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Doc Stories film series

Storytelling in a Synthetic World

As the lines between reality and fiction become increasingly blurred in our daily lives and in the media, this panel of award-winning filmmakers will discuss the opportunities and the ethics of working with synthetic content.

The live talk will take place on this page, and a video recording will be posted here shortly afterward.


Live Talk

Sat, Nov 6 at 2:00 pm PT

Live Talk


From A.I. and digitally altered subjects to restored archival footage and revelatory animation, documentary filmmakers now have a battery of creative tools at their disposal to augment stock footage, B-roll, and talking heads. These various approaches provide exciting pathways to storytelling as exemplified in Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s animated retelling of a refugee’s journey in Flee, or Stanley Nelson’s meticulous reconstruction of the titular prison uprising using unearthed archival images in Attica (2021). While the use of augmented animated and archival content creates enormous opportunity, these methods also prompt questions around authenticity, power, and perception. As the lines between reality and fiction become increasingly blurred in our daily lives and in the media, this panel of award-winning filmmakers will discuss the opportunities and the ethics of working with synthetic content.

Panelist Todd Haynes

Passionate about the visual arts since childhood, Todd Haynes studied art and semiotics at Brown University. In 1987, he created the short film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story with Barbie dolls. Since then, he has tirelessly continued to address questions of gender and identity. His first feature film Poison, inspired by Jean Genet, was released in 1991 and won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. After Safe (1995), with Julianne Moore, he conjured David Bowie during the Ziggy Stardust period in Velvet Goldmine (1998), then paid homage to Douglas Sirk in Far from Heaven (2002). In 2006, he had six actors play Bob Dylan in I’m Not There then directed the miniseries Mildred Pierce (2011). He returned to feature films in 2015 with Carol (2015), Wonderstruck (2017), followed by Dark Waters (2019). His newest project is the documentary The Velvet Underground.

Panelist Alison Klayman

Director Alison Klayman tells timely, intimate stories with larger-than-life figures. Her first feature Ai Wewei: Never Sorry (Sundance 2012, Special Jury Prize) followed the renowned Chinese artist and activist through a turning point in his life. It won the duPont-Columbia Award, was shortlisted for the Academy Award, and was nominated for two Emmys and a DGA Award. In the critically acclaimed The Brink (Sundance 2019) she took on former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. Her other films include the Emmy and BAFTA-nominated Take Your Pills (SXSW 2018) and festival-favorite artist profiles The 100 Years Show (2015) on Cuban-American painter Carmen Herrera and Flower Punk (2019) on Japanese flower artist Azuma Makoto. Her newest film Jagged (TIFF 2021) about Alanis Morissette’s groundbreaking album Jagged Little Pill premieres Nov 18th on HBO.

Panelist Nanfu Wang

The 2020 MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Nanfu Wang is an award-winning Chinese filmmaker based in the U.S. Her feature documentaries include Hooligan Sparrow (Sundance 2016), I Am Another You (SXSW 2017), One Child Nation (Sundance 2019), and In The Same Breath (Sundance 2021). Wang is celebrated for her fearless, bold storytelling. She has received four Emmy® nominations, has been twice Academy Award shortlisted and is a recipient of the Independent Spirit Award, the Peabody Award, the George Polk Award, Cinema Eye Honor awards, and an IDA award.

Panelist Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (Director, Producer) is an Academy® Award-winning filmmaker. Most recently Vasarhelyi directed and produced Free Solo (2018), an intimate, unflinching portrait of rock climber Alex Honnold, which was awarded a BAFTA and the Academy® Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2019. The film also received seven Emmy® awards. Vasarhelyi’s other films as a director include Meru (Oscars Shortlist 2016; Sundance Audience Award 2015); Incorruptible (Truer Than Fiction Independent Spirit Award 2016); Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love (Oscilloscope, 2009), which premiered at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals; A Normal Life (Tribeca Film Festival, Best Documentary 2003); and Touba (SXSW, Special Jury Prize Best Cinematography in 2013).

Vasarhelyi has directed pieces for the New York Times Op Docs, Netflix’s design series Abstract, ESPN’s Enhanced among others. She has received grants from the Sundance Institute, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Bertha Britdoc, and the National Endowment of the Arts. She is a member of the DGA as well as AMPAS. She holds a B.A. in comparative literature from Princeton University and splits her time between New York City and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with her husband Jimmy Chin, their daughter, Marina, and son, James.

Moderator Jessie Fairbanks