Saturated in images and information, audiences are increasingly distrustful of inherited ways of picturing the world and have become more sophisticated in reading media. Narratives that are too transparent in their purpose are easily discounted as biased, and the power relations that are always part of image-making are routinely called out as inequitable. Values have evolved beyond simple representations of our complex times.  New voices, new attitudes and new approaches in documentary making have the potential to bring together, galvanize and creatively challenge those who imagine a more progressive vision of society. Like the poet, the documentary artist’s task is to create new languages, new possibilities of representation in film in order to express the unrecorded lives of communities for whom existing forms of filmmaking are inadequate. They have to invent a new grammar to transform the historical legacy of inequality into the possibility of a creative practice. We cannot, however, expect such powerful aesthetic innovations to develop exclusively from the sweat and sacrifice of the artist in solitude. Engendering such work requires support— in the practical resources that allow for deep and sustained creative explorations, in bringing together community to discuss and celebrate this work, as well as through considerable efforts to understand, interpret, and contextualize these new and nascent practices.  

To encourage experimentation in practice and form, each pair will foreground a central “motivating question” to be researched and explored over the fellowship period. In tandem with a review of the artist’s portfolio and the writer’s published work, the selection panel will consider the merit of this question and its relevance to contemporary struggles within social change movements. This criteria necessarily concentrates attention on a pool of artists who not only seek groundbreaking formal invention in their work, but are also acutely concerned with how their work affects society and enters the political landscape.

The impact of formally adventurous, artful documentary on social change and equality has not been appropriately studied and articulated. Artistic work often circulates in smaller audiences through a slow, long period of distribution, offers experiences, ideas, and narratives that are not easily summarized, and can be directly critical of the manipulations present in advocacy film. While hard to capture with quantitative metrics, it would be foolish to underestimate the power this work has to ask important personal and social questions, to push audiences beyond comfortable worldviews, to create new languages that offer alternate angles of communication on the persistent causes and manifold effects of inequality, and to create shared aesthetic experience and emotional points of references that can generate empathy and strengthen connections in communities of activism. Still, chronicling and understanding these operations in the world are not simple tasks. They must be the subject of research and writing.

The avenues of support for formally adventurous, artful documentary are few, yet the appetite and necessity for new cinematic languages is growing. Funding frameworks which foreground audience scale, direct policy influence, and the reproducibility of a message tend to put artistic work at a disadvantage.  An artistic nonfiction practice may also be left out of documentary funding opportunities because it does not share the industrialized production norms of filmmaking aimed at mainstream distribution. Artistic practice is often personal, idiosyncratic and exploratory. The maker generally takes principal authority over both the creation or acquisition of images and sound as well as the editing or formal construction of their projects. Filmmakers working in this mode may pursue multiple projects simultaneously, take big risks on directions that take years to crystalize, or invest significant effort in experiments that fail but open doors to entirely new approaches. The prevailing funding models of project-based support, however, ask for clarity in purpose and approach, representative work samples, and production timelines and impact statements that are efficient and accurate. While many artists strive to create moving images that communicate ideas and emotions that are difficult to reproduce in words, in granting processes they are routinely tasked with persuasive writing about their own work, arguing for its worthiness and identifying its position relative to other work. At best, the process of squeezing a dynamic artistic practice into this mold can be awkward. At worst, it is a discouraging experience that dismisses nonconforming creativity and the value of individualized processes.

While we have many talented authors, cultural critics and academics working in the field today,  their research and writing is oridinarily in response to artistic final products. Thus the influence of their ideas and interpretation is retrospective and their knowledge of artistic process can be limited. Rarely are they able to engage in the creative practice and thinking from which new forms of documentary film emerge. This exposure would seem to be a significant reciprocal benefit. Likewise, the effort of the researcher and writer is rarely directed towards a specific artist, instead they are primarily in service of a select readership or community engaged in a specialized discipline. The hope is that the deep intellectual engagement that comes out of this initiative will offer the artist fellow validation in the art community, a recognition of their past creative achievements, a strong vote of confidence in their ability to continue to produce meaningful work, as well as a new set of provocations and possibilities.


Applications should be submitted by 11:59pm (EST) on August 5, 2019.

The fellowship will run from Fall 2019 to Fall 2020.

Applicants are selected through a nomination process.

This fellowship is for North American (US, Canada, and Mexico-based) artists and writers. The fellowship will be conducted in English.

UnionDocs has done work to reach out to a diverse group of nominators from across disciplines in order to form a competitive and exciting pool of applicants.  Please only nominate someone if you have been invited.

To nominate a candidate or a pair of candidates, fill out the submission form with your contact information and that of your nominee(s).

A critical writer and an artist with a documentary film practice MUST apply together as a pair. They should collaboratively propose a central question to motivate their regular intellectual and creative exchange over the course of the fellowship year.

An individual who would like to apply but needs help in developing a partnership with an artist should still send in an application request and select options to receive a set of potential matches that are a good fit for your interests. UnionDocs will provide suggestions and support.

After you have been nominated, fill out the application request form to declare your intention to apply and receive an application. This form also lets us know if you are already paired with a collaborator or need guidance. Only one collaborator per pair needs to complete this step.

Yes, only one partner in the collaboration needs to be submitted from the group of nominators.

This fellowship is geared towards filmmakers with substantive portfolios demonstrating significant formal experimentation and writers with established research skills and exemplary published work. If you are still in an earlier phase of artistic development, we encourage you to check out our other Workshops and Labs for growth opportunities.

No. Writers from disciplines beyond film studies or film criticism are strongly encouraged to apply.

While there’s no reason the collaboration could not extend into a creative collaboration on a film, the fellowship is focused on developing discourse, ideas, and an original work of authorship for publication, for which the writer receives a commission.

The final goal for the fellowship is the completion of a significant published work that addresses the research question proposed by you and your filmmaking partner. Our target is in the range of 10,000 words with a publishing deadline at the start of 2021.

There are also a series of informal entries to be published at least once each month in an open notebook, an online space for documenting the ongoing dialogue and sharing progress around the proposed question.

No, there are no requirements to be based in NYC and most of the regular commitments throughout the year are attended remotely however the three in-person retreats are a requirement for fellowship participation.

Travel and lodging will be provided for all of the in-person commitments listed here below:

  • Public Seminar at DocLisboa in Lisbon, Portugal | October 22-25 2019.
  • Private Retreat at EMPAC at Rensselaer in Troy, New York | May 14 – 16 May, 2020.
  • Public Symposium with presentations, screenings and panel discussions in October 2020, specific date and location TBD.
  • Informal entries to be published at least once each month in an open notebook.
  • Joining monthly video conferences with the group of fellows. Writers will be asked to lead two of these sessions; they will select relevant material for the group to screen in advance and structure the conversation.
  • Involvement in the design of a public curriculum to be hosted by UnionDocs that will open the questions, topics and ideas in the fellowship to a base of online student subscribers.

There are eight participants total. Four pairs of collaborators.

Each of the eight fellows will receive $20,000 for their participation in the yearlong program. Funding comes with a few basic requirements listed above, but is otherwise unrestricted for the artists.

Each of the eight fellows (artists and writers) will receive $20,000 for their participation in the yearlong program. Funding comes with a few basic requirements listed above. Funding for the writer is contingent on producing an original work for publication, that we are commissioning. This is to be published in our own volume but can also be pitched for publication in other outlets.

Funding will be distributed in a series of installments over the course of the fellowship period

We are only able to accommodate covering travel for 2 participants per pairing and recommend limiting the collaboration to those who are able to take part in all aspects of the program. This does not mean the work produced with these funds needs to be produced alone, you can still engage with collaborators in a way you might in your everyday practice.

No, pairs should submit 1 application together with a shared proposal.

Still have questions? Feel free to write us.

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