Project X continues a collaboration between Poitras and Moltke that began with their reporting on documents released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013, and is part of a joint reporting project between Field of Vision and The Intercept. On November 16, 2016, The Intercept published Ryan Gallagher and Moltke’s complementary story entitled, “Titanpointe: The NSA’s Spy Hub in New York, Hidden in Plain Sight,” which reveals the location of NSA’s NYC surveillance hub, and delves into he history of the structure, the man who designed it, the late John Carl Warnecke, and the secret NSA program run out of the building, called “Titanpointe”.

Project X is a visual excavation of Warnecke’s monolithic, windowless telecommunications building owned and operated by AT&T at 33 Thomas Street overlaid with readings from secret NSA documents. The actual voices supplying that audio are, in order of appearance: Rami Malek, Emmy Award-winning star of the USA Network television show Mr. Robot, as well as films such as The Master and Short Term 12; and Michelle Williams, the three-time Academy Award-nominated star of films such as Manchester by the Sea, Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine, and My Week With Marilyn.

In this far-ranging conversation, Poitras and Moltke talk about the origins and nature of their collaboration, the process by which primary source texts become dramatically compelling cinema, working with actors to subtly characterize official documents, and the challenges of filming a building that somehow manages to be hidden in plain sight.

How did you find each other, and when did your collaboration begin?

Moltke: I was working on a radio documentary about the physicality of the Internet when Snowden came out. I tried to contact Laura, who was totally under siege at the time and starting to edit CITIZENFOUR. I didn’t hear back, so I travelled to Rio and convinced Glenn [Greenwald to work with me and a small team of Danish reporters from Information. I lived in Berlin, so Glenn introduced me to Laura. After reporting three stories involving Denmark - based on Snowden documents - Laura asked me to work with her directly.

Poitras: Both Henrik and I come out of other types of narrative work—narrative documentary and radio. The question was how to approach the [Snowden] archive visually, and with audio. How do you present things that aren’t just straight up news stories? How do you use primary documents to tell stories, and to make them come alive through the use of cinema and music. I think there’s a dialectic going on [in Project X] between the primary documents driving the visual choices and not just imposing a vision. I had been hungry to figure out a way to do that and this project gave us an opportunity.

Moltke: Between 32 Avenue of the Americas, which is the old AT&T headquarters, 60 Hudson Street, and 33 Thomas Street—those three building are really, really important for the internet. Most people don’t know this. That was something that had always fascinated me, the physicality of these [buildings]—and you can see all these markings on the streets, you can see these cables. So I started looking into it, and I started filming the building. One day we went down there and Laura decided to walk into the building, which I hadn’t done before. I’d never even thought about it. And in that moment I had an idea of what the movie would be. You’re in a place that’s totally normal, but there’s this other layer that’s totally secret and not there.

It’s clearly not inviting.

Moltke: Everything about the building tells you not to go in there. There’s just a guard, but you can’t get anywhere further, there’s a thick bulletproof sliding door. But somehow you don’t even think about it.

Poitras: All the kids in the neighborhood have myths about that building. It’s like a haunted house.

Moltke: The first night I filmed some guy came out from the building and said that I couldn’t film it because it’s a federal building. He then he started talking about 9/11 when I pointed out I was filming an AT&T building, not the Federal Building. It was really strange. I had a lot of experiences like that, people coming up and telling me random, sometimes striking details. One person working in the building told me he’d heard that Bush would have been taken to the building if he had been in NYC on 9/11, because it’s the safest place in the city.

Poitras: I had also been fascinated by the covert travel instructions since the first time I saw them. That there were guidelines for how people should travel as spies within the United States—they’re so fantastic as documents. The film allowed us to combine these two things—our interest in this building and these covert travel instructions.

It’s interesting to think about multiple stories with different forms and different expressions coming from a single archive like that. Here’s one source and all these different expressions. How do you identify what is going to be what? How do you sort through what makes sense as a written story, and what could be a film?

Moltke: For me, it’s a gut feeling. When I first found proof that identified AT&T as a partner, I had a clear idea [of the news story]. But also reading these documents you see images. In this instance the story worked both as an investigative news story and as a short film.

When did you know you had enough evidence to make the connections?

Poitras: It was the satellites on the roof.

Moltke: We contacted the FCC who confirmed that 33 Thomas Street was the only AT&T location in all of New York State that had a licensed satellite earth station. We knew the location was in New York and we knew they had a program that relied on satellite uplink, and we knew the partner was AT&T. That made it pretty clear. But from there to be able to go and convince an editor, that’s another long stretch.

Poitras: The way the archive appears, they use codenames for things that are the most sensitive. And one of the things that is most sensitive for the NSA are those partnerships with the telecoms—AT&T, Verizon. There are always codenames [for those].

Moltke: The whole design is made for you to not be able to figure out what it is.

In a way it’s really valuable to have to contend with the roadblocks. It allows us to understand how these systems, how the lack of transparency works.

Poitras: This is actually what Henrik has been doing for the past three years.

Moltke: And it drives you crazy. It’s fun but also…you go down these super long paths, and you just have to give up after a few weeks.

Does the path itself become valuable?

Moltke: Sometimes.

Poitras: I would say there was a parallel process in terms of both the work on this film and the work we did for the Whitney show in terms of just getting the facts right. In determining the public interest of information, and having a simultaneous publication of things that fit into the narrative of a film, or in an art sense, and of more hard news. That’s been one of the great things about collaborating with Henrik—he’s been able to straddle those things.

Moltke: I spent so much time in that archive that to go out and see the locations is such a surreal experience. I went down to look at the NSAs building in the National Business Parkway in Maryland. It’s such a strange place—it’s an actual business park. That’s where all the post 9/11 stuff, all the contractors moved in and for some reason you can actually film there

In his film you’ve got audio sources that don’t directly match the imagery, which goes from the evocative driving motif to vantages on and around 33 Thomas. Did you gather a lot of footage and pare it away in the editing room, or were you looking for specific visuals to shoot?

Moltke: Originally I went out and tried something, and showed it to Laura. And then we went and shot it with Jarred Alterman, who was a great DP to work with. Laura had a clear idea before we went on that trip of which kind of shots she wanted and how it would work with the audio.

Poitras: At some point we discovered all this backstory about the building and its amazing architect John Carl Warnecke, this fascinating Cold War character who not only designed this building but also a host of other government buildings. With Nels Bangerter, the editor, we started to map out how to approach the reveal of this building, and decided to use the road trip to get us there. We really needed to work with an editor who would be able to approach something conceptually, but also with a narrative heart to it.

Henrik, there’s a quote in your story about how the building kind of blends in with the city. And it’s really true—it inexplicably, creepily can disappear from view. And in the film you really convey that, especially with the night photography. You visualize it without having to say it.

Poitras: One of my favorite shots was one that Henrik took of the cityscape all lit up with this black monolith that’s all dark. We wanted to reveal the building at different stages: With more detail on the ground and then get it at elevation to see how it exists within and among buildings. It jumps out at you in a very different way than when you’re on the ground.

In your recent work, Laura, you’ve really been able to mine drama from landscape—I’m thinking especially about The Oath. But there you had characters. Was there a limit here to how far you could push things, narratively, without central characters?

Poitras: I do think that there are characters, actually. I think the narration in Project X function as characters in a very real sense.

They’re obviously providing an informational function—reading aloud from these documents. But how do you see them as characters?

Poitras: They’re voices of authority giving instruction, narrating the hidden world. They’re in a way hidden from us as people, but they are among us. There are people who go to work and are given these instructions. They’re on the subway sitting right next to you but they’re told what to tell their families, what to do and say—these characters kind of being the NSA.

Yet they’re talking to us.

Poitras: We wanted a sense of communication. It’s not a monologue. It’s a communication being directed at agents.

Moltke: There aren’t many documents that are like this. You definitely can sense from the documents that they’re trying to prevent blowing their cover. You would almost expect that you wouldn’t need to read these kinds of things if you were really good at cloak and dagger stuff, but the NSA is a different kind of organization, they’re not so used to working domestically and under cover.

There’s almost a soft quality to his text that lends itself to being a conversation. It’s practical information for a client, not orders from a superior. It’s interesting when something written gets read aloud in that way. It automatically makes it more human since there’s interpretation in the expression, even if only mildly. When people write documents like that, they’re not writing for vocalization.

Poitras: There’s the male voice, Rami Malek, which has this kind of whispering in your ear quality. And then there’s a more authoritarian female voice, which is Michelle Williams, that’s more dictating, a more distant voice.

How did you come to work with Rami and Michelle?

Poitras: Henrik and I are both big Mr. Robot fans. I had asked Sam Esmail to be an Executive Producer on my film Risk, which is about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. Then, right before we sent the e-mail invitation to Rami, we saw the last episode of Mr. Robot, which freaked us both out because the cliffhanger was all based around 33 Thomas Street. It’s actually crazy.

What was it like directing Rami? [At the time of this interview, Michelle Williams hadn’t recorded her part.]

Moltke: I was very impressed with his skills. He’s so good at nailing details. With documentaries you’re used to getting one chance and then you have to work with what you have, so this was obviously an amazing experience.

Poitras: The way he read lines, he brought this really human touch.

Were there different takes on how to do that voice?

Poitras: Yeah, we did a range of, “how official or how distant or how whispering in your ear should it be?” It’s not just somebody speaking to himself, but communicating to an agent who’s making this drive.

Why the two voices, instead of just Rami?

Poitras: We had different primary documents, and we wanted them to be different characters. So we had the male voice reading the travel guide for the road trip, and then the other being the official voice. They’re both coming from within the NSA, but they have different qualities. At one point we thought about having a third voice, since we’re pulling from three different sets of documents, but we ultimately settled on two.

And were Rami’s repeated readings of the word “redacted” incorporated into the text?

Poitras: It was put in later.

Moltke: I changed the names of everything that needed to be redacted. It was a difficult choice: how do you represent text redaction in audio?

Poitras: We tried doing a beep, tried reverse audio.

Moltke: Scrambling.

Poitras: I wasn’t convinced it was going to work until I heard Rami speak it. Once he said it, I knew it was really good. It added a level of humor. It was a great thing to be wrong about.

Was it just the one usage used over and over again?

Poitras: No, he read it a bunch of times. And we used different versions.

Moltke: I’m a total redaction nerd. Working with the documents can be very boring and repetitive and Kafkaesque at times. When we’re able to come up with something that is so condensed and aesthetically pleasing it makes me happier to do the less inspiring work, which still needs to be done, and without errors.

Poitras: One of the great things about working with Henrik is that, of course these documents are newsworthy, but there’s a limit to how far you can go with that. How can you go into a different space which is—what does it feel like, what does it do to you to be a spy? What does it feel like when you can’t talk to people about what you do? How do you live with that? It’s a crazy, schizophrenic way to live. That’s not news—that’s a human question. And that’s the stuff I’m drawn to.

IF/Then Shorts, in partnership with Hulu Documentary Films calls short-documentary filmmakers based in North America to take part in the Inaugural IF/Then x Hulu Short Documentary Lab. This lab will channel Hulu and IF/Then’s shared vision of creating a new pipeline of diverse talent and incubating strong voices who will be the next class of non-fiction storytellers.

Program Details:

Four filmmaking teams will be chosen to participate in a one-year lab focused on short-documentary production and career training. For the first six months, filmmakers will be individually mentored through production by IF/Then staff and take part in monthly virtual cohort trainings, consisting of keynotes from industry heavy-hitters and edit consultations. Upon rough cut of their projects, filmmakers will be invited to debut their works-in-progress to an invitation-only audience and receive feedback. For the remainder of the program, filmmakers will finalize their cuts and receive high-level festival and distribution strategy consultations, along with guidance creating their publicity materials, and pro-bono legal support. Hulu will have the right to review the projects for potential acquisition or further development.

Each team will receive a $25,000 grant to use for the production of their film.

This opportunity will be open to individuals living in/from North America, with an emphasis on Black and/or Indigenous filmmakers, people of color, women, LGBTQ+, recent immigrants, and individuals who identify as having a disability. We will welcome any and all stories from underrepresented voices, with a strong preference around subjects related to gender, the LGTBQ community or issues unique to the BIPOC community.

Project Eligibility:

  • In addition to the identity eligibility of the maker and the theme, eligible IF/Then Shorts projects must meet the following criteria:
  • Be an original short documentary with a final duration of 10-20 minutes
  • Be completed within six to nine months of receiving the IF/Then Shorts grant
  • Be factually accurate, follow best practices in documentary ethics, and be designed for a U.S. audience
  • Be driven by (a) compelling character(s), with access to the character(s) secured
  • Be presented in English or subtitled in English
  • Have no prior distribution attached and be able to participate in the IF/Then Shorts distribution initiative
  • All stories and storytellers coming from countries and territories in North America. This includes the United States and its territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, US Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa,) Canada, Greenland, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Venezuela, and countries in the Caribbean: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, The Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, US Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Clipperton Island, Cuba, Curacao, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, Saba, St. Andres and Providencia, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten, Trinidad and Tobago, and Turks and Caicos Islands.


The application portal will open on January 15, 2021 and close at 11:59pm EST on Feb 15th.

  • January 15, 2021: Open call for IF/Then x Hulu Short Documentary Lab
  • March 31, 2021: Finalists announced
  • April 5, 2021: Virtual Program Kickoff


Submissions are now closed.

Please direct any questions regarding this application to

Starting July 22, IF/Then Shorts has a new home at Field of Vision. Joining Field of Vision will be IF/Then Shorts Program Director Chloe Gbai and Supervising Producer Caitlin Mae Burke. Founded in 2017 with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, IF/Then Shorts is a fund and mentorship program that supports storytellers in breaking barriers to access, exposure, and sustainability in the media landscape. IF/Then works with creators who experience inequity based on factors such as race, gender, class, sexuality, ability, ethnicity, age, citizenship, and/or geography.

IF/Then Shorts taps into the need for broader geographical representation in the stories that get told through its regional pitch events. It holistically supports short documentary storytellers in their creation of compelling, character-led, community-inspired stories that embody the breadth and diversity of the people and places they represent.

The program addresses the imbalance of representation, perspective, power, compensation, and career longevity among independent filmmakers and media artists. IF/Then Shorts leverages access, expertise, network, and brand to address these challenges. Through grants, mentorship, industry connections, and professional development, IF/Then Shorts helps to ensure that storytellers from a multitude of backgrounds have access to the resources and tools they need to tell their stories, connect with audiences, and thrive in their careers. IF/Then Shorts was previously part of the Tribeca Film Institute, which is planning to pause operations indefinitely in September. "IF/Then Shorts is an incredible program, and one that’s vital to the field," said Charlotte Cook, Field of Vision's Co-Founder and Executive Producer. "We’re so glad that they can find their new home with Field of Vision. The program’s values align perfectly with Field of Vision, and further our overall commitment to shorts and advocating for filmmakers. Chloe and Caitlin are phenomenal, and I feel so lucky that they’ll be joining our team."

IF/Then Program Director Chloe Gbai said of the move: "We’re so excited that thanks to the MacArthur Foundation and Field of Vision we can keep this funding and development pipeline open to diverse, creative nonfiction talent past TFI’s pause this September. This program will have a new life and is ready to uplift the voices that we need to champion during these interesting times."

Supervising Producer Caitlin Mae Burke added: "As a former Field of Vision filmmaker myself, I know how beneficial it is to work with these trailblazers in the short documentary space. I'm overjoyed that all of our active projects and future supported filmmakers will benefit so immensely from this move, and we look forward to the tremendous growth potential for IF/Then possible under the Field of Vision umbrella." IF/Then is currently holding an open call for the North Shorts Grant and Fellowship, in partnership with Points North Institute, The Screening Room, Jigsaw Productions, and the LEF Foundation, for regional filmmakers in the American Northeast. About Chloe Gbai Chloe Gbai is the Director of IF/Then Shorts. Previously, as the POV Shorts and Streaming Producer, she launched POV Shorts, which earned POV its third documentary short Oscar® nomination, two News & Doc Emmy nominations and an IDA Awards nomination for Best Short Form Series.  She has previously worked at Teen Vogue and Viacom, as well as served on review panels and juries for the National Endowment for the Arts, Sheffield Doc/Fest, ITVS, IDA Awards, Black Public Media, Creative Capital, and various other film organizations. She is a member of Brown Girls Doc Mafia and a member-in-residence of the Meerkat Media Collective.

About Caitlin Mae Burke Caitlin Mae Burke is an Emmy-winning producer. Her films have screened and won awards at top tier festivals including Sundance, Berlinale, and Tribeca Film Festival and have been broadcast across the US and around the world. Her work has screened at MoMA, The Museum of the Moving Image, and in movie theaters internationally. She is an inaugural inductee to DOC NYC's "40 Under 40" and alumna of Berlinale Talents. IF/Then currently has funding opportunities available for filmmakers. Please find more information here.

Field of Vision has partnered with Doc Society and Sundance Institute to launch Independent Documentary: Filming in the Time of Corona, a new Risk Assessment Guide for independent documentary filmmakers who are considering starting or resuming production during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

Many filmmakers are asking themselves — and others in the documentary field — the big question: Should I be filming at all?

As our field discusses and debates this particular question — and its ethical and and public health implications — Field of Vision, Doc Society, Sundance Institute, and our co-signatories are offering a “living document” that provides guidelines, a checklist, and questions for independent documentary film teams to ask themselves, each other and their partners. It is our hope that this guide will help filmmakers make informed decisions and help keep everyone safe.

We’d like to acknowledge our gratitude to all of the the co-signatories of the Risk Assessment Guide, who helped consult on, and improve the guide: Asian American Documentary Network (ADoc), Asociación de Documentalistas de Puerto Rico (ADocPR), ACOS (A Culture Of Safety) Alliance, Ambulante, American Documentary/POV, Black Public Media, Brown Girls Doc Mafia, Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), Chicken & Egg, DOCUBOX, Impact Partners, Indian Documentary Foundation, Latino Public Broadcasting, National Association of Latino Producers (NALIP), Pacific Islanders in Communications, Perspective Fund, Scottish Documentary Institute, Topic, Vision Maker Media: Native Stories for Public Broadcasting, and others.

This is a rapidly changing situation as well as a long-term reality. Those of us in the documentary field will need to be mindful, flexible, and diligent as our risk assessment continues to evolve in order to keep not only our community safe but also the communities we collaborate with in the stories we tell. This new normal is unprecedented, but our documentary community is nothing if not committed to responding to this profoundly unique situation.

The guide will be updated as the situation develops and as we receive additional feedback from filmmakers and support organizations.

The final round of funding is now closed.

For this final round of funding, we will continue prioritizing providing support to filmmakers of color and filmmakers from other marginalized communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Field of Vision and Topic Studios have created a $250,000 fund to provide grants for freelancers working in the Documentary field. The fund will distribute unrestricted grants of up to $2000 to support personal financial needs during the COVID19 pandemic to freelancers who have experienced hardship from loss of income or opportunity as a result of the pandemic

Dates and Deadlines


The fund will be open for applications from Wed April 8th from 9am ET until Friday April 10th at 6pm ET or until we reach 1,000 applications. You can find the link to the application at the bottom of this page.


The fund will be open for applications from May 6th from 9am ET until May 8th at 6pm ET or until we reach 750 applications.

Notification of grant approval will be within 20 days of the fund closing, and payments will be processed within 30 days of notification of a grant. June The fund will be open for a final round of applications from June 10th from 9am ET until June 12th at 6pm ET or until we reach 500 applications.


Be able to demonstrate work as a freelancer within the documentary field in roles such as:

- Directors - Producers (This includes Associate Producers) - DPs - Editors - Sound Recordists/Designers - Researchers - Assistants - Critics & Writers who have covered documentaries - Publicists

Other freelance roles will be accepted if they meet the rest of the criteria

Provide a link (examples - IMDB page, Film Review, Direct link to project) that shows professional work in the field.

The fund is eligible for artists internationally, however you must be able to receive funding electronically (we are not able to issue checks), and priority will be given to countries and regions of which there isn’t government freelance assistance that you are eligible for. If you have not been eligible for government assistance, please state that in your application.

Students who are currently enrolled are not eligible.

People who are currently in employment are not eligible.

Please note: We have made every effort to reduce the amount of information, paperwork and requirements for funding and have tried to make the fund as open and accessible as possible. We are largely operating on a trust-based system and really urge you to work with us on being able to maintain this. It’s extremely important to us to be able to get funding to the freelancers that need it the most. Please answer all questions thoroughly and accurately so that we can ensure the funds are allocated to help as many people in need as possible.

Information Needed:

- Demonstrated professional work within the field - Usual income source - Description of situation - Maximum amount requested - Minimum amount requested - What the funding would be used for - Location

Please note: It’s important to include a maximum and minimum amount requested. Also, please note that grants may be taxable as income under the law that applies to you. We will issue Form 1099s for grants of more than $600.

The Process

As always, it is important to us that filmmakers lead how we operate and respond, and so the process will begin with a blind review of applications by a panel of filmmakers and producers, with a simultaneous review by the Field of Vision and Topic Studios teams. Those recommendations will then provide the recommended list for funding, which will then be reviewed once more before contacting the fund recipients.

We will only be contacting those who have been allocated funding.

On receipt of the grant acceptance please expect up to 30 days to receive payment. In order to issue the grants we will need a W-9 or W8-BEN tax form and an invoice which includes wire transfer details.

UPDATE: Our first 200 meeting slots have been booked. However, you can still sign up for the waitlist at the links below as we work to add additional appointment times. Coming this spring, the Field of Vision team will again offer a virtual "office hours" service for the documentary community. As we’re in a moment of uncertainty, we want to make ourselves available to filmmakers in any way we can. We understand that the industry is experiencing a lot of upheaval, and that this is a particularly difficult time for freelancers and people working independently.

We will be allocating time every weekday to have video meetings and calls. We’ll be prioritizing filmmakers who’ve been affected by festival postponements and production changes, but will also be available to offer a range of mentorship and consultation around a variety of areas.

At Field of Vision we like filmmakers to lead and improve how we work. We were inspired by Jeanie Finlay, who has opened her time to mentoring after an upcoming film shoot had to be cancelled. Jeanie is working on a new film that we’re extremely honoured to be supporting. 

We are a small team and will try our best to make ourselves available to as many filmmakers and producers as possible. If any other members of our community would also like to donate their time, we are happy to facilitate this as well, so please feel free to reach out to us.

The areas which we would like to offer consultation on are below: 

  • General mentorship
  • Feedback on proposals and grant applications
  • Project Development
  • Online Distribution
  • Digital Engagement
  • Partnerships
  • Pitch Training
  • Editing
  • Technology & Digital Security
  • Distribution
  • Editorial Feedback
  • Festival Strategy
  • Career Guidance

This is not just open to filmmakers wanting to submit work for us to review, or filmmakers we have worked with before. If you feel you would benefit from time with our team on any project you’re working on please feel free to reach out. There are more details on how to take part below.



If you would like to have a virtual meeting about any of the above, please follow this link to book a time:

(We will also be adapting to demand, and will create a waitlist, and/or increase availability if needed.)

Submissions & Pitches

While we are still managing and prioritizing our regular submissions system, we would also like to make time for project and pitch meetings.

To sign up for a pitch meeting with us, please make sure you have submitted through our system prior to the meeting, using the link below:

Once you have submitted through our submissions form, please sign up for a meeting slot here. NB: We won’t be able to take any meetings around potential projects until you’ve submitted through the system. If you’re not ready to discuss a specific project, or are looking for more general advice, please use the first form.

Please bear with us as we begin rolling out our virtual office hours service. This initiative came together very quickly, so there may be hiccups. We just wanted to offer something to start. 

As we navigate these uncertain times, what is certain is that we are a strong community of creatives and storytellers. We have shown time and again how resourceful we are, how dedicated we are to our craft, art form and field, and how supportive we can be of each other. 

Please stay safe everyone, The Field of Vision Team


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