Documentary Summer School
8 – 12 August 2016

Documentary Summer School
Documentary Summer School
© Festival del film Locarno, Photo courtesy of Deng Di
Documentary Summer School
Documentary Summer School
Documentary Summer School
Documentary Summer School
© Festival del film Locarno

Already in its 17th year, the Documentary Summer School is jointly organized by the Università della Svizzera italiana and the Festival del Film Locarno, in collaboration with the Semaine de la critique. The DSS offers places for up to 25 university students in the fields of cinema, media and communication. Graduated students, early doctoral students and emerging filmmakers are also welcome to apply. The DSS explores different research and production relevant issues concerning documentary cinema. A special attention is devoted to ethical questions. 


The 2016 Documentary Summer School focuses on the sensitive topic of exploitation in documentary cinema. Moving from the long time controversial question of filmmaking as a somewhat inherently exploitative practice, we approach the notion of exploitation in relation to both human and environmental matters. The structure of the 5-days course is threefold. The first module introduces some key concepts of documentary’s ethics, not so much intended as a set of rules, but rather as a field where three rights conflict: the filmmaker’s right to express his/her artistic project, the subjects' right to their privacy and to a correct representation; the audience’s rights to be informed. We explore film texts in order to identify and discuss possible not-exploitative representations of certain social groups and minorities. In doing so, we particularly consider documentaries representing life in war zones, and the consequential migrations flows. In the second module we analyze and put in relation dominant models of documentary storytelling and major documentary production schemes, and particularly, how these can convey different ideas of character, self and community. We then ask how this range of models brings up sharp questions of exploitation and representation across cultures, and how they are affected by contemporary funding models and policies and by audience reception. We conclude by specifically examining current trends in film policy concerning: eco-friendly film production, public funding for sustainable film projects, filmmaking and film training in/with developing countries, etc. The third module investigates if and how issues of labor and environmental exploitation find representation in Hollywood productions. Theoretical reflection is applied to the study of John Caldwell’s latest documentary feature entitled Highway 58: Boron to Buttonwillow, portions of which are screened in preview to the participants. Highway 58 is a “media archaeology road movie” that compares Hollywood depictions of the region with locally produced media and oral histories. The film maps the forgotten towns along 121 miles of a single remote road in California’s Kern County; from the hardscrabble mining town of Boron (depicted in the film Erin Brockovich) to the tiny migrant town of Weedpatch (depicted in Grapes of Wrath and Thelma and Louise); to the slowly dying migrant farm town of Buttonwillow (There Will Be Blood) in the West. The resulting cinematic journey depicts the dark history of a rural region defined by the century-old exploitation of migrant laborers and environmental degradation.

Lectures by international scholars are coupled with exclusive meetings with filmmakers from La Semaine de la critique section, who will discuss this year’s topics specifically adopting a hands-on approach. The official language of the Documentary Summer School is English. Attendance to the lectures is mandatory. Participants who require to be granted ECTS credits shall submit a paper (10-12 pages long) on a topic previously discussed with the faculty, within three weeks after the end of the DSS.



Maria Cristina Lasagni (first module) Maria Cristina Lasagni is professor of Cinema and Documentary at the Università della Svizzera Italiana, and Scientific Director of the Documentary Summer School (prof. with Gabriele Balbi). She has directed scientific researches for Universities and Institutions, such as the Italian public broadcaster RAI, the Italian Authority for Communications, and for the Swiss Federal Office of Communications UFCOM. She has been content editor for the educational channel TVLTV-Language (digital TV Stream, now Sky). As a filmmaker, she has directed documentaries on social matters (e.g. gender issues, mental health, psychiatric reform, social marginality), as well as educational productions for the Italian Parliament and the Italian National Health Service. She is the head of Psicoradio, a national radio program in collaboration with the Department of Mental Health in Bologna (Italy).  Her latest book, entitled Nanook cammina ancora (“Nanook keeps walking”, 2014) is about the historical development of the documentary genre, as well as on its philosophical, ethical and social status.

Nevina Satta (second module) is the CEO of the Sardegna Film Commission, the Vice-President of the Italian Film Commission Association (IFC), and a board member of Cineregio, the EU network of Regional Film Funds. A professor of Film Producing and Directing at various EU Universities, she received her Philosophy degree in Cultural Media Studies and Visual Anthropology PhD in Milan, where she began her career as filmmaker and producer. Before returning to her homeland after twenty years, she was based in Los Angeles and Milan, developing and producing narrative features and documentaries. She has also worked as consultant for International Film Festivals and as an architect of training initiatives, among which the Documentary Summer School since its inception in 2000. She founded with her husband the Unicef-endorsed NGO The Traveling Film School. She is a specialist in Sustainability in the Creative Industries and Audiovisual Industry Funds and Institutions.

Amedeo D'Adamo (second module) was the Founding Dean and then President of the original Los Angeles Film School, a floating graduate film-crafts conservatory in Hollywood, CA; he currently teaches film directing (narrative & doc) and marketing at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan and Brescia. He co-founded The Traveling Film School, a non-profit organization that provides free film and theater training in underdeveloped regions. He also was the architect and Scientific Director of Apulia Experience, a radical EU-funded film development program. As a narrative and doc filmmaker, his films have been in major festivals including Rome, Miami, Austin and Torino. His published academic work in media studies concerns the intersections of race, nationalism, gender, cinema space, celebrity studies and ethics. His most recent essay, on race, place and music in Sitcoms, is in a forthcoming Routledge anthology tentatively titled Music in Television Comedy to be published in summer 2016. He holds an MFA in Film from Columbia University. 


Guest lecturer:

John T. Caldwell (third module) is professor of Cinema and Media Studies and vice chair of the Department of Film, Television and Digital Media at UCLA. He has authored and edited several books, including Production Studies: Cultural Studies of Media Industries (co-edited with Vicki Mayer and Miranda Banks, Routledge, 2009) and Production Culture: Industrial Reflexivity and Critical Practice in Film and Television (Duke Univ. Press, 2008). He has published extensively in journals such as Television and New Media, Cinema Journal, Cultural Studies. He has received the Bauhaus IKKM Fellowship from the Bauhaus Universitat-Weimar (Germany), and has been resident scholar at Annenberg School of Communication of the University of Pennsylvania. He is regularly invited as keynote speaker at major international academic and industry conventions. As a filmmaker, he is the award-winning producer-director of documentaries Freak Street to Goa: Immigrants on the Rajpath (1989) and Rancho California (Por Favor) (2002). He is finishing post-production on his latest feature documentary entitled Highway 58: Boron to Buttonwillow, portions of which will be screened in preview to the participants of the Documentary Summer School.


Conditions of participation:
The Documentary Summer School is open to up to 25 undergraduate students in the fields of film, media and communication studies. Graduate students, early PhD students and emerging filmmakers are also welcome to apply. No geographic restrictions apply. The participation fee is of 455.- CHF and it covers:

  • Lectures and meetings (Monday 8-Friday 12 August 2016)
  • Bed and breakfast accommodation for 7 nights at the Locarno Youth Hostel (Sunday 7-Sunday 14 August)
  • Accreditation valid for all Festival screenings
  • Closing dinner with participants from all the Summer Academy programs

Meals other than breakfast and travel to and from the Festival are at the expense of participants. Please note that the Festival provides participants with a shuttle service free of charge between Milano Malpensa airport and Locarno, prior booking.


Deadline for submission is Friday 10 June 2016.
Candidates shall submit via email the following documents:

  • Personal CV
  • Brief motivation letter
  • Passport size digital photo (max 1MB)

Submitted dossiers will be evaluated by the scientific board, and selected participants will be notified via email by the end of June 2016.


Applications and enquiries to:
Gloria Dagnino -
Documentary Summer School – Organizing committee
Università della Svizzera italiana
via Buffi 13, 6900 Lugano
Tel. +41 (0)58 666 4814


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