UnionDocs Summer Documentary Labs are designed to be very tightly structured environments where a select group of emerging filmmakers from the US and abroad can be inspired, be challenged and think through every aspect of a work-in-progress. Based in one of NYC’s most exciting neighborhoods, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, these labs explore contemporary approaches to documentary film, offer a stronger understanding of the best practices and business of production, and help filmmakers develop the foundation of an independent project.
The program consists of daily screenings, seminar discussions, and professional development sessions. Critique, and mentorship will be offered during a series of masterclasses with guest artists, industry professionals, and weekly visits to relevant sites around New York City. The Summer Documentary Labs expose participants to a diverse set of creative documentary practices from around the world, encouraging experimentation and discovery. Drawing inspiration from the worlds of art, anthropology and activism, it should not be mistaken for an industrial, journalistic, or traditional documentary training. In The New York Times, film scholar Scott MacDonald, remarked, “UnionDocs has a healthy sense that the older definitions of what constitutes ‘experimental’ cinema and what constitutes ‘documentary’ are up for grabs.”
We host two summer labs, one focused on pre-production and one focused on research and development, for upcoming documentary projects. For each lab, twelve to fourteen applicants are selected on the basis of their past experience and the strength of a current documentary proposal or concept. Previous work in documentary is not required, but a demonstrated commitment to an independent and creative vision is necessary.
Through these programs, participants work to develop their ideas, formulate practical plans, learn technical skills, and assemble a package of descriptive materials that will help them pursue further support for their project. Mentorship as well as critique by instructors, participants, and guests artists cultivate the proposals in a safe yet serious environment.
We bring together exciting international groups, and this peer interaction is a big asset to the program. Up to five participants will have the option to stay in the UnionDocs residency, an affordable and convenient housing option for international or out of town guests. Regular readings and assignments for seminars stimulate creativity, open discussion and debate, and offer a common set of references for the group. Participants will engage in writing a treatment and a fundraising proposal for their project and edit a sample trailer to begin seeking potential funders and producers. A formal pitching session and a proposal evaluation are the final results of the five week experience.
The Brooklyn Rail summed it up with the title of their feature article: “UnionDocs Brings Auteurs Together”. For some, participation in the program may lead to the development and completion of a documentary. For others, it may lead to independent projects, collaborations or strengthened careers within the industry. For all, it is an unparalleled immersion in the expansive field of documentary art.
Rodney Evans, Summer Documentary Lab Fellow, Creative Capital Grantee, Guggenheim Fellow, Sundance award-winner.
“Overall the program was amazing and life changing in a lot of ways. I felt like I was working in a vacuum for years, so it was fantastic to feel like I was part of a community… words can’t express the gratitude and appreciation. I plan to come for more weekend sessions when I can.”
Flora Charner, Summer Documentary Lab Fellow, award-winning multimedia journalist based in New York.
“The program surpassed my expectations. I cannot stress how valuable the contributions of my colleagues and instructors were. It was great growing and learning from each other in a nurturing and encouraging environment.”
Dylan Redford, 2018 Summer Documentary Lab Fellow, Independent Filmmaker / Borscht Corp Miami
“I came away with a one-sheet description of my film that I will use, and continue to refine, as material for all types of grants/pitch forums. I also came away with a community of collaborators and a network of professional relationships that feel positive, organic, and mutually beneficial.”
A stronger understanding of the business and best practices of managing a documentary production.
Emmy award-winning filmmaker Malika Zouhali-Worrall will lead weekly sessions developing skills and knowledge concerning the business of documentary production, such as proposal writing, fundraising, rights management, fiscal sponsorship, and more. This curriculum developed out of our experience determining the fundamentals that documentarians need to execute the planning, production, and releasing in the independent documentary landscape today. Each session will feature guest speakers sharing tips and secrets of the trade, with an emphasis on real-life case studies and best practices.
Masterclasses with guest artists and industry professionals who represent some of the most exciting voices in the documentary field.
For a master class, a visiting artist often shares the detailed history of a particular project from both a practical and a theoretical perspective, then enters into an extended discussion with the group. Master classes with visiting artists provide encouragement, inspiration and exposure to a diverse set of conceptual perspectives and practical methods. UnionDocs has an expansive network of filmmakers and industry experts from NYC that are invited for these opportunities.
Bottom line: Get the tools you need to take your documentary idea further: a refined pitch, an improved media sample, a fully articulated proposal, realistic budgets and a production plan.
The primary goal of the Summer Documentary Lab is to support the development of your documentary. We provide a useful framework of instruction, activities, assignments, and deadlines, which are all designed to push your work forward. Group critiques and one-on-one sessions with lead instructor Malika Zouhali-Worrall and Summer Documentary Lab director Christopher Allen challenge you to clarify your interests and perspective. A meeting will be set up with a project consultant from the field who is specifically matched to your project and goals. While you will not be in full scale production during the Summer Documentary Lab, you should exit the workshop with a deeper understanding of your intentions, a concrete production plan, and well-rehearsed options for articulating the project, pursuing funding, and cultivating an audience.
Regular screenings and seminars on a diverse and exciting collection of documentary works.
Gain a broader understanding of contemporary nonfiction forms. Seminars are held two to three times per week with experienced academics and critics who will foster an open discussion in response to a reading and film screening. Films are chosen to showcase the range of documentary today, but also to respond to ideas in the participant’s individual film pitches. Seminars are designed to stimulate creativity, open discussion and debate, and offer a common set of references for the group. Once a week, seminars include a guest artist to discuss their own work with the seminar instructor and the participants.
Fridays are devoted to on-site visits to some of the most influential documentary organizations based in New York. It gives participants a chance to meet directly with programmers, production houses and funders to ask questions and hear about their process. Past field trips have been made to POV, the Tribeca Institute, Impact Partners Film, Chicken and Egg, NY Times Op-Docs, Dig it Audio, Full Circle Post, Film Society of Lincoln Center, IFP, Women Make Movies, and AbelCine, among others.
The Summer Documentary Lab is split between residents and non-residents. Five resident participants live in the two-floor residency at 322 Union Avenue, while non-resident participants set up their housing independently or already live in NYC.
International applicants have priority for the residency option, as we have found that it can be difficult to arrange short-term housing when arriving in NYC from abroad. However, any applicant to the program may choose to be considered for a spot in the residency because they are attracted to the kind of dynamic interaction and inspiration that can come from an intentional living arrangement. Having a place to come back to after the intense days in the lab, where roommates share a vision and are involved in an ongoing experience, is something pretty unique.
$300 / week includes common charges.
A deposit of $300 required at time of contract to be refunded upon move-out.
Mila Turajlic, Summer Documentary Lab Fellow, IDFA award-winning director of The Other Side of Everything (2017).
“I loved the concept of the program, and the way the progression through our own projects is mixed with talks from people in the industry, screenings and discussions of different artistic voices in creative doc, and the field trips that really helped map out the documentary landscape in New York. For me the concept is really spot on, and was exactly what I needed at this phase of my project. “
Tarini Manchanda, Summer Documentary Lab Fellow, documentary filmmaker and founding member of Ground Water Up.
“The Summer Documentary Lab is going to be my source of confidence going forward.”
Jan 4, 2019
Early Bird Deadline
Jan 25, 2019
Feb 15, 2019
$15 Application Fee
- Program fee is $2800
- $500 deposit due upon accepting the invitation.
- Full balance of $2300 is due June 1, 2019
Fees have been set up to be as a low as possible, while also providing for a meaningful experience in a well-organized environment. UnionDocs is a small independent non-profit organization that has grown from grassroots. We do not have an endowment, nor institutional affiliation, so we rely on these fees to help with the program’s operating costs. We strive to deliver a lot more for participants than they would expect to get paying for a single course at university.
Current / Past Instructors
A social entrepreneur and new media artist, whose individual & collaborative projects have been exhibited in galleries and museums internationally.
Malika Zouhali-Worrall is an Emmy award-winning director, producer and editor.
Martha is an award-winning, Brooklyn-based filmmaker. She co-directed, produced and co-edited the feature documentary After Tiller and Bi the Way.
Past Seminar Guests
Kelly Anderson (My Brooklyn)
Francisco Bello (War Don Don)
Alan Berliner (First Cousin Once Removed)
Angad Bhalla (Herman’s House)
Caitlin Boyle (Film Sprout)
Marcelo Bukin (Dreaming Nicaragua)
Gary Chou (Orbital)
Sarah Christman (As Above So Below)
Ramona Diaz (Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey)
Jacqueline Goss (The Observers)
Zachary Heinzerling (Cutie and the Boxer)
Tracie Holder (Women Make Movies)
Ellen Kuras (The Betrayal – Nerakhoon)
Adella Ladjevardi (Cinereach)
Penny Lane (Our Nixon, Nuts!)
Peter Levin (Director/founder Splash Studios)
Marilyn Ness (E-team)
Omar Mullick (These Birds Walk)
Terence Nance (An Oversimplification of Her Beauty)
Jenny Raskin (Impact Partners)
Emily Rothschild (Long Shot Factory)
Jose Rodriguez (Tribeca Film Institute)
Martha Shane (After Tiller)
Merrill Sterritt (Film Presence)
Michèle Stephenson (American Promise)
J.t. Takagi (Sound Recordist & Filmmaker)
David Teague (Editor E-team, Cutie and the Boxer)
Basil Tsiokos (Programmer Sundance & Doc Nyc)
Stefanos Tsivopoulos (History Zero)
Pacho Velez (Manakamana)
Stephanie Wang-breal (Wo Ai Ni Mommy & Tough Love)
James N Kienitz Wilkins (Public Hearing)
Debra Zimmerman (Women Make Movies)
Conrad Ventur, Summer Documentary Lab Fellow, NYC multi-media artist, Franklin Furnace Fund grantee,represented in London by Rokeby Gallery.
“The program did an incredible job of creating a sense of urgency for the filmmakers. That feeling acted as a motivator for me to produce the best possible work while there in Brooklyn. I was more than happy with the overall structure. I felt that I was pushed, but I also felt that I had enough time to get the work done.”
Julia Vassey, Summer Documentary Lab Fellow, journalist, producer and filmmaker.
“In a relatively short period of time it gives an overall review of the documentary art; from theoretical knowledge, getting familiar with the work of other filmmakers, to practical analysis of your own project with the group of classmates, all very creative filmmakers.”
July 8 – August 9, 2019
Morning: Screening followed by Seminar or Masterclass
Afternoon: Professional Development Work Session
Our Pre-Production Lab in July is for projects about to go into production. Filmmakers have already likely shot some of their material and have access to their subjects and are looking for ways to strengthen their media samples, and pitches and work through the ideas as they approach the production stage and plan for the entire process all the way through to distribution.
It is a five-week program with full day commitments Monday-Thursday. Outings in the city on Fridays are half-days. In addition to the meeting schedule above, expect five-ten independent hours each week of work towards project development assignments and five hours weekly of assigned watching and reading.
*** This schedule will shift on first and last week due to national holidays.
Strong applicants are contacted for an interview taking place in person at UnionDocs or via Skype between late Feb 2019 (for early applicants) and early April 2019 (for regular applicants).
Notification May 2019 for invited participants and those on the waitlist
Applicants must have a documentary project in early phases of development. Applicants should have demonstrated access to their subjects and/or the ability to pursue the proposed project given the right resources. It is best if applicant already has some footage to work with. Applicant should not be completed with production.
Applicants should have a Bachelors Degree or equivalent in experience.
All requests for refunds must be submitted in writing to the Executive Director of UnionDocs. The refund policy for participants enrolled in the Summer Lab is as follows:
– 50% refund of deposit is possible with withdrawal before June 1, 2019
– 50% refund of total program fees is possible with withdrawal before June 15, 2019
– No refunds are possible after June 15, 2019