Research stay at Harvard Metalab. Uniondocs and MIT Open Documentary Lab (II)

0_logo uniondocs

In the last two weeks I asked for permission from the Metalab to move to New York for three days. Apart from the mandatory visit to the “city of cities”, I visited the Uniondocs documentary center and interviewed its director, Christopher Allen 1. UnionDocs (UnDo) is a Center for Documentary Art that generates and shares big ideas. It brings together a diverse community of experimental media-makers, dedicated journalists, critical thinkers, and local partners in a search for urgent expressions of the human experience, practical perspectives on the world today, and compelling visions for the future.

1_Union docs interior

Figure 1. Inside the Union Docs center

On my way back I drove along the coast through the states of New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and then focused on achieving my ultimate goal in relation to my journey to the United States: discovering the Open Documentary Lab at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), and its directors, Sarah Wolozin and William Uricchio. The goal ot the Lab is to bring together key practitioners of the new documentary forms, as well as the curators who have been working with them, the technologists who enable them, the funding agencies that may be supporting them, and the academics and critics who have been making sense of them.


3_logo opendoclab amb lletres

Figure 2. MIT Open Documentary Lab logo

I had met William Uricchio 2 and Sarah Wolozin 3, the heads of the Lab, in IDFA Doclab last year, where we had already agreed to meet and get to know each other better, scheduling a hypothetical future postdoctoral stay. Therefore, I wanted to “size up” the place and basically put myself in the Boston area. I also interviewed Sarah and Katie Edgerton 4, student of the MIT Master’s Degree in the Comparative Media Studies Program (CMS) and research assistant at the Open Doc Lab.


4_cms mit logo

Figure 3. CMS logo


The Open Doc Lab is located in the buildings of the MIT MediaLab, the dream of every audiovisual and interactive media student and professional. The MIT Media Lab is an interdisciplinary research laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology devoted to projects at the convergence of technology, multimedia and design. Staff and students have backgrounds ranging from electrical engineering and computer science to sociology and music and others.


5_media lab nit

Figure 4. MIT Media Lab building

The Media Lab has been widely popularized since the 1990s by business and technology publications such as Wired and Red Herring for a series of practical inventions in the fields of wireless networks, field sensing, web browsers and the World Wide Web. More recently, it has also focused particularly on design and technologies that address social causes. The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) was one of the notable research efforts which grew out of the Media Lab. The MIT Media Lab was founded by MIT Professor Nicholas Negroponte and former MIT President Jerome Wiesner and opened its doors in the Wiesner Building (designed by I. M. Pei) (also known as the E15 building) at MIT in 1985. It grew out of the work of MIT’s Architecture Machine Group, and remains within the MIT School of Architecture and Planning.



Figure 5. Original MIT Media Lab building


Arnau Gifreu Castells (PhD)

Researcher, lecturer and producer



Christopher Allen is the principal founder of UnionDocs and is currently the Artistic Director. After graduating from Columbia University and studying at Trinity College Dublin, Allen worked as an entrepreneur, documentary director, and new media artist. His individual works and collaborative projects have been exhibited at the MoMA, Harvard’s Carpenter Center for Visual Arts, the Volksbühne Theatre, DirektorenHaus in Berlin, Independent Film Week, Sonár, DIVA, and Conflux Festivals, among many other venues. He directed the interactive documentary Capitol of Punk, which was part of “Design and the Elastic Mind” at the Museum of Modern Art, and he is currently in post-production on the feature Diamond Vehicle, shot in Tibet, China, Nepal, and India. Christopher was founding-partner of Counts Media, and played a leading role in the invention and execution of many art & entertainment concepts there, such as The Ride NY, a live theatrical and cinematic experience on the streets of the city, and Yellow Arrow, a place-based storytelling project exhibited online and in galleries and museums internationally.

William Uricchio is Professor and Director of the Comparative Media Studies Program and Professor of Comparative Media History at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. He is also Lead Principal Investigator of the MIT Game Lab. His efforts as a documentary maker began in grammar school, and led to a short but formative professional career as an editor and director of social activism and anthropological documentaries. Uricchio’s academic career began in the classroom with Leo Hurwitz, Lewis Jacobs, Jay Leyda and George Stoney, and resulted in a dissertation on the ‘city film’ that focused on the early years of non-fiction film production, and particularly film’s relationship to other representational technologies such as the photograph, stereograph and panorama. Uricchio’s most recent books include Media Cultures (2006 Heidelberg), on responses to media in post 9/11 Germany and the US, and We Europeans? Media, Representations, identities(2009, Chicago). He is currently completing a manuscript on the concept of the televisual from the 17th century to the present.

Sarah Wolozin has produced documentaries and educational media for a wide variety of media outlets including PBS, History Channel, Learning Channel, NPR, and various websites and educational technologies. Her work includes an episode of the PBS series, America’s Sorting Machine: Unequal Access to College, and the last episode of the PBS series, This Far By Faith: African-American Spiritual Journeys and the Peabody-winning series, I’ll Make Me A World: African-American Arts where she served as associate producer. She started experimenting with the web back in the early stages of its public use and developed and produced an award-winning interactive website based on a comic book character. Whatever the platform, her main interest is in enabling diversity of voice and provoking thoughtful discussion and action through a good story.

Katie Edgerton studies the future of the film and television industry, and emerging forms of digital storytelling. Her forthcoming thesis focuses on television writing and new technology. Katie is a founding member of Social TV, an interest group in Comparative Media Studies. Prior to MIT, Katie was an Assistant Curator for Exhibitions at the National 9/11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center. She helped develop the Museum’s exhibit narrative, and scripted the 9/11 Timeline, a Webby Award honoree. Katie is a graduate of Williams College. A freelance writer and narrative developer, she blogs about film, new media, and storytelling at