by Lisa Riordan Seville
Tina Antolini has a thing for words. When she speaks, she savors them. As a producer for National Public Radio, words are her business. But sometimes, they are her subjects.
I’ve been obsessed with language for a long time,” said Antolini in a phone interview. “Every time someone says a phrase, I’ll end up having a conversation about where the heck it came from.”
On stage in front of 400 people in a dark theater at the New York MoMA in late February, Antolini took up the origin of one word in particular—“whatever”.
Antolini’s audio and live performance was one of six pieces that the members of the UnionDocs Collaborative debuted at Documentary Fortnight, the museum’s annual festival of non-fiction film. The pieces were experimental, but it was fitting, because the Collaborative too is an experiment started this year by the Brooklyn non-profit UnionDocs.
Somewhere between an informal critique group and a graduate program, Collaborative members trade a one-year commitment and $3,000 for two mentors, masters classes, and most importantly, access to like-minded people from many different disciplines.
For Rahul Chadha, an aspiring filmmaker with a background in journalism, shooting video and talking theory with radio producers, filmmakers, critics, and architects is a brave new world, the kind he hoped for when he signed on for the program.
“What they do really inspires me,” said Chadha. “I’m getting exposed to all of these different modes of storytelling.”
The project is part of a do-it-yourself approach to pedagogy cropping up in design and art communities from California to Toronto. The goal at UnionDocs isn’t to dream up buildings or lay down paint, but to think about what it means to tell true stories, and how to document them.
The idea for the program sprouted from the possibilities, and problems, of documentary today. “It’s very clear that anyone can create and present the way that they think the world is,” said Jesse Shapins, Co-Mentor for the Collaborative, “and people will believe it.” The group tries to rub up against that belief, asking questions about truth rather than swallowing it whole.Christopher Allen and Johanna Linsley. Order
The 11 members devote evenings and weekends to reading Roland Barthes and deconstructing documentaries on Lil Wayne, scoping the many ways that their predecessors have told nonfiction stories on film. In between, they work on a yearlong project, a group documentary meant, at its most ambitious, to question the premises and problems behind the “myth” that documentary is necessarily synonymous with truth.
Founded in 2002, UnionDocs is one of several micro-cinemas and roving film series in Brooklyn that are making room to see and discuss documentaries. Unlike the works of Michael Moore, or the sprawling epics of Ken Burns, most docs are made on shoestring budgets and are never slated for wide distribution.
Since the beginning, the core group at UnionDocs has been interested in discussing and making work as much as showing it. Over the years Christopher Allen, Jesse Shapins, Johanna Linsley, Paul Kiel, and Kara Oehler began to collaborate to make “documentaries” that played with the possibilities of the term.
“We are looking at what representing the real is, right now, in contemporary life,” explained Allen, Executive Director of UnionDoc…….