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May 18, 2018 at 10:00 am – May 20, 2018 at 5:00 pm

Making Meaning: A 3-day Intensive on Writing for Documentary

Led by Michael Gitlin

A documentary is shaped over time, from fragments of an idea to a refined concept, from image and sound capture to the search for structure in the editing room. Language and the writing process can play a key role at each of these stages in a film’s development. Through deliberate uses of language, from voice over and title cards to interview edits, how do we employ writing to shape ideas and affect, and to create the formal architecture of a film?  

This three-day intensive workshop will consider the variety of ways that writing makes meaning in (and around) documentary film. Lead instructor Michael Gitlin and guest instructors will provide a range of perspectives drawn from their own practice. Topics to be discussed include: research-based writing; essay and personal documentary writing; writing with interviews; voiceover and its variations: polyvocality and the grain of the voice; writing for and with the camera: image as text; the eye and the ear: text and voice as complementary modes of discourse.

Through discussion, exercises, and feedback, participants will have a chance to work on their own writing and, in particular, to sharpen the language around new or on-going projects by refining film synopses and artist statements.


Open to everyone, though the workshop setting is best suited for filmmakers, film producers, journalists, curators and media artists.

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 and a film project (it would be great if you have a project in progress that you would present to the group during the work-in-progress critique sessions), 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).

$295 early bird registration by May 11th, 2018 at 5PM.

$350 regular registration.

Should you need to cancel, you’ll receive a full refund until the early deadline of May 8th. After May 8th, the fee is non-refundable.

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.

In order to keep costs down, this workshop is a BYOL, i.e. bring your own laptop. Students must be fully proficient using and operating their computers.

Please note: Participants are accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis.


Friday, May 18, – 10:00- 5:00p

AM: Michael Gitlin

PM: Sonia Kennebeck

Saturday, May 19 – 10:00a - 5:00p

AM: Sarah Christman

PM: Adam Khalil

Sunday, May 20 – 10:00a - 5:00p

AM: Jenny Perlin

PM: Lana Lin

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


Warm up, inspiring references, case study, eye training.


Presentation by guest speaker + individual work-in-progress critique




Share / Discussion / Exercise


Lunch (on your own)


Presentation by guest speaker + individual work-in-progress critique




Workshop Exercise + Critique


Wrap Up


Michael Gitlin makes work about the intricate conceptual and ideological systems that we use to organize our ways of knowing the world. His work has been screened at numerous venues, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Full Frame Documentary Festival, the London Film Festival and the Whitney Biennial Exhibition. Gitlin’s most recent feature project, That Which Is Possible, screened in a number of venues, including The Museum of the Moving Image in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. His recent short project, A Disaster Forever, was in the 2015 New York Film Festival. His 16mm film, The Birdpeople, is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Gitlin was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2006. His work has also been supported by the Jerome Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. Gitlin is the co-director of space_program, a new venue for screenings and readings in Kingston, NY. Gitlin received an M.F.A. from Bard College. He teaches at Hunter College in New York City.

Sonia Kennebeck is an independent documentary filmmaker and investigative journalist with more than 15 years of directing and producing experience. She has directed eight television documentaries and more than 50 investigative reports. Most recently, she completed her first feature-length documentary, National Bird, a film about the U.S. drone war which was executive produced by Wim Wenders and Errol Morris and premiered in the prestigious Specials Section of the Berlin Film Festival 2016 and was also selected for Tribeca, Sheffield and IDFA, among many other festivals. Filmmaker Magazine selected Sonia Kennebeck as one of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film 2016. Sonia Kennebeck received a Master’s degree in International Affairs from American University in Washington, D.C. She was born in Malacca, Malaysia and lives in New York.

Sarah J. Christman makes non-fiction films that explore the intersections between people, technology and the natural world. Christman’s work has screened widely, including the MoMA Documentary Fortnight, Rotterdam International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, New York Film Festival, and the Los Angeles Filmforum. She received the New Visions Award from the San Francisco International Film Festival for her film Dear Bill Gates, and Jury Awards from the Ann Arbor Film Festival for Broad Channel and As Above, So Below. She is an Associate Professor in the Film Department at Brooklyn College/CUNY.

Adam Khalil (Ojibway) is a filmmaker and artist. His practice attempts to subvert traditional forms of ethnography through humor, relation, and transgression. Adam’s work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, Sundance Film Festival,  Walker Arts Center, UnionDocs, e-flux, Artist Space, Microscope Gallery (New York), Spektrum (Berlin), Trailer Gallery (Sweden), Carnival of eCreativity (Bombay). Khalil is a 2017 Sundance Art of Nonfiction grantee, 2017 Sundance Institute Indigenous Film Opportunity Fellow, UnionDocs Collaborative Fellow and Gates Millennium Scholar. In 2011 he graduated from the Film and Electronic Arts program at Bard College.

Lana Lin is a filmmaker, artist, and writer whose creative practice concerns embodied vulnerabilities. She has produced a body of experimental films and videos that interrogate the politics of identity and cultural translation through attention to the formal capacities and historical contingencies of moving image media. Since 2001, she has focused on collaborative multi-disciplinary research-based projects (as Lin + Lam) that examine the construction of history and collective memory. Her works have been screened and exhibited at UnionDocs, Brooklyn, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Gasworks, London, and Auckland Festival of Photography, among others. Lin has received awards from the Javits Foundation, Fulbright Foundation, Jerome Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, and has been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony, Civitella Ranieri, and the Vera List Center for Art and Politics. She is currently completing a film that “re-visions” Black feminist poet Audre Lorde’s 1980 memoir, The Cancer Journals.

Jenny Perlin is an artist who divides her time between Brooklyn NY and Berlin Germany. Her practice in 16mm film, video and drawing works with and against the documentary tradition, incorporating innovative stylistic techniques to emphasize issues of truth, misunderstanding, and personal history. Her projects look closely at ways in which social machinations are reflected in the smallest fragments of daily life. In her films, Perlin often combines handwritten text and drawn images, embracing the technical quirks of analog technologies. Her work is represented by Simon Preston Gallery, New York and Galerie Fricke, Berlin.

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May 18, 2018 at 10:00 am
May 20, 2018 at 5:00 pm


352 Onderdonk Avenue
Ridgewood, NY 11385 United States

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