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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


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), or the use of deepfake imagery to protect vulnerable subjects in David France’s Welcome to Chechnya (2020). While the use of altered 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 Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Born in Denmark, Jonas Poher Rasmussen graduated from the Copenhagen film collective Super16 in 2010. He made his feature debut with the portrait film Noget om Halfdan (2006). Searching for Bill (2012), a mix of documentary and fiction, won the Nordic Dox Award at CPH:DOX and the international competition at DocAviv. He also directed the documentary What He Did (2015), which won the film critics’ Fipresci award at Thessaloniki Film Festival. Flee (2020) celebrated its world premiere at Sundance Film Festival 2021, where it won the main prize in the World Cinema Documentary competition.

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