lead to the authorization of torture as US government policy. It is the story of Abu Zubaydah, the first high-value detainee subjected to the CIA’s Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs), now commonly recognized as a program of torture carried out by the agency. Zubaydah, first detained in 2002 and currently imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay, has never been charged with a crime. 

To obtain groundbreaking new information, the film’s director Alex Gibney and producer Ray Bonner launched lawsuits against the CIA, obtaining damning interviews and first-hand accounts from the architects and agents of the EIT program.

Associate Producer Jiwani is a Manager of Creative Affairs at Gibney’s Jigsaw Productions, sourcing and developing compelling and diverse stories in both their documentary and scripted departments. In 2019, she produced the film Darling (2019), which won the Orizzonti Award for Best Short Film at Venice Film Festival, a first for a Pakistani film.

Perello is Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Production for Jigsaw Productions, overseeing production for Jigsaw’s film and television projects. He is an Executive Producer on numerous productions including Dirty Money, The Family, Salt Fat Acid Heat.

The Forever Prisoner’s commitment to detail, despite significant logistical obstacles (the director was only able to communicate with Zubaydah via a lawyer) allows its unflinching look at what Gibney recognizes as the “wildly haphazard”, unscientific, and improvised horrors of US anti-terrorism policy.

Mundhra’s film “Shelter” is part of HBO Max and Sesame Workshop’s Through Our Eyes, a unique four-part docuseries designed for co-viewing with adults and children ages 9 and older. The films explore exceptionally difficult issues from the perspectives of children who experience them, including climate displacement, homelessness, and parental incarceration. 

“Shelter” follows three children and their families as they navigate homelessness in L.A., sleeping in cars, motels, or abandoned houses, making the best of short-term fixes in a system stacked against them. 

Building trust and rapport with subjects was vital for Mundhra, who told Variety that her production team “relied a lot on old-fashioned phone calls.”  

“It was a delicate balance to show the innocence and simple joys of youth while still being honest about the hardships our young participants were going through,” Mundhra said, “Ultimately, kids are incredibly honest and wear their emotions on their sleeves, and we knew they’d open up to us as long as we could make them feel safe.”

“Well, it’s been quite a week!” Mundhra posted to her Instagram following the announcement, “Got the sweetest surprise this morning to learn that my film 'Shelter' has been nominated for a 2022 News & Documentary Emmy.”

In her School of the Arts Alumni Spotlight Interview, the filmmaker cited Professor of Professional Practice Maureen Ryan as an especially helpful mentor. “The time I spent at Columbia was sacred,” Mundhra said, “it was when I felt complete freedom creatively and really discovered my voice as a filmmaker.

The Documentary Emmy Awards will be presented on September 29 2022, in a ceremony at the Palladium Times Square in New York City.