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  • Maya Muma: Emmy-Award Winning Film Editor

  • Maya Mumma
    “I wanted a classroom environment where we learned how to think critically, where we discussed and wrote. You can understand how the software works, but if you don't know how to tell a story, a good, authentic, and ethical story — you can't make a good film.”

    For Maya Mumma, MA Media Studies ‘09, documentary film editing is much more than piecing together scenes and snippets — it’s identifying the arc of a story and revealing some truth about the world. “You’re writing the script as you go, finding the cinematic language,” she says. A documentary exposes us to human experiences beyond our own; “it’s the closest we can come to walking in somebody else's shoes.”

    The revelatory nature of documentary fascinates Mumma. From in-depth profiles on Senator John McCain and Martin Luther King Jr. to the emotional journey of female Bangladeshi peacekeepers in Haiti, her films always look beyond their subject, placing them within a larger global or historical context. Mumma recently received an Emmy for editing the eight-hour film, O.J.: Made in America (ABC & ESPN, 2016) — also the winner of an Academy Award for best documentary feature — which explored one of the most polarizing legal trials in American history and its underlying civil rights issues. Mumma says that when it first aired, suddenly a dialogue about the film appeared out in the world. “People were really processing and reacting to it. I think you always want that in a film, you want people to come out feeling something completely different than what they expected going in.”

    Before establishing herself as a leading documentarian, Mumma was immersed in New York’s theater scene. She worked as a producer’s assistant on Broadway and directed small-scale productions on the side, all the while dreaming of being a filmmaker. Hoping to wet her feet in the industry, Mumma began applying to as many post-production internships as she could, eventually landing jobs that left her logging and transcribing hours of footage late into the night. But the work was engaging for Mumma. “Once I discovered editing, I knew that was what I wanted to do,” she says. “I get to hold all this material in my head — people's words, stories, lives — and figure out these big picture ideas. For me, that’s the most enjoyable part.”

    When Mumma enrolled at the School of Public Engagement, where she would complete the Documentary Media Studies program as well as her master’s, she hoped to discover new dimensions of her craft. “I wanted a classroom environment where we learned how to think critically, where we discussed and wrote.” At The New School, students are asked to question every aspect of their work and consider the ethics of what they create. Mumma says that this pedagogy not only drew her to the Media Studies program, but enabled her distinguished career. “Ultimately, I think that is what helped me become who I am,” she says. “I actually got my first assistant editing job because I was able to sit with the editor, watch scenes, and talk about them creatively.”

    According to Mumma, to be an editor is to be able to think deeply about film. In a digital era overloaded by footage, the world needs editors who are discerning and intentional. “You can understand how the software works, but if you don't know how to tell a story, a good, authentic, and ethical story — you can't make a good film.”

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