The Center for New American Media was founded in 1979 by Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker, filmmakers interested in presenting a fresh look at American culture. Since then they have created a series of critically praised documentaries and twice garnered both the George Foster Peabody Award and the duPont-Columbia Journalism Award. Between 2004 and 2013 their creative partnership was joined by Peter Odabashian, their longtime editor and a co-producer of many of their recent films.
Their most recent film is Getting Back to Abnormal, a provocative portrait of race and politics in New Orleans, centering on two larger-than-life personalities from the world of urban politics. The film was produced with Paul Stekler, a frequent collaborator, and was broadcast on PBS' POV series in the summer of 2014.
In 2012 they released Past/Present, an innovative 3-D history game that teaches critical concepts in understanding American history to middle schoolers. The richly detailed game is available to educators and the general public for free.
Previous standout films include the acclaimed People Like Us: Social Class in America (2001), the first American documentary explicitly about the American class system – a work that continues to resonate with audiences around the world; Vote for Me – Politics in America (1996), a four-hour examination of politics, politicians and voters that the Chicago Tribune called "the standout in a season of documentaries"; and American Tongues, a celebratory and provocative look at America via the way Americans speak; the film was the very first presentation on P.O.V. in 1988.
Other works over the years include Moms (1999), a poignant and hilarious look at motherhood starring more than 40 mothers who dish about what one calls "the hardest job in the world – raising children"; The Anti-Americans (a hate/love relationship) (2007), a whimsical look at what Europeans think of American politics and culture; Small Ball: A Little League Story (2004), a gripping and clear-eyed look at a suburban California team’s triumphant march to the Little League World Series; and Sex: Female (2003), a surprising and funny look at female sexuality.
Alvarez and Kolker began their careers as VISTA volunteers in the 1970s with a series of hard-hitting documentaries about social problems facing New Orleans, Being Poor in New Orleans. They went on to produce a series of fondly-rememberd classics of Louisiana culture: Yeah You Rite! (1985), about New Orleans accents; Louisiana Boys – Raised on Politics(1992), a rollicking look at Bayou State politics; The Ends of the Earth (1982), about the haunted past of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana; and Mosquitoes and High Water (1982), a look at the folkways of bayou-dwelling Isleno fishermen.
Other work includes "L.A. Is It with John Gregory Dunne,"a meditation on the culture of Los Angeles featuring the author of True Confessions; and The Japanese Version, an exploration of what happens when American popular culture gets to Japan.
Alvarez, Kolker, and Odabashian have created commissioned TV work for clients like the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ellis Island Museum of Immigration in New York, the Savannah Music Festival, and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.