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Dec 6, 2019 at 10:00 am – Dec 8, 2019 at 5:30 pm

Being Singular Plural: Expansive Approaches to Personal Filmmaking

Led by Cecilia Aldarondo and Samara Grace Chadwick

This workshop is SOLD OUT.

Please sign up for the waitlist below to receive updates regarding any openings or similar future opportunities.

As the field of nonfiction continues to expand its own notions of the possible, it also disrupts historical precedents of who directs documentaries, for whom, and how. These tectonic shifts are surfacing the raw materials of stories heretofore untold, often extending deep into the core of directors’ own lives. This is the new personal documentary: unflinchingly honest, formally ambitious, singular and plural–gestures that interrogate what is often unspoken, unscripted, and underneath. 

With this three day workshop, we ask what does it mean to tell a story that is personal, vulnerable, ethical? How to steer away from the trappings of predictability and narcissism, and instead use self-reflection productively? Does ‘personal’ always mean autobiographical? How do race, sexuality, class and gender burden or liberate personal filmmaking? How might we reimagine the personal is political? And what about personal archives, how might they be evoked creatively? How to position personal work against the pressures of industry and market? 

Beginning from the premise that there is no single way to tell a personal story, this weekend intensive will explore a formally rich, ever-expanding landscape of personal filmmaking practices.

Topics include:

Finding and asserting one’s own voice

Navigating trauma and ethical dilemmas

Exploring conflicting testimonies and memories

Collaborating with key creatives

Boundary-pushing formal strategies

Translating ideas to funders

Options for distribution and exhibition

Participants will spend three intensive days in conversation with leading practitioners in the field of personal nonfiction film, including curators, filmmakers, funders and collaborators. Through masterclasses, group discussions, short exercises and work-in-progress critique, we will explore key ideas that range from the creative to the pragmatic. This rich three-day workshop will be led by directors Cecilia Aldarondo (Memories of a Penitent Heart, You Were My First Boyfriend) and Samara Grace Chadwick (1999). Guest presenters include Alan Berliner (Nobody’s Business, Intimate Stranger, First Cousin Once Removed), Hannah Buck (Editor: Vision Portraits, The Proposal, Memories of a Penitent Heart), Ellie Ga (Gyres 1-3, Strophe, A Turning), and Monika Navarro (Lost Souls (Animas Perdidas). 

Please note: Participants are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. Upon registration, participants will complete a brief survey that will enable us to further tailor the workshop to their needs. 


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 November 25th, 2019 at 5PM.

$350 regular registration.

The deposit is non-refundable. Should you need to cancel, you’ll receive half of your registration fee back until November 25th, 2019. After November 25th, 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 25th, 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, Dec 6, – 10:00a - 5:30p

Intro & Welcome 

AM: Samara Grace Chadwick (1999)

PM: Cecilia Aldarondo (Memories of a Penitent Heart)

Saturday, Dec 7 – 10:00a - 5:30p

AM: Ellie Ga (Gyres 1-3)

PM: Alan Berliner (First Cousin Once Removed)

Sunday, Dec 8 – 10:00a - 5:30p

AM: Hannah Buck (Vision Portraits)

PM: Monika Navarro (Lost Souls (Animas Perdidas))

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


Cecilia Aldarondo is a documentary director-producer from the Puerto Rican diaspora who makes films at the intersection of poetics and politics. Her work has been supported by ITVS, HBO, A&E, the Sundance Institute, Cinereach, Firelight Media, Field of Vision, IFP, the Jerome Foundation, and many others. Her feature documentary Memories of a Penitent Heart had its World Premiere at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival and was broadcast on POV in 2017. She is a 2019 Guggenheim Fellow, 2017 Women at Sundance Fellow, two-time MacDowell Colony Fellow, and recipient of a 2019 Bogliasco Foundation Residency. In 2019 she was named to DOC NYC’s 40 Under 40 list and is one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film for 2015. She teaches at Williams College.

Samara Grace Chadwickis the Senior Programmer for the Points North Institute and the Camden International Film Festival (CIFF), a much-loved  festival bringing the best of creative non-fiction (features, shorts & immersive) from around the world to the rugged coast of Maine. She has programmed for HotDocs, the Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM), the Goethe Institut, and the Berlin Biennale (2012). Samara has also served on juries at The New Horizons IFF (Poland), :Sunny Side of the Doc (France), FICFA (Canada), and Sheffield Doc/Fest (UK).

Also a filmmaker, Samara’s first feature documentary, 1999, premiered in 2018 at Visions du réel, and has since played over 30 festivals and institutions worldwide including HotDocs, DokuFest Kosovo, BAFICI, DCTV, and the Museum of the Moving Image.

Alan Berliner’s uncanny ability to combine experimental cinema, artistic purpose, and popular appeal in compelling film essays has made him one of America’s most acclaimed independent filmmakers. The New York Times has described Berliner’s work as “powerful, compelling and bittersweet… full of juicy conflict and contradiction, innovative in their cinematic technique, unpredictable in their structures… Alan Berliner illustrates the power of fine art to transform life.”

Berliner’s experimental documentary films, First Cousin Once Removed (2013), Wide Awake (2006), The Sweetest Sound (2001), Nobody’s Business (1996), Intimate Stranger (1991), and The Family Album (1986), have been broadcast all over the world, and received awards, prizes, and retrospectives at many major international film festivals.  The San Francisco International Film Festival called Berliner, “America’s foremost cinematic essayist.”  The Florida Film Festival called him “the modern master of personal documentary filmmaking.”

Berliner is a recipient of Rockefeller, Guggenheim and Jerome Foundation Fellowships, and has received multiple grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York Foundation for the Arts.  He’s won three Emmy Awards and received seven Emmy nominations from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Berliner was born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens and lives in Manhattan with his wife Shari and son Eli. He is currently a faculty member at the New School for Social Research in New York City, where he teaches a course entitled, “Experiments in Time, Light and Motion.”

Hannah Buck is a New York-based film editor with a focus on creative non-fiction. Her background in visual arts largely informs her approach to editing. Her films have screened at festivals all over the world, including Sundance, Berlinale, CPHdox and many others.

Recent credits include Vision Portraits (SXSW 2019), directed by Rodney Evans, The Proposal (Tribeca 2018), directed by Jill Magid and produced by Field of Vision, Chef Flynn (Sundance 2018), directed by Cameron Yates, and Chico Colvard’s Black Memorabilia (MoMA Doc Fortnight 2018).

In 2014 Hannah was awarded a MacDowell Colony Residency Fellowship to edit Memories of a Penitent Heart (Tribeca, 2016), directed by Cecilia Aldarondo, which broadcast on POV in 2017. Earlier credits include Terence Nance’s documentary series Triptych (PBS, 2015), as well as Nance’s acclaimed debut feature, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (Sundance, 2012) for which she was an animator.

Hannah has been a fellow at the Sundance Edit and Story Lab and a consultant for the Sundance Art of Non-Fiction Program. Her work has been supported by the Sundance Institute, The Jerome foundation, Women Make Movies and the Tribeca Film Fund.

Ellie Ga’s work is inspired by the indeterminacy of exploration and the human desire to translate the unknown. She uses a range of media to build her layered narratives: part observational essay, part documentary and part fragmentary storytelling.

Ga typically works in series, distilling multiple artworks from a single object of inquiry. The unusual experiences Ga has drawn upon during the last decade of her artistic output include the fortune telling rituals of Ga and a small crew of scientists drifting on a sailboat in the frozen Arctic Ocean and the quest to piece together the artifacts of a submerged ancient wonder in Alexandria, Egypt.

Ga often works in tandem with research centers and archives such as The Explorers Club (New York), Tara Arctic Expeditions (France/Arctic Ocean) and The Center for Maritime Archeology, Alexandria (Egypt). She has presented solo exhibitions at Le Grand Café, Saint-Nazaire (FR), M-Museum, Leuven (BE) and the Albright-Knox Art Museum, Buffalo (US). Ga’s performances have been showcased at The Guggenheim Museum; The Kitchen (New York); The Cartier Foundation (Paris) and the Playground Festival (BE). She is a co-founder of the publishing press Ugly Duckling Presse in Brooklyn. Ga’s books Square Octagon Circle (Siglio Press, New York) and Three Arctic Notebooks (Ugly Duckling Presse, New York) will be released in fall 2018.

Ga was a recent recipient of a three-year project grant from Vetenskapsrådet–the Swedish Research Council to work on a history of messages in bottles: their use in oceanography, folklore and literature.

Monika Navarro joined TFI in 2018 as Senior Director of Programs. Monika comes to TFI from ITVS, where she managed multiple content and funding initiatives, helmed a development portfolio and acted as consulting producer on a variety of projects, including: Las Sandinistas (SXSW 2018), and Councilwoman (America Reframed). Navarro has previously directed the documentary film Lost Souls (Animas Perdidas), which premiered on PBS’ long-standing ‘Independent Lens’ strand, and has also produced content for World Channel, American Documentary, and the Peabody Award-winning PBS series Latino Americans. She is a member of the Brown Girls Doc Mafia, National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP), and is an advisory board member for Firelight Media. Navarro oversees all of TFI’s documentary, scripted, education and interactive programming initiatives.

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Dec 6, 2019 at 10:00 am
Dec 8, 2019 at 5:30 pm
$285.00 – $295.00


352 Onderdonk Avenue
Ridgewood, NY 11385 United States
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