MDOCS Storytellers' Institute

2020 Storytellers’ Institute

Each year the MDOCS Storytellers’ Institute and MDOCS Forum convene non-fiction makers working in any medium around a central theme. These themes generate productive exchanges around the subjects taken on by non-fiction makers, as well as self-reflexive questioning of documentary practices. In 2015, the inaugural Institute explored FAMILY; subsequent themes have addressed what constitutes non-fiction with WALKING THE LINE BETWEEN FACT AND FICTION, delved into placemaking and de-colonization in documentary with SPACE AND PLACE, interrogated the shared and divergent practices between documentary and surveillance in SURVEIL/SURVEILLED, and playfully subverts the association of documentary with tragedy through HUMOR: LAUGHING WITH REALITY. Our sixth theme, Co-Creation and its Discontents grapples with the modality of collaborative practice. 


“At its core, the idea of co-creation seeks to reconcile systemic power and singular authority. This fundamental principle extends beyond the creative process within media making, compelling us all to interrogate fundamental ideas of ownership, meaning-making, attribution and—if we optimize the potential of co-creation—realize a more just society.” – by Katerina Cizek, William Uricchio, Juanita Anderson, Maria Agui Carter, Thomas Allen Harris , Maori Holmes, and Michèle Stephenson (from Collective Wisdom- PART 1: ‘WE ARE HERE’: STARTING POINTS IN CO-CREATION) 

This is a call to all collaborators, collectives and co-creators of knowledge! To those coming from activism, community organizing, and collective power building. To those willing to transgress artistic boundaries and academic disciplines in the urgent name of shared agency and more inclusive institutions! 

MDOCS Forum and Storytellers’ Institute invite you to join us in June 4-7, 2020 to think together about Co-creation and its Discontents. We are interested in building a conversation over the course of the weekend that complicates collaborative practices; not shying away from the fact that they can be incredibly frustrating, deeply flawed, and even exploitative. However, we also wish to explore the different ways that non-fiction artists collaborate, collectivize and co-create in order to engage with their participants and the public, ethically consider insider/outsider dynamics, push back against capitalism, and blur the lines between art and life. 

As Claire Bishop states in “The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents”, “…the creative energies of participatory practices rehumanizes –or at least de-alienates–a society rendered numb and fragmented by the repressive instrumentality of capitalism. But the urgency of this political task has led to a situation in which such collaborative practices are automatically perceived to be equally artistic gestures of resistance: There can be no failed, unresolved, or boring, works of collaborative art because all are equally essential to the task of strengthening the social bond.”  Bishop reminds us how such an overridingly ethical/political imperative to collaboration risks obliterating aesthetic valuations entirely. How can the non-fiction artist share power while maintaining an artistic vision? And for that matter, what is the nature and the limits of shared artistic vision?  

Moreover, it asks too much ––is unrealistic, perhaps even utopian ––to see these co-creative practices as the answer to all of documentary’s ethical pitfalls or as a means to the end of capitalism as we know it. The power dynamics at play in all non-fiction art making practices (authorial, interpersonal, extractive, etc.) are implicit and perhaps even more pronounced in co-creative practice, where collaborators will inevitably fall across different positionalities and accesses to power. Working in these practices, it can be easy to be exploited, exploit our collaborators, and exploit our audiences. Pooja Rangan shows how easy it is to fall into the trap of “the pseudoparticipatory,” using collaboration as a tool for signaling at one’s own humanitarian impulses instead of actually sharing or building power.  

How do activists and organizers work with makers and institutions without losing agency? How do institutions engage in power-sharing without extracting demands of collusion on communities who might have contrasting aims? To think about these and more questions, The John B. Moore Documentary Collaborative invites national and international documentary and non-fiction makers working in any medium to apply for the MDOCS Storytellers’ Institute and MDOCS Forum.  We hope to convene makers, activists, educators, students, and institutions during the summer of 2020 to share examples, methodologies and best practices in non-fiction co-creation practice. 

Visiting Fellows (professional documentary practitioners)

Student Fellows (select Skidmore and non-Skidmore students)



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