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Jan 24, 2020 at 10:00 am – Jan 26, 2020 at 5:30 pm

Critical Terrain: Travel and Motion as a Documentary Practice

Led by Courtney Stephens

Travel has been a long companion to nonfiction filmmaking — and is often a part of the research and making process of documentarians. Over the course of three days we will look at films and artworks that reconsider the creative function of working with site and terrain — treating it as an essential formal element, or as an organizing structure to the film. In 2020, what can working in multiple geographic registers offer documentary practices?

Participants will think expansively about place-based filmmaking, considering complex questions around the history of the travelogue genre, territory, borders, and global capitalism. Led by filmmaker and programmer Courtney Stephens and co-organized with curator Mathilde Walker-Billaud and media artist Kara Oehler, this intensive seminar delivers both practical advice and creative inspiration to filmmakers, artists and storytellers of all kinds interested in utilizing spatial exploration as part of their own creative process.

From colonial legacies of the travelogue, to contemporary indexical films, road-trips to migrant voyages, this workshop explores the complex facets of modern mobility, and revisits established travel practice through economic, racial, and gendered lenses. Participants will have the opportunity to learn from a varied range of seasoned guest speakers, including writers, archivists, researchers, nonfiction filmmakers, and artists, that include Jessica Bardsley (Goodbye Thelma), Martin DiCicco (All That Passes By Through a Window That Doesn’t Open), Brett Story (The Hottest August), Nathalie Léger (author of Les vies silencieuses de Samuel Beckett and La Robe Blanche ), Jodie Mack (The Grand Bizarre) and more. 

Participants will also have the chance to workshop their own works-in-progress or ideas with these experienced guests. The course will include a dynamic mix of readings, discussions, screenings, and visitor presentations. Topics will include: documenting ideas across geographies, working effectively in various communities, representing wilderness in times of ecological crisis, building narratives through the movement of people, and the flow of data in physical terms. The goal of the workshop is to inspire and encourage artists to work in a considered way with the rich possibilities of filmmaking in transit.

This workshop is part of “Women in Public” a series of events initiated by Kara Oehler, Courtney Stephens and Mathilde Walker-Billaud  around the figure of the female traveler. It opens on Thursday January 23rd with a visual lecture by French writer Nathalie Leger at Triangle Arts Residency and close on Sunday January 26 with a screening at UnionDocs. (for more information, please visit: http://brooklynfallsforfrance.org/event/women-in-public/)

“Women in Public”  is part of Brooklyn Falls for France, a cultural season organized by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and FACE Foundation in partnership with Brooklyn venues.


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 January 16th, 2020 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 January 16th. After January 16th, 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 January 16th, 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, Jan. 24, – 10:00am - 5:30pm

Intro & Welcome by Courtney Stephens 

AM: Presentation and discussion with Nathalie Léger

AM: Presentation and discussion with Arshia Fatima Haq (via Skype)

PM: Presentation and discussion with Kara Oehler

Saturday, Jan. 25 – 10:00am - 5:30pm

AM: Presentation and discussion with Courtney Stephens

PM: Presentation and discussion with Jodie Mack (via Skype)

Sunday, Jan. 26 – 10:00am - 5:30pm

AM: Presentation and discussion with Martin DiCicco and Brett Story

PM: Presentation and discussion with Jessica Bardsley

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. Her non-fiction and experimental films have appeared at NYFF, SXSW, Hong Kong IFF, Dhaka IFF, Mumbai IFF, San Francisco IFF, The Exploratorium, DokuFest, Onion City, Orphans Film Symposium, Crossroads, and elsewhere.  She co-founded the Highland Park microcinema Veggie Cloud, and has curated programs at institutions including the Museum of the Moving Image, the J Paul Getty Museum, Union Docs, and Flaherty NYC. She attended the American Film Institute, and has received fellowships to Yaddo and MacDowell, a Fulbright scholarship to India, and lectured on subjects related to female travel and film at the Royal Geographical Society and elsewhere.

Mathilde Walker-Billaud is a curator and cultural producer based in New York City. She worked as an editor, programmer and manager for Centre National de la Danse, company nora chipaumire, Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, UnionDocs, and Villa Gillet (a center for fiction and non-fiction based in Lyon, France). Walker-Billaud programs and hosts at UnionDocs an ongoing interdisciplinary series of events about spectatorship entitled “What You Get Is What You See“. She co-curated the 2019 Fall Flaherty NYC: Surface Knowledge and won the BKH Curator Award 2019. Her writing and voice have appeared in BOMB Magazine and the podcast Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything.

Kara Oehler is a media artist and radio producer. Her Peabody award-winning work has aired around the world and her interactive storytelling projects have been exhibited at MoMA and SFMoMA. She is a Co-Founder of Mapping Main Street, a collaborative project with NPR documenting all 10,000+ streets named Main Street in the United States; GoPop, an app for juxtaposing GIFs, photos and videos acquired by Buzzfeed in 2015; Zeega, an interactive storytelling platform; metaLAB (at) Harvard, a research center focused on network culture; and the UnionDocs Collaborative, an innovative model for documentary arts education and production. She recently edited and produced The New York Times Magazine‘s “Sonic Voyages” issue, which won an Ellie award for innovation. She was a Film Study Center Fellow at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and a Rockefeller Fellow with United States Artists.

Jessica Bardsley is an artist and PhD Candidate in Film and Visual Studies at Harvard University, where she is also a Film Study Center Fellow. Her films have screened across the U.S. and internationally at venues such as CPH:DOX, Visions du Réel, European Media Arts Festival, Kassel Dokfest, RIDM, True/False, and Flaherty NYC. She is the recipient of various awards, including a Princess Grace Award, Grand Prize at 25FPS, the Eileen Maitland Award at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, and Best Short Film at Punto de Vista. She received an MFA and an MA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Martin DiCicco is a cinematographer and director whose feature directorial debut,  All That Passes By Through a Window That Doesn’t Open won the Regard Neuf award at Visions du Reel, Camden IFF’s Cinematic Vision Award and Taiwan IDF’s Artistic Merit Prize before playing at numerous international festivals.  As a cinematographer he has collaborated with Brett Story on CamperForce and The Hottest August, as well as with Cecilia Aldarondo on her her short Picket Line and her forthcoming feature Landfall. Most recently he shot and directed Here There Is No Earth, which premiered at the 56th New York Film Festival.

Nathalie Léger is an award-winning French author living in Paris, as well as an editor, an archivist and a curator. Léger’s first book under her name (she has published a previous title under a pseudonym), Les vies silencieuses de Samuel Beckett, was published in 2006. L’exposition (2008) precedes Suite for Barbara Loden (2012 Prix du livre Inter, 2016 Scott Moncrieff Prize) and La Robe Blanche (Gallimard 2018, Les Fugitives 2020) won French booksellers’ award Prix Wepler. Léger is the Director of the Institut Mémoires de l’Édition Contemporaine (IMEC), a unique organisation dedicated to the archives of 20th- and 21st-century French writers and publishers. She curated the 2002 exhibition on Roland Barthes and the 2007 exhibition on Samuel Beckett, both at the Pompidou Centre, Paris.

Jodie Mack is an experimental animator who received her MFA in film, video, and new media from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2007. Combining the formal techniques and structures of abstract/absolute animation with those of cinematic genres, her handmade films use collage to explore the relationship between graphic cinema and storytelling, the tension between form and meaning. Musical documentary or stroboscopic archive: her films study domestic and recycled materials to illuminate the elements shared between fine-art abstraction and mass-produced graphic design. The works unleash the kinetic energy of overlooked and wasted objects and question the role of decoration in daily life.

Mack’s 16mm films have screened at a variety of venues including the Locarno Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, the Jeonju International Film Festival, and the Viennale. She has presented solo programs at the 25FPS Festival, Anthology Film Archives, BFI London Film Festival, Harvard Film Archive, National Gallery of Art, REDCAT, International Film Festival Rotterdam, Shenzhen Independent Animation Biennale, and Wexner Center for the Arts among others. Her work has been featured in publications including Artforum, Cinema Scope, The New York Times, and Senses of Cinema. She was the 2017/18 Roberta and David Logie/Film Study Center Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and a 2018/19 Fellow at the Film Study Center Fellow at Harvard University. She is a 2019 Artist In Residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts, and she is an Associate Professor of Animation at Dartmouth College.

Brett Story is an award-winning nonfiction filmmaker based in Toronto whose films have screened at festivals internationally, including the Viennale, True/False, Oberhausen, It’s All True, and Dok Leipzig. Her latest film, The Hottest August, is in select theaters through Grasshopper Film from November 15. Story’s 2016 feature documentary, The Prison in Twelve Landscapes, was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival and was a nominee for Best Feature Documentary at the Canadian Screen Awards. The film was broadcast on PBS’s Independent Lens in 2017. Brett holds a PhD in geography from the University of Toronto and is currently an assistant professor in the School of Image Arts at Ryerson University. She is the author of the book Prison Land: Mapping Carceral Power across Neoliberal America, and her writing and criticism have been published widely. Brett was a 2016 Sundance Institute Art of Nonfiction Fellow and a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow in film and video.

Arshia Fatima Haq (born in Hyderabad, India, based in Los Angeles, CA) works across film, visual art, performance and sound. Her body of work stems from the complexities of inhabiting multiple personas – woman, Muslim, immigrant, citizen – conceptualized in feminist modes outside of the Western feminist model. Narrative threads include migration, celebration, warfare, nostalgia, homeland, and borders, often within realms of Islamic influence, through both traditional forms and kaleidoscopic reinventions via pop culture. She is the founder of “Discostan,” a collaborative decolonial project working with cultural production from the SWANA region.

Haq’s work has been featured at Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson, the Station Museum of Contemporary Art, Broad Museum, Toronto International Film Festival, MoMA New Yοrk, Hammer Museum, LAXArt, Centre Pompidou, and the Pacific Film Archive. Currently, she hosts and produces monthly radio shows on Dublab and NTS featuring music from across the SWANA region, and recently released an album of field recordings from Pakistan on the Sublime Frequencies label. She received her MFA in Film and Video from California Institute of the Arts in 2005, and is a recipient of the California Community Foundation Visual Artist Fellowship and the Rema Hort Mann Emerging Artist Grant.

From September 14, 2019, to February 1, 2020, more than 20 Brooklyn-based cultural institutions have chosen to present projects by authors, artists, choreographers, curators, directors, and publishers from the French-speaking diaspora. Many of these events are free, several are U.S. premieres, they all are unique experiences.

To shed light on this outstanding season, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and FACE Foundation have grouped these events into a single program. The Brooklyn Falls for France Cultural Season offers a rare opportunity to experience a slice of contemporary Francophone culture across New York City’s largest borough, from street performances and virtual reality presentations to large scale theatrical projects and retrospectives.

Presented With

Brooklyn Falls For France

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Jan 24, 2020 at 10:00 am
Jan 26, 2020 at 5:30 pm
$335.00 – $350.00


352 Onderdonk Avenue
Ridgewood, NY 11385 United States

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