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Oct 12, 2018 at 10:00 am – Oct 14, 2018 at 5:00 pm

Speculations in the Archive: Filming Through the Lens of Objects

With Courtney Stephens, John Gianvito, Pia Borg, Sierra Pettengill, Jackson Polys, Pacho Velez and a visit to the archive of the Explorer's Club

Over the course of three days, participants will think expansively about material culture and physical archives to consider complex questions around institutional ownership, appropriation, power, authorship, speculative histories, intimacy and empathy. Led by filmmaker and programmer Courtney Stephens and co-organized with curator Mathilde Walker-Billaud, this intensive seminar delivers 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.

We will particularly look at films and practices that focus on the lives of tangible objects, including the physical archive. From human remains, to obsolete infrastructure, to residual media, this workshop looks at the challenges and possibilities of building films that focus more on things than people. Objects serve as records of the world that attest to history and time in a direct way that goes beyond description. They are repositories of collective and personal emotion, and forms of currency. They act upon us, are talismans through which we tell our stories, yet their voices must be creatively summoned. This workshop will focus on strategies to activate stories of material life.

By germinating new approaches to materials, this intensive seminar offers practical advice and creative inspiration to filmmakers, artists and storytellers. Students will have the opportunity to learn from a varied range of seasoned guest speakers, including archivists, researchers, nonfiction filmmakers, and artists — as well as an opportunity to workshop their own works-in-progress with these experienced guests. The course will include a dynamic mix of readings, discussion, screenings, visitor presentations, and a field trip.

Topics will include: creative strategies allowing the archival research process to inspire new work; ethical, historiographic and creative problems related to appropriation and transformation of “found” materials; the unique challenges of giving “voice” to inanimate objects,how to locate collections hiding in plain sight, and how to work effectively with archives, libraries, museums, and other institutions; and understanding fair use and other copyright issues. The goal of the workshop is to inspire and encourage artists to better benefit from the rich shared history found in archives everywhere.


Open to everyone, but designed specifically for filmmakers, documentarists, media and visual artists, archivist and writers.

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 project idea (if you have one, that’s great. If you don’t, you might develop one during the workshop.), plus a short bio.

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

$395 early bird registration by September 27th, 2018 at 5PM; $375 for members.

$450 regular registration; $435 for members.

The deposit is non-refundable. Should you need to cancel, you’ll receive half of your registration fee back until September 27th. After September 27th, the fee is non-refundable.

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.

To register for a workshop, students must pay in full via card, check, or cash. After the early bird registration deadline of November 14th, 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.

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


Friday, Oct 12th, – 10:00 - 5:00p

Day 1: The materiality of affects, memories and stories

AM: Courtney Stephens joined by Pacho Velez

PM: Field trip to The Explorer’s Club archives

Saturday, Oct 13 – 10:00a - 5:00p

Day 2: Objects as live archives

AM: Sierra Pettengill

PM: Pia Borg

Sunday, Oct 14 – 10:00a - 5:00p

Day 3:  Reframing history through the archival and recording lens

AM: John Gianvito

PM:  Jackson Polys

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


Courtney Stephens is a filmmaker and programmer based in Los Angeles.  She has combined her interest in geography and archives into live essay-documentary, curated programs, alongside her work in experimental documentary.  Her films have screened at SXSW, The Wexner Center for the Arts, Union Docs, Anthology Film Archives, Mumbai International Film Festival, Dhaka International Film Festival, and elsewhere.  She co-programs the film and lecture series Veggie Cloud, and has presented events at The Getty Museum, REDCAT, AM-London, Art Contemporary Los Angeles, Human Resources, the Velaslavasay Panorama, and ongoingly at Veggie Cloud’s space in Los Angeles.  Stephens attended the American Film Institute, is the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship and a Sloan Scholarship, and periodically lectures on subjects relating to film and geography at the Royal Geographical Society, London.

Pacho Velez works at the intersection of ethnography, contemporary art, and political documentary. His current film, THE REAGAN SHOW, explores a prolific actor’s defining role: Leader of the Free World. His last film, MANAKAMANA, won a Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival. It played around the world, including at the Whitney Biennial and the Toronto International Film Festival. Pacho has taught at Princeton University, Harvard University, Bard College, Parsons the New School, and MassArt. In 2015, he was awarded a Princeton Arts Fellowship. He is currently Assistant Professor of Screen Studies at The New School.

Sierra Pettengill is a Brooklyn-based filmmaker and archivist. Town Hall, her feature-length documentary, broadcast nationally on PBS in 2014. She is the producer of the Academy Award-nominated documentary Cutie and the Boxer, which also won the directing award at the Sundance Film Festival 2013 and a 2015 News and Doc Emmy. Most recently, she was the archivist on Jim Jarmusch’s Gimme Danger (Cannes ’16), Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women (New York Film Festival ’16), and Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine (Sundance ’16) amongst many others. Most recently she co-directed and produced the all-archival documentary The Reagan Show (Tribeca Film Festival ’16).

Pia Borg was recently named as one of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film in Filmmaker magazine. Last year her work was featured in the Maltese Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale. She is the recipient of numerous prizes including the Pardino dor’o for best international short (Locarno Film Festival 2014) for the experimental documentary ABANDONED GOODS. Her films have been in the official selection of the Cannes Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, Rotterdam International Film Festival, SXSW and Experimenta among others. Borg was the recipient of a Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art in London (MA). In 2014 she joined the faculty at CalArts.

John Gianvito is a filmmaker, curator, and critic. His films include the feature films The Flower of Pain, Address Unknown, and The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein, and is the winner of multiple awards including having been cited as one of the top ten films of the year by critics in The Chicago Reader, The Boston Phoenix, and Film Comment magazine. His 2007 documentary, Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind, received considerable acclaim and multiple awards including “Best Experimental Film of the Year” by the National Society of Film Critics and Grand Prize for Documentary Feature at the Belfort EntreVues Film Festival. In 2010, the magazine Time Out (New York) voted Profit Motive #45 in a critics’ poll of the 50 Greatest Documentaries of All Time. He has taught film production and film history at the University of Massachusetts Boston, Rhode Island School of Design, and Boston University, and was film curator for five years at the Harvard Film Archive. In 2001, he was made a Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture.

Jackson Polys is an artist from Tlingit territory, living and working between what are currently called Alaska and New York, whose work examines negotiations toward the limits and viability of desires for Indigenous growth.  He has been engaged by museums seeking replacements for repatriated works, recently collaborating with Adam and Zack Khalil on The Violence of a Civilization Without Secrets, which examines attempts to deny the repatriation of human remains, along with dreams of becoming indigenous.  He is the recipient of a 2017 NACF Mentor Artist Fellowship and Advisor to Indigenous New York, the collaborative program initiative co-founded by Mohawk artist Alan Michelson and the Vera List Center for Art and Politics. He holds an MFA in Visual Arts from Columbia University (2015), and is a co(n)founding contributor to the New Red Order (NRO).  His individual and collaborative works have appeared at the Alaska State Museum, Anchorage Museum, Artists Space, Burke Museum, Images Festival, Sundance Film Festival, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The Explorers Club is an international multidisciplinary professional society dedicated to the advancement of field research and the ideal that it is vital to preserve the instinct to explore. Since its inception in 1904, the Club has served as a meeting point and unifying force for explorers and scientists worldwide. Our headquarters is located at 46 East 70th Street in New York City.

Founded in New York City in 1904, The Explorers Club promotes the scientific exploration of land, sea, air, and space by supporting research and education in the physical, natural and biological sciences. The Explorers Club actively encourages public interest in exploration and the sciences through its public lectures program, publications, travel program, and other events. The Club also maintains Research Collections, including a library and map room, to preserve the history of the Club and to assist those interested and engaged in exploration and scientific research.

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Oct 12, 2018 at 10:00 am
Oct 14, 2018 at 5:00 pm
$435.00 – $450.00


352 Onderdonk Avenue
Ridgewood, NY 11385 United States
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