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Feb 16, 2017 at 7:08 pm

Activate the Archives

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Activate the Archives

Working with Historical and Found Materials, an Intensive Seminar for Documentary Artists

History consists of a series of accumulated imaginative inventions.” (Voltaire)

This intensive seminar will explore the creative use of archival materials for documentary art. Over the course of three days, participants will learn from seasoned guest speakers — archivists, archival researchers, nonfiction filmmakers, visual artists and writers — as well as complete creative exercises in archival storytelling. Produced by UnionDocs in partnership with Mathilde Walker-Billaud and filmmaker Penny Lane, this intensive seminar will deliver both practical advice and creative inspiration to filmmakers, artists and storytellers of all kinds interested in delving into the world of archival research as part of their own creative process.

Topics will include: how to locate archival material and work effectively with archivists; understanding fair use and other copyright issues; ethical, historiographic and creative problems related to appropriation and transformation of “found” material; finding a personal and meaningful form of reporting when dealing with a trove of information; and creative strategies allowing the archival research process to inspire new work. The goal of the workshop is to inspire and encourage artists of all kinds to better benefit from the rich shared history found in archives and databases everywhere.

Filmmaker Penny Lane will lead the seminar as main instructor.



When: Friday Sept 25th to Sunday Sept 27th, 10am-5pm

Where: UnionDocs, 322 Union Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211


Who is eligible?

Open to everyone. We are looking for filmmakers, media artists, non-fiction writers, archivists, professors/students, etc.

Give us an idea of who you are and why you are coming. When you register you will be asked for a short statement of interest that should briefly describe your experience in audio practice and a project idea (if you have one), plus a bio. There’s a spot for a link to a work sample and CV, which would also be nice, but is not required.

Please note: Participants are accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis. Focus is on discussions, storytelling and writing. The goal is to develop your project conceptually.



$385 early bird registration by September 1st, by 5pm.

$450 regular

 Please note that the service charge is waived if payment is made via check.

Checks can be made out to UnionDocs and mailed to 322 Union Ave, Brooklyn NY 11211.

Technology Requirements: In order to keep costs down, this workshop is a b-y-o-m, bring your own laptop…


Image from Our Nixon (2013) dir. Penny Lane

Image from How to Survive a Plague (2012), dir. David France



DAY 1 – Facts and Fiction, Transparency and Opacity, Truth and Lies

The first day of the seminar, focused on documentary film, looks at how we tell stories based on historical research and archival information. It will explore the ethical, historiographic and creative problems artists face when they use and interpret existing documents in their work.

Morning: Penny Lane

Afternoon: David France

DAY 2 – Digging into the Archives

The second day of the intensive focuses on the research process: how artists work with both archival researchers and archivists; tools available for locating and accessing documents; how archives function work; and copyright issues including fair use. Day 2 will include a field trip and a creative exercise in archival storytelling.

Morning: Field trip to The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Afternoon: Rosemary Rotondi

DAY 3 –  Creative Nonfiction

The third day expands our discussion by exploring the theme of “creative nonfiction.” We’ll discuss how both fiction and nonfiction storytelling can be enriched and shaped by documentary research and archival information. Day 3 will also include exercises in archival storytelling.

Morning: Luc Sante

Afternoon: Alison Kobayashi (presentation followed by a workshop with the artist)

Mrs. Florence Hazel Davis Bland
Image from The Possessed Artifacts and Detritus of Mrs. Florence Hazel Davis Bland (2014) by Alison Kobayashi


Each day follows this general structure, with some minor variations and substitutions

10:00a    Warm up, inspiring references, writing/watching/reading exercises and training.

10:30a    Presentation of the guest

11:45a    Discussion

12:30p    Share / Discussion / Exercise

1:00p      Lunch (on your own)

2:00p      Presentation of the guest

3:15p      Discussion

4:00p      Workshop Exercise/Critique

5pm      End

PennyLanePenny Lane was named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” in 2012. Her debut feature-length documentary, OUR NIXON, world premiered at Rotterdam, had its North American premiere at SXSW, won the Ken Burns Award for “Best of the Festival” at Ann Arbor, and was selected as the Closing Night Film at New Directors/New Films. The film is currently in wide distribution, and has aired on CNN, ARTE and many other television outlets worldwide. Penny’s films have also screened at AFI FEST, Antimatter, IMPAKT, Images Festival, Oberhausen, FLEX FEST, Hot Docs, Full Frame, Rooftop Films, MoMA’s Documentary Fortnight and many other venues. She has been awarded grants from Creative Capital, Cinereach, TFI Documentary Fund, Jerome Foundation, LEF Foundation, NYSCA, Experimental Television Center, IFP and Puffin Foundation. She was named “Most Badass!” at the Iowa City Documentary Film Festival in 2009. Her writings & interviews have been published in INCITE! Journal of Experimental Media & Radical Aesthetics, The Brooklyn Rail, Filmmaker Magazine, The TalkHouse and Documentary Magazine. From 2010 to 2011, Penny programmed the Flaherty NYC series at Anthology Film Archives, featuring risk-taking nonfiction films. She received her MFA in Integrated Electronic Arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and her BA in American Culture and Media Studies at Vassar College. She has taught film, video and new media art at Bard College, Hampshire College and Williams College. She is currently a professor in the Department of Art and Art History at Colgate University, where she lives in a very old house and shows movies in her barn when she is not working on her upcoming feature doc NUTS! THE BRINKLEY STORY. And yes, Penny Lane is her real name.

Our Nixon (2013) dir. Penny Lane, 84 mins.
[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odTZDplswDg”]


Luc-Sante-portrait1Luc Sante is the author of Low Life, Evidence, The Factory of Facts, Kill All Your Darlings, and Folk Photography. He has translated Félix Fénéon’s Novels in Three Lines. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and teaches writing and the history of photography at Bard College. The Other Paris will be published this fall by FSG.
In The Other Paris, Luc Sante reveals the city’s hidden past, its seamy underside–one populated by working and criminal classes that, though virtually extinct today, have shaped Paris over the past two centuries. Drawing on testimony from a great range of witnesses–from Balzac and Hugo to assorted boulevardiers, rabble-rousers, and tramps–Sante, whose thorough research is matched only by the vividness of his narration, takes the reader on a whirlwind tour. Richly illustrated with more than three hundred images, The Other Paris scuttles through the knotted streets of pre-Haussmann Paris; through the improvised accommodations of the original bohemians; through the massive garbage dump at Montfaucon, active until 1849, in which, “at any given time the carcasses of 12,000 horses . . . were left to rot.” A wildly lively survey of labor conditions, prostitution, drinking, crime, and popular entertainment, of the reporters, réaliste singers, pamphleteers, and poets who chronicled their evolution, The Other Paris is a book meant to upend the story of the French capital, to reclaim the city from the bon vivants and the speculators, and to hold a light to the works and days of the forgotten poor. For more information, visit his website.
Image from The Other Paris by Luc Sante


Attachment-1 (1)Rosemary Rotondi is a NYC based archival film, photo and network news researcher.  Recently released documentaries on which she served as a researcher are Laura Poitras’ Academy Award winning film CITIZENFOUR; Matt Wolf’s documentaries TEENAGE and IT’S ME HILARY: The Man Who Drew Eloise and Albert Maysles’ IRIS. Rosemary worked as researcher for Penny Lane and Brian Frye on the documentary, OUR NIXON and for Charles Ferguson on his Academy Award winning documentary INSIDE JOB. Ms. Rotondi performed research for HBO’s documentary WE STAND ALONE TOGETHER which was part of its 10-part series, BAND OF BROTHERS. She has performed research for Moxie Firecracker Films, ESPN, The American Museum of Natural History in New York City, The New York Historical Society and documentarians such as Betsy Blankenbaker, Crayton Robey, David Shapiro, Susan Muska and Greta Olafdottir (THE BRANDON TEENA STORY and EDIE AND THEA: A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT) among others

Citizen Four (2014) dir. Laura Poitras, 114 mins.
[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ADUs8iN7NE”]


image (1)David France is an Oscar-nominated filmmaker, New York Times best-selling author, and award-winning investigative journalist. His directorial debut HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE is hailed as an innovative and influential piece of storytelling that is credited with renewing a conversation about AIDS in the United States. It is regularly screened  in university classrooms, and by community groups and AIDS service organizations. Appearing on over 20 “Best of the Year” lists, including Time and Entertainment Weekly, the documentary earned a GLAAD Award and top honors from the Gotham Awards, the International Documentary Association, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Boston Society of Film Critics, and the Provincetown Film Festival, among many others. After a theatrical run reaching over 30 cities, HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE was aired on PBS’s Independent Lens series, reaching an audience of millions and garnering an Emmy nomination and a Peabody Award. In addition, France has seen his journalistic work inspire several films, including the Peabody-winning Showtime film SOLDIER’S GIRL, based on his New York Times Magazine story of the trans girlfriend of a soldier killed in an anti-gay attack.

How to Survive a Plague (2012), dir. David France
[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwhFS1mUaVY”]


Kobayashi_Portrait (1)Alison S.M Kobayashi is an artist working in video, performance, installation and drawing. She was born in Mississauga, Canada where she received a BA from the University of Toronto. She now lives in Brooklyn where she is the Special Projects Director at UnionDocs, a Center for Documentary Art. In her work, Kobayashi performs a variety of characters that are both studiously and playfully rendered. These personas are inspired by Kobayashi’s extensive collection of lost, discarded and donated objects; ranging from answering machine tapes purchased at a secondhand shop to a love letter left on a sidewalk. Through repeated interaction with the objects (listening, transcribing, re-enactment, play) narratives and imagery begin to manifest and inspire performances, videos, installations and drawings. The results are humorous, low-fi artifacts of an artist embodying the lives of others. Kobayashi’s short videos have been exhibited and screened widely in Canada, the United States and overseas. She was a guest artist at the 2008 Flaherty Film Seminar and her body of work was a Spotlight Presentation at Video Out, Jakarta International Film Festival, Indonesia. In 2012, she was commissioned by Les Subsistances in Lyon, France to produce her first live performance, Defense Mechanism.

Selfie GIFs (2014), performance by Alison Kobayashi
[su_vimeo url=”https://vimeo.com/100549957″]

Workshop Policies:

Registration & Cancellation: To register for a workshop, students must pay in full via PayPal. After the early registration deadline of Sept 1, course fees are not refundable or transferable and any withdrawals or deadlines will result in the full cost of the class being forfeit. There will be no exceptions. To withdraw from a course please email info-at-uniondocs.org.

In the event that a workshop does not receive sufficient enrollment, it may be canceled. Students will be notified at least 48 hours prior to the start of a cancelled workshop and will be refunded within 5 business days. If we reschedule a workshop to another date, students are also entitled to a full refund. UnionDocs reserves the right to change instructors without prior notification, and to change class location and meeting times by up to an hour with 48 hours prior notice.



Feb 16, 2017
7:08 pm

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