Brandon Gaesser | Department of Media Arts

Brandon Gaesser

Assistant Professor
Contemporary Documentary, Documentary Cinematography
Brandon Gaesser

Brandon Gaesser grew up exploring the creek and woods behind his childhood home in Virginia. Eventually his wilderness world expanded into national parks, where he camped out for days on end just to capture that perfect photograph of a lone moose. These experiences taught him to appreciate the environment and ecosystems around us. In another life, he says, he would have been a climatologist. But documentary film allows him to explore the strained relationship between humans and nature.

Gaesser's research interests focus on environmental issues such as ecosystem degradation; water, air, and soil pollution; and climate change. He believes these topics cannot be explored without addressing the intersection of social and environmental justice: more specifically, community stories of environmental racism and NIMBYism, or "not in my backyard." Both are constructs of power, economic, racial, and political inequality that enable industries with polluting and often carcinogenic by-products to build and dump in or near historically underrepresented communities.

He believes that meaningful change is often grassroots, which is why he focuses on compelling stories in our surroundings: local people, organizations, and communities working as advocates and guardians in the journey toward changing our anthropocentric footprint, one step at a time. Stories we never learn about in the 24-hour news "recycle." His film, Chicken Soup for the Soil, exemplifies these early foundations in his creative intentions.

He will continue to bring local residential communities and academic communities together in collaboration, using visual storytelling to facilitate change and to communicate the science behind the story to a wider audience. His past work includes documenting the research of the Wake Forest University Department of Engineering and non-profit Yadkin River Keeper as they studied local watersheds to provide accessible water quality information to local communities. This research and short documentary film were later published online in Nature.

Gaesser teaches Documentary Cinematography and Contemporary Documentary. He believes in helping students thrive not only as storytellers, but also as listeners because listening reflects respect, trust, appreciation, and support for the dignity and lived experiences of film participants. Documentary films should educate, but also empathize, question, and contextualize rather than reflect a filmmaker's bias or agenda.

His course structure is grounded in participatory learning and peer collaboration, employing a hands-on approach toward exploring the ever-evolving technical tools of the trade. Gaesser's goal is to help students draw from multiple disciplines when planning and filming their documentaries, encouraging aspiring cinematographers to think like editors and emerging producers to think like cinematographers, and to navigate aesthetic challenges with imaginative solutions.

His film Chicken Soup for the Soil has won several awards including Exceptional Merit in Cinematography as well as the KSMQ Public Television Award and is streaming on The Weather Channel's Pattrn. Gaesser earned an M.F.A. in Documentary Film from Wake Forest University, where he was a graduate teaching assistant for courses in cinematography and sound, advanced cinematography, and environmental journalism.