FRONTLINE Wins 2 duPont-Columbia Awards

December 17, 2014

FRONTLINE documentaries about U.S. government surveillance programs and ISIS’s role in the brutal civil war in Syria have been honored with 2015 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards for excellence in broadcast and digital news.

United States of Secrets, a two-part series from filmmakers Michael Kirk and Martin Smith, explored how the National Security Agency began monitoring the personal data of millions of Americans in the wake of 9/11, and the role of Silicon Valley firms like Google and Facebook.

Syria’s Second Front, with direction, camera, and reporting by Muhammad Ali, was among the first U.S. reports on the rise of what was then a little-known group known as ISIS.

“We’re especially honored to be recognized for two films on such different but equally important subjects: domestic surveillance and the war in Syria. The awards really speak to the depth of our producers, and their determination to tell honest, ambitious stories,” said Raney Aronson-Rath, FRONTLINE deputy executive producer.

“We’re very grateful for these awards, and for being trusted with the mission of producing in-depth journalism that covers the world,” said FRONTLINE founder and executive producer David Fanning. “We couldn’t do it without our funders, PBS and CPB, or the viewers who watch and support our films.”

Syria’s Second Front documented ISIS’s early emergence in Syria.

“It’s a great honor to be a winner of the duPont award, especially because it’s granted by Columbia University, an institution I have always admired,” said Muhammad Ali. “The story was hard to make and I had to spend three months on the ground, getting in and out and following many elements. I want to highlight the efforts of FRONTLINE, because they were very patient to produce a story that was not guaranteed to happen due to the logistics and the dangerous conditions. Thankfully, they didn’t give up when I exceeded the delivery deadline many times. This is the real mentality of the investigative work. I am very grateful for their support.”

Michael Kirk directed, co-wrote and co-produced Part One of United States of Secrets, entitled The Program. The film tracked how the U.S.’s fear of another terror attack after 9/11 led to widespread monitoring of its citizens.

“It is a real honor to receive the duPont-Columbia Award and to have our work recognized,” Kirk said. “We produced the film to help viewers fully understand the scope of the government’s surveillance operations and the decisions made by public officials to spy on millions of ordinary people. The overwhelmingly positive response of our viewers and the award from the duPont-Columbia judges means we accomplished our goal.”

Martin Smith wrote and produced Part Two, Privacy Lost, which focused on technology companies’ roles in the government monitoring.

“This was difficult work as none of the Silicon Valley companies that were at the center of Part Two’s report were willing to cooperate. Myself and my team are deeply honored,” Smith said.

You can watch the winning films below:

Syria’s Second Front:

United States of Secrets Pt. 1:

United States of Secrets Pt. 2: 

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