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2016 Storytellers' Institute: Walking the Line

April 4, 2016

Storytellers' Institute Wordmark

Although snow is falling in Saratoga Springs in early April, it's only two months until MDOCS kicks off the summer 2016 Storytellers’ Institute, Walking the Line: Fact and Fiction, the second annual five-week documentary  program hosted by Skidmore College’s John B. Moore Documentary Studies Collaborative (MDOCS).

From May 31 to July 1, 2016, the Institute offers a hybrid creative-academic experience that brings together documentary professionals and Skidmore students and faculty for five weeks of lively and thought-provoking conversation, production and inspiration. Activities are anchored in the annual theme, which this year considers the sometimes permeable boundaries between fact and fiction in documentary work. The line between what makes a creative work “fact” or “fiction” has been challenged in many ways throughout the years in the documentary world. While documentary works rely on real people and events, "characters" and "scenes" often engage because of the way they interpret and represent reality in order to evoke emotion and passion in their audience.

In addition to the residency, MDOCS offers summer courses and the Institute will host several public events:  Point of Departure (June 2), a Festosium (June 9–12)and exhibitions and events in the Spring Street Gallery in downtown Saratoga Springs connect Institute participants and visitors with the community.


In addition the Institute also offers evening and weekend events open to the public free of charge. MDOCS invites the Capital District community and our colleagues to engage in lively and thought-provoking conversation, workshops and inspiration.

Point of Departure: Adapting Reality for Stage and Screen

The schedule kicks off on June 2 with Point of Departure, an evening in two parts. We open with a dialogue between filmmaker/photographer Chip Duncan, Broadway producer Dan Markley and actor/prodcuer Jonathan Burkhart, co-founder and president of the Nantucket FIlm Festival and the inspiration for a character in Rent.  After an opening reception, we conclude the evening with a screening of A Quest for Meaning: Myth, Imagination and Faith in the Literature of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein followed by a moderated Q&A with filmmaker Duncan.


From June 9 through 12, the Storytellers’ Institute is pleased to inaugurate a “Festosium” weekend at Skidmore College’s Tang Teaching Museum. This four-day blend of festival and symposium offers the community a glance into the world of the institute fellows and Skidmore scholars, and a rich array of screenings, panel discussions, gallery tours and virtual-reality experiences that grapple with the questions of when, where and why or how to draw a line between reality and representation in documentary work.

MDOCS’ inaugural Festosium puts filmmakers, audio documentarians, visual artists, multimedia designers and virtual reality creators in conversation over a weekend of recent documentary work that investigates what separates (or unites) fact and fiction, truth and imagination. Programming Guest Curators Jeff Daniel Silva (film) and Anne Hepperman (audio) have invited nationally and internationally based sound and film storytellers Martin Johnson (Serendipity podcast), Kaitlin Prest (the Heart podcast), Stephanie Spray (Manakamana, 2014), Maxim Pozdorovkin (Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, 2013), Nicolás Pereda (Summer of Goliath, 2010). Marc Beaudet and LoÏc Suty of Turbulent (Montréal, Canada) bring their virtual-reality approach to evidence-based storytelling, including The Unknown Photographer, showcased at Sundance Film Festival, to the conversation. The Festosium also engages with the the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum exhibition Borrowed Light, which offers a blend of documentary and art photography.

Institute Downtown at Spring Street Gallery

From June 15 to 29, the Spring Street Gallery in downtown Saratoga Springs will host Institute and Skidmore fellows’ documentary work and events. A collective exhibit will address the theme of "fact and fiction" through visual works and video clips. Join us for the exhibit opening and community reception.

This year's institute fellows and 10 Skidmore scholars are accomplished storytellers drawing on evidence-based documentary practices in film, audio, exhibition, archiving and multimedia.

Institute fellows Aggie Bazaz, Amanda Dawn-Christie, Jake Nussbaum, Courtney Readi-Eaton and Amanda come to Skidmore from three states (Pennsylvania, New York and North Carolina) and a Canadian province (New Brunswick), bringing the skills and tools from their work at collegiate institutions, art centers and independent radio stations. Projects topics span from the revealing of a family's untold oral history and greater discovery of long-hidden secrets in an African diaspora's lost past to a film exploring the parallels of two seemingly disparate cultural struggles for survival to a multimedia book, exhibit and interactive recreation that searches for the un-marred facts of the events leading up to the night Trayvon Martin was killed and finally to a project exploring the end of Canadian shortwave radio as told by mysteriously "talking" household appliances in a series of films and multimedia exhibits.

These documentary artists will all challenge the moral questions behind telling a research-based, fact-driven story when removing ones' past experience, perspective and individual lens is seemingly impossible. Can a story's "truth" be more deeply understood when the line between fact and fiction is blurred? May we be left forever skeptical of the source from which we gain our information and determine what we believe to be "true?"

Summer faculty and affiliate fellows Jonna McKone, a 2015 institute fellow and Eileen McAdam, of the Sound and Story Project of the Hudson Valley, will offer five-week courses in "The Essay Film" and "Intro to Audio Documentary" open to undergraduate college students.

Skidmore faculty scholars Rik Scarce (sociology) and Erika Schielke (biology) will advance documentary film and podcast projects.  Skidmore student scholars Colleen Craven, Jen Davies, Maryam DeWitt, Emma Foley, Eleanor Green, Emma Lanier, Dan Plumer and Emily Rizzo are advancing documentary projects in film, sound and multimedia on topics from the deeper understanding gained through intersectional study of the civil rights movement to addressing racial tension in a Skidmore Intergroup Relations class to intimate stories of loss of virginity to a film that aims to bring to life the voice of a lost mother.

They will be supported by the MDOCS Institute team: MDOCS Director Jordana Dym, Mellon Fellow Nicky Tavares, Visiting Assistant Professor Adam Tinkle and Program Coordinator Jesse Wakeman.

Institute screenings, performances and presentations are free and open to the public. For more details on locations and times on all of the above, please visit