Frustrations are peaking with the aging infrastructure that we rely on everyday. As systems lag and wait times climb, as climate change threatens further damage and forces decisive action, as corporate interests move to privatize transit and open lanes exclusive to the elite, it is obvious that major public investments are urgently required to preserve and improve. In the great rebuild to come, who will be asked to sacrifice and what priorities will be privileged? Will there be winners and losers? Or will we all gain?
The short documentaries in this program were developed by ten film and audio makers over ten months in response to this shared context. Starting in the throes of an impending shutdown, and now amidst an epic slowdown, the L train drama offered a jumping off point for the artists in this year’s UnionDocs Collaborative Studio to seek important stories, hidden poetics, and critical experiences.The works they produced challenge us to recognize fragilities, gaps and cracking within the dizzied and constant churn of civic circulation; to see transit as both a race to get ahead and a coordinated movement in unison, an expression of personal rhythms, routines and rituals as well as of social patterns of neglect and injustice; to notice the psychological and spiritual labor of public service and those who can be lost in the shuffle; to ask how intimate underground space acts on the subconscious and if we can rebuild from ruin to find connections.
HOPE YOU SEE THIS
Benjamin Stillerman and Rachel Winton
USA • 2019 • 14 mins
Based off of the occurrences on the NYC subway that lead to ‘missed connections’ postings on Craigslist, Hope You See This is an immersive audio piece that interrogates common fantasies and narratives around chance-romance, desire in public space, and happy endings.
Written, Produced and Direction—Benjamin Stillerman and Rachel Winton
BY WAY OF CANARSIE
Lesley Steele and Emily Packer
USA • 2019 • 14 mins
After years of neglect by the City of New York and the devastation of Hurricane Sandy – the coastal community of Canarsie, Brooklyn wants more. This film explores Canarsie’s unique relationship to the water through recreation, resiliency, and the community’s imagination for the future.
Director, Director of Photographer, Editor—Lesley Steele
Director, Director of Photographer, Editor—Emily Packer
LAST STOP FOR LOST PROPERTY
USA • 2019 • 13 mins
As New Yorkers rush through the subway tunnels, hundreds of items are lost every day. Sonny Drayton, lost item expert, guides us with a mix of humor and poetic reflections through the process of recovering objects from the MTA’s Lost Property Unit. Through the stories of loss that these objects reveal, Lost and Found (working title) questions the value we place on the artifacts of our lives, big and small, cherished and dismissed, tangible and existential.
Rachel Winton—Art Director
Audio Producer—Elyse Blennerhassett
Audio Story Producer—Elyse Blennerhassett
Sound Designer—Elyse Blennerhassett
Composers—Elyse Blennerhassett, Luca, Tynus
SPIRITUAL FIRST AID
Jordan Elizabeth Vesey
USA • 2019 • 12 mins
‘Spiritual First Aid’ is a cinematic portrait of loss, faith, and the ways we seek guidance in times of death. It follows the stories of the MTA Work Life Services and The Office of the Chaplains’, a group of interfaith volunteers for the MTA that serve as First Responders to traumatic subway and bus accidents. These Chaplains, together with the help of a forensic psychologist from Work Life Services, help Train Operators, Conductors and Bus Operators process what they see when a subway or bus rider turns their train or bus into a means for suicide.
Jordan Elizabeth Vesey—Director and Principal Director of Photography
Vicente Cueto—Senior Producer and Assistant Camera
Emily Packer—Editor and Story Producer
RHYTHM'S GONNA GET YA
Lindsey Phillip and Shirin Ghaffrey
USA • 2019 • 9 mins
We each have routines, habits, and techniques that help us most efficiently and pleasantly navigate our daily commute(s). This hybrid documentary is a performance of recreated scenes that capture the lifestyle of New York subways riders and how they respond to commuting obstacles.
Director, Director of Photography, Additional Editor, Additional Sound Designer—Lindsey Phillips
Producer, Director, Assistant Camera—Shirin Ghaffrey
Editor—Jordan Elizabeth Vesey
Sound Designer and Audio Recording—Elyse Blennerhassett
USA • 2019 • 16 mins
‘Imagined Ruins’ is an experimental short film that dives into the psychological and ritualistic experience of transit and commute in New York City’s subway canal. The film incorporates various perspectives of the subway experience and transcends the traditions of non-fiction and the physicality of the subway space.
2019 COLLABORATIVE STUDIO
Emily Packer is an experimental non-fiction filmmaker with an interest in border culture and border theory. Emily graduated from Hampshire College in December of 2015. The following year, she organized a three-day art event in San Diego and Tijuana, where she screened her second feature film, La Frontierra Chingada. In addition to her independent work, Emily is a freelance editor and a pre-screener for film festivals in New York City. Emily collects voicemails for future use; consider yourself notified.
Lesley Steele is a dedicated visual storyteller with a background in video & film production and digital design. Originally a New York City native from The Bronx, Lesley obtained a BFA in Design Technology from Parsons The New School for Design and Masters in Directing from The School of Visual Arts. She writes, directs and edits short and long-form video. Inspired by experimental film, her work reflects the juxtaposition of mediums including 16mm and analog tape to explore new meaning in the moving image. Previously Lesley has worked as a shooter and editor for Genius News, and a digital designer at MTV & Nickelodeon, Buzzfeed and HBO.
Shirin Ghaffary is a reporter and filmmaker from the San Francisco Bay Area who moved to New York a year ago. Her first documentary, “Cloyne Court” is about 150 UC Berkeley students living together in the nation’s largest student commune, and the challenges the historically radical house faces. Shirin is excited to share stories about the immigrant experience in New York City. When she’s not making documentaries she works as a reporter for Recode covering how technology is impacting the way people work and live. In the past, Shirin has worked for BuzzFeed News and PBS Digital making videos.
Peruvian artist Vicente Cueto uses filmmaking, installation, and interactive teaching to explore the intersections between art, memory, and politics. In 2016, he relocated to New York City to complete his Masters degree at NYU in Art, Education, and Community Practice. He has worked with the Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team documenting Human Rights Violations in Peru, and with the Urban Democracy Lab making short documentaries about housing activists. His single-channel film work, “Drawing from Memory” screened at the 2017 Margaret Mead Film Festival.
Emma Yi is a visual artist, independent filmmaker and performer based in New York. She is currently a Collborative Studio fellow at UnionDocs. She graduated from the City College of New York with a MFA degree in Digital and Interdisciplinary Art Practice. Having a bachelor’s degree in Literature of Film, Television and Theater and a master’s degree in Communication Studies, her ideas are multi-disciplinary and grounded in different fields, such as sociology and anthropology. Through utilizing and de-familiarizing crucial moments of everyday life as materials of artistic practice, her works are often conceptual, including conflicts inherent to human nature, functions of objects, hidden power and social construction, based on post-structural theory. Her works have been exhibited in solo and group shows, including The PALAZZO VELLI EXPO in Italy, The Border Project Space in New York, El Museo DE Los Sures, Cloud Gallery and other public spaces. Besides, she co-curated a performance event at Chashama in 2016.
Lindsey Phillips is a documentary filmmaker and editor based in Brooklyn, New York. In her work, she celebrates unique traditions and idiosyncrasies of place, culture, and communities, finding the humor and humanity in complex places. She is known for directing and editing “The Exceptionally Extraordinary Emporium,” a film about the significance of costuming in New Orleans, and “My Name Is Marc, And You Can Count On It,” about Cleveland’s late-night commercial cult icon Marc Brown. Her films have screened at numerous film festivals across the country, including the New Orleans Film Festival, Cleveland International Film Festival, Indie Grits, Sidewalk Film Festival and Eastern Oregon Film Festival, among others.
Benjamin Stillerman is a PhD candidate at New York University and a founding editor of the collage journal ctrl + v. He has directed, produced, and edited films for the Visible Poetry Project. His poetry has appeared in Virga Magazine, Salamander Magazine, and GASHER Journal. He lives in Queens.
From London, Rachel Winton is passionate about audio-visual culture. Her practice draws its multi-media influence from photography, collage, literature and installation. After studying Fine Art at Bezalel Art Academy in Jerusalem, Rachel earned her BA in Art History & Film Studies at Sussex University, Brighton. She has coordinated multiple art and music events as well as the Brighton-based publication of the ‘boob-zine’, created in aid of breast cancer. She has also worked closely with vulnerable adults + teens to co-create peer-led workshops that promote emotional health and visual literacy. Her ventures into creative non-fiction film include a portrait about queer Jewish identity and an essay film about the rain.
Jordan Vesey is a filmmaker, and journalist whose mission is to use documentary as a tool to celebrate and empower images of underrepresented people and topics on screen. She is a Collaborative Studio Fellow for the Union Docs Center for Documentary Art in Brooklyn, where she is directing and editing two short documentaries which will premiere this June. She currently works at Radical Media on a series for the National Geographic Channel about global poverty. Prior to that she worked for the PBS NewsHour for over five years producing a wide range of stories for both web and television broadcast. Some of her favorite topics to cover include the intersection of politics, race, and identity, youth culture and gender.
Elyse Blennerhassett is a freelance audio and multimedia producer, journalist, and immersive sound artist based in Brooklyn. She is co-founder of Brown Planet Productions, an independent documentary production company, with award-winning filmmaker Carlos Javier Ortiz. She collaborates with documentary producers, investigative journalists, artists, oral historians, nonprofit organizations, academic institutions, and galleries to produce podcasts, films, and immersive exhibitions. Her original and collaborative works have been seen/heard in publications including: The Marshall Project, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, NPR, and The Invisible Institute. She has contributed to productions that have screened at film and photography festivals and that have been featured in gallery exhibitions throughout The United States and Europe.
WHAT IS THE UNIONDOCS COLLABORATIVE STUDIO?
The UnionDocs Collaborative Studio (CoLAB) is a program for a select group of media artists from the US and abroad. Based in one of NYC’s most exciting neighborhoods, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, CoLAB offers a platform for exploring contemporary approaches to the documentary arts and a process for developing an innovative collaborative project. The program consists of weekly production meetings, seminars, screenings and other public programs, along with regular masterclasses and critiques with visiting artists.
Based in one of NYC’s most exciting neighborhoods, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, CoLAB offers a platform for exploring contemporary approaches to the documentary arts and a process for developing an innovative collaborative project.
When and why has story become today’s pre-eminent mode for documentary and what gets lost when storied structures prevail? Dive into our latest Volume of World Records, BEYOND STORY, co-edited by Alexandra Juhasz and Alisa Lebow.
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