CFP: Symposium on Structural Documentary

I am pleased to announced that our department is hosting this event in October.


Temple University’s Film and Media Arts department invites proposals for its
2nd Documentary Theory-Practice Symposium 

on the topic of Structural Documentary

One-day symposium, Friday, October 14, 2016
Temple Performing Arts Center
Temple University, Philadelphia

Keynote speakers:
Pacho Velez, co-director of Manakamana
Catherine Russell (Concordia University), author of Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video 

One of the most striking trends in nonfiction film over the last decade has been the intersection between documentary and what has been called “structural filmmaking,” an approach to experimental cinema with a lineage back to the 1960s. Whether in the art gallery context or in feature documentaries geared toward theatrical or film festival release, documentarians have experimented with appropriating elements of structural film: repeated structures, arbitrary conceits, and an overall play with the elements of time and framing. 

Recent retrospectives of pioneering 1970s and 80s filmmakers Chantal Akerman and James Benning have highlighted the long-standing affinity of nonfiction subject matter for this detached, intellectualized approach to filming. While these earlier makers have always been influential, in a sense their time has caught up with them, as once marginal practices have increasingly influenced more aesthetically oriented documentary. Structural-inspired work today is wide ranging, from auteur-identified “creative documentaries” to experimental work shown in galleries. Contemporary makers may or may not take up the mantle of “structural filmmaking,” but increasingly in creative and experimental documentary, predetermined structures and formal devices shape the raw material of reality into conceptual puzzles for the viewer.

This one-day symposium will bring together filmmakers, critics, and scholars to examine the aesthetics of structural documentary, past and present, and related expanded nonfiction forms. The event will interrogate the label of “structural documentary” itself, posing a debate between broadly (inclusive) and narrow (exclusive) definitions, and assessing the relationship between between structural documentary and other experimental documentary approaches. 

On the one hand, structural filmmaking can seem a nostalgic style, a harkening back to an earlier movement. On the other hand, digital video, newer sound and editing capabilities, and expanded installation contexts have breathed new life into the expressive possibilities of structural devices.  

Proposals are invited on any of the above questions or on topics related to any theoretical or historical dimension of structural documentary as well as current practice in structural documentary. Possible areas include:

The relationship between contemporary structural documentary and earlier schools or movements of experimental documentary 
Analyses of individual works or filmmakers 
The impact of the digital age on structural cinema’s material (media-reflexive) orientation
Expanded documentary forms in the Global South or in minor cinemas.
The mainstreaming of structural technique
Structuralism in the art world: video art, the gallery film, and installation
Structural documentary and the historiography of experimental cinema
Structural film and the documentary canon

We encourage scholarly papers as well as talks by critics, filmmakers, and media artists. The morning session will be devoted to scholarly talks and an afternoon session to presentations by filmmakers and practitioners. 

Please send a précis or abstract (300 words max.) and a brief bio to Chris Cagle ( by Tuesday, Sept. 6. Notification of accepted proposals will go out by the following week. 


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