Joshua Seftel

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Joshua Seftel
Born (1968-07-17) July 17, 1968 (age 50)
OccupationDirector, producer, screenwriter
Years active1992–present
Spouse(s)Erika Frankel

Joshua Seftel (born July 17, 1968) is an American filmmaker.[1] He currently lives in New York City and is represented by Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles. Seftel began his career in documentaries at age 22 with his Emmy-nominated film, Lost and Found, about Romania's orphaned children. He followed this with several films including the political campaign film Taking on the Kennedys, selected by Time Magazine as one of the “ten best of the year”; the underdog sports film The Home Team which premiered at SXSW, and the behind-the-scenes film about Annie's Broadway revival It’s the Hard Knock Life which the New York Times called “delightful.” Seftel's first foray into comedy, Breaking the Mold, gained cult status on the film festival circuit and caught the attention of filmmaker Alexander Payne, who championed him as a director. Seftel went on to direct the political satire War, Inc. starring John Cusack, Marisa Tomei, Hilary Duff, Joan Cusack, and Ben Kingsley which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Seftel continues his work both in documentary film, mini-series, and commercial branded content with pieces such as his most recent series, The Secret Life of Muslims.

Early life[edit]

Born in Schenectady, New York, Seftel graduated from Tufts University in the class of 1990 with a Bachelor of Arts in French Literature and having completed the required coursework in pre-medical sciences. During his time at Tufts University, he studied abroad in Paris, France at Wesleyan University in Paris as a student of French literature and history in 1988. He later attended Columbia University’s National Arts Journalism Program (NAJP) in New York City as a mid-career fellow in 2002-2003.


Documentary films[edit]

Seftel began his career in documentaries at age 22, receiving a National Emmy Nomination for his first film, Lost and Found: the Story of Romania’s Forgotten Children,[1] a documentary about the plight of Romania’s 120,000 orphaned and abandoned children. Seftel lived in orphanages for several weeks while shooting the film. The Public Television broadcast of the film, which Seftel made for only $2,000, led to hundreds of adoptions of Romanian orphans and helped raise money and awareness for the cause.

Old Warrior, (1994) Seftel’s next film, is a documentary about the forgotten history of the Senior Citizens Power Movement and its founder, Frank J. Manning and received the Gold Plaque at the Chicago International Film Festival and was broadcast on Public TV.

In 1996, Seftel produced Taking on the Kennedys[2] for the PBS series P.O.V.[3] which followed the campaign of Republican candidate Kevin Vigilante as he challenged Patrick J. Kennedy for a U.S. Congressional seat in Rhode Island. Taking on the Kennedys was named on TIME's list "The Best Television of 1996"[4] and has been anthologized in P.O.V.’s 20th Anniversary Collection DVD set.[5]

Seftel's next film was Ennis’ Gift, an HBO documentary released in 2002 about learning differences produced with Bill Cosby and wife Camille Hanks in memory of their late son Ennis, which featured Danny Glover, James Earl Jones, Anne Bancroft, Robert Rauschenberg, Charles Schwab and Caitlyn Jenner (then Bruce).[a] It has been called "inspirational" by The Boston Globe and received the 2002 Literacy in Media Award from the Literacy Network of Greater Los Angeles.

In 2010, Seftel produced Invitation to World Literature, a 13-part docu-series for WGBH that explored the themes of great literature from around the globe. Subjects included composer Philip Glass, actress Kristin Chenoweth, actor Alan Cumming, Nobel-Prize winning novelist Orhan Pamuk, and author Francine Prose.

After his success with Ennis’ Gift, Seftel went on to direct and produce an hour-long PBS documentary, It’s the Hard-Knock Life about the revival of the classic musical “Annie” being directed by Broadway legend, James Lapine in 2013. In 2014, his short documentary The Home Team premiered at the SXSW Film Festival and screened at numerous others including Sarasota, Nashville, and AFI Docs. The Home Team documented the last game of the season for the Murray State Racers, the biggest night of the year in tight-knit, all-American Murray, Kentucky. 2015 brought two very fruitful projects for Mr. Seftel: The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano, a 2016 New York Times Op-Doc, as well as Zain’s Summer. In The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano, which was premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, Seftel and photographer, Phillip Toledano explore a series of ways that Mr. Toledano can die, using makeup and photographs to simulate every potential outcome. Zain’s Summer follows a young Pakistani immigrant who has a very short time to adjust to life in America.

Most recently, Joshua Seftel has directed and produced The Secret Life of Muslims, a series of 14 short documentary profiles and subject films on life as a Muslim-American today. This series features many prominent Muslim figures, including AJ+ correspondent Dena Takruri, US Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad, NYTimes bestselling author Reza Aslan, and founder and editor of Muslimgirl Amani Al-Khatahbah, among many others. The Secret Life of Muslims is what FlavorWire called “a blast of clarity and human in the face of so much fear-mongering.”[7] The series has been distributed by Vox, USA Today, CBS Sunday Morning, The Huffington Post, Upworthy, and more.

Scripted work[edit]

Seftel broke into scripted film work with Breaking the Mold: The Kee Malesky Story[8] that told the fictional story of one young librarian’s quest to defeat toxic, asthma-inducing mold. The title character borrows the name of real-life NPR librarian Kee Malesky. The humorous film originated when Maryland Public Television asked Seftel to make a fictional piece about indoor air quality for middle-school aged children. The film played at the Los Angeles International Short Film Festival, the Newport International Film Festival, the Austin Film Festival and won the Jury Prize at the Chicago International Children's Film Festival. Breaking the Mold was shown at the One Reel Film Festival in Seattle where director Alexander Payne was a judge.

Feature films[edit]

After seeing the film Breaking the Mold, director Alexander Payne championed Seftel as a director of features and put him in touch with John Cusack and Mark Leyner who were taken with Seftel's work. This led to Seftel directing the feature film War, Inc., starring Cusack, and co-written by Leyner, Cusack, and Jeremy Pikser. War, Inc. premiered at the 7th Annual Tribeca Film Festival in April 2008 and played nationally in theaters. The movie is a political satire set in Turaqistan, a fictional country occupied by an American private corporation run by a former US Vice-President (Dan Aykroyd). In an effort to monopolize the opportunities the war-torn nation offers, the corporation's CEO hires a troubled hit man (Cusack), to kill a Middle Eastern oil minister. Struggling with his own growing demons, the assassin must pose as the corporation's Trade Show Producer in order to pull off this latest hit, while maintaining his cover by organizing the high-profile wedding of Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff), an outrageous Middle Eastern pop star, and keeping a sexy left wing reporter (Marisa Tomei) in check.[9]

Television, radio, and print journalism[edit]

Seftel has also worked in television, producing for ABC Turning Point, CBS Evening News, CBS Sunday Morning, PBS' Nova Science Now series and the award-winning public radio program This American Life. At CBS News, Seftel was brought in by then Executive Vice President Jonathan Klein (current President of CNN) to pioneer the use of the mini-DV format at the network.

For This American Life, Seftel produced a 1997 radio documentary entitled Trek[10] about an exploration of race and friendship in post-apartheid South Africa. He also produced a segment called “Still Life” in episode #2 “My Way” for This American Life[11] the television show, which aired on Showtime in 2007. Seftel also adapted NPR's popular This I Believe series from radio to public television for WGBH Boston. Seftel's short stories and articles have been featured on NPR,, and The Seattle Times.

After Seftel's experience with WGBH and This American Life, he went on to produce Lidia Celebrates America in 2011-2012. In this mini-series produced for PBS, celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich and special guests Stanley Tucci, Mo Rocca and Mario Batali explore how immigrants have preserved their unique culinary traditions for generations. The project was nominated for both a James Beard Foundation Broadcast Media Award for Special/Documentary and a Silver Telly award.

Reality television[edit]

In reality television, Seftel directed the first two seasons of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and received a National Emmy Award Nomination for his work on the series. He also helped develop the A&E series Confessions of a Matchmaker, featuring Patti Novak, directing the series pilot, and served as Supervising Producer for the series. Seftel also developed the Emmy-nominated PBS children's reality game show Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman and directed the inaugural season.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Seftel was awarded a National Arts Journalism Fellowship[12] at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Columbia University School of the Arts in 2003.

Year Award Category Nominated work Result
1992 CINE Golden Eagle Short Documentary Lost and Found: the Story of Romania’s Forgotten Children Won
Chicago International Film Festival Silver Plaque Award Won
Columbus International Film & Video Festival Bronze Plaque Award Won
National Educational Media Network, USA Bronze Apple Award Won
1993 News and Documentary Emmy Awards Outstanding News and Documentary Program Achievement Nominated
1995 Chicago International Film Festival Gold Plaque Award Old Warrior Won
Retirement Research Foundation, USA

2nd Place Wise Owl Award

Independent Films and Videotapes Won
1997 Cinequest San Jose Film Festival Best Documentary Taking on the Kennedys Nominated
2003 Chicago International Children's Film Festival

Children's Jury Award Certificate of Merit

Live-Action Television Production Breaking the Mold: The Kee Malesky Story Won
2004 Emmy Award Survivor’s Guide to High School Nominated
Emmy Award Outstanding Reality Program Queer Eye for the Straight Guy Won
2005 Emmy Award Outstanding Reality Program Nominated
2008 Daytime Emmy Awards Outstanding Children's Series, Outstanding Achievement in Single Camera Editing Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman Nominated
2009 Outstanding Children's Series, Outstanding Writing in a Children's Series Nominated
2012 Emmy Award Future Files (Pilot) Won
2014 SXSW Film Festival Grand Jury Award Documentary Short The Home Team Nominated
2015 Tribeca Film Festival Jury Award Best Documentary Short The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano Nominated
BendFilm Festival Jury Prize Best Documentary Short Won
Montclair Film Festival Audience Award Short Film Won
Little Rock Film Festival Best World Shorts Documentary Won
Sheffield International Documentary Festival Short Doc Award Nominated
2016 Annapolis Film Festival Jury Prize Best Short Won
2017 Independent Film Festival of Boston Audience Award Documentary Short Zain’s Summer: From Refugee to American Boy Won
76th Annual Peabody Award Finalists Documentary The Secret Life of Muslims Finalist
The Goldziher Prize Won


  1. ^ Jenner changed her name due to gender transition in 2015.[6]


  1. ^ New York Times review of "Lost and Found: the Story of Romania's Forgotten Children"
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 5, 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-20.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) Taking on the Kennedys
  3. ^ P.O.V. "Taking on the Kennedys"
  4. ^,9171,985747-2,00.html TIME Magazine "The Best Television Of 1996"
  5. ^ P.O.V.'s 20th Anniversary Collection DVD set
  6. ^ Buzz Bissinger (June 1, 2015). "Introducing Caitlyn Jenner". Vanity Fair. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  7. ^ "'The Secret Life of Muslims' Creator Joshua Seftel on Pop Culture's Potential to Change Minds". Flavorwire. 2016-11-22. Retrieved 2017-06-22.
  8. ^ New York Times review of "Breaking the Mold: The Kee Malesky Story"
  9. ^ War, Inc. (2008) Plot Summary on
  10. ^ This American Life Episode 72 "Trek"
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 17, 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-10.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) This American Life television show, episode 2
  12. ^ najp:

External links[edit]