photo: Masiel Acevedo


SETH FEIN

I'm a Brooklyn-born-and-raised historian and filmmaker working at the corner of public humanities and documentary art. That's the intersection where I've built Seven Local Film –– between local stops on the 7 train –– in Jackson Heights, Queens, where I live


My beliefs –– that globality can only be observed and represented locally and that history is art, inevitably created more than excavated –– steer my projects.




April 10, 2020, Jackson Heights


I've taught in Brooklyn College's Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema, Barnard, Columbia, NYU, and Yale, where, between 2002 and 2010, I was a professor of History (US-World Relations), Film, Latin American and American Studies, and where I received Yale's Poorvu Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Instruction (for my course The Idea of the Western Hemisphere), its Graduate Mentorship Prize for the Humanities, and a McCredie Fellowship in Instructional Technology, which inadvertently facilitated my move from writing about audiovisual art to making it.

photo: CB House

Between Neighborhoods (2016-2024)

My films explore documentary art's analytic as well as expressive power. These objectives generated Between Neighborhoods, my documentary diptych that works between original and archival footage to contemplate the urban and global histories of imperialism and immigration that orbit the Unisphere in Queens between the age of Robert Moses, who built it for the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, and that of AOC, who represents those who live around it today. I had an opportunity to discuss Between Neighborhood's evolution in Jump Cut, and I'm honored that its initial iteration won the Founders Choice Award for Documentary at the Queens World Film Festival and that its 2024 revision previewed at the College of Chareleston in Unisphere's sesquicentennial year.

Small Kitchens (2023)

Small Kitchens moves in close-up between contemporary sites to refract worlds Between Neighborhoods introduced; the observational tone poem connects and contrasts food and work between a Nepalese restaurant and a Mexican taco cart along the Elmhurst-Jackson Heights border under the 7 train, before and during Covid Time. A New Work Grant from the Queens Council on the Arts funded by NYC's Department of Cultural Affairs supported Small Kitchens' production. It previewed with another new work, The Actor in His Labyrinth, and a sample of Olmsted, Moses, Al, and Me at Seeing Social Globalization in Queens, a series of my docs funded by a City Artist Corps Grant. Currently I am completing Dizzy in Queens: Cycling between Gillespie and Armstrong, Present and Past a video essay that contemplates the lives and careers of Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong through Queens; a Queens Arts Fund grant supported this project's development. 

I am also at work on Our Neighborhood, a feature-length documentary that examines Washington's secret production of television propaganda for Latin America across the Sixties. Grants from the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Endowment for the Humanities funded its archival research and a year as a fellow in multimedia history at Harvard's Charles Warren Center supported its development.

poster: Don Calva

My travels from film historian to filmmaker generate my documentary practice. After completing public school in Brooklyn –– at PS 307, PS 197, Andries Hudde/JHS 240, and Midwood HS –– I studied History at Cornell University. And, following a couple of years working in used and out-of-print book stores in Manhattan –– shelving History at the Strand before traversing Union Square to learn how to buy and price at Academy –– I moved to Austin to do my Ph.D. in History at the University of Texas, where my dissertation, Hollywood and United States-Mexico Relations in the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, won the Barnes Lathrop Prize. My doctoral research included two world-changing years living in Mexico City, transformative for me as well as for Mexico, in the 1990s. That experience grounded much of my published scholarship, which focuses on film, television, propaganda, and the history of the Americas across the Depression, Second World War, and Cold War. It also drove my approach to transnationalism, which was, back then, a new idea, one that resonates through the social lense deployed by my filmmaking, today.

Just as my scholarship's analytic and expressive ambitions pushed me into documentary art, audiovisual experimentation has spawned new writing.

Two recent pieces –– one in the Village Voice and another in the Los Angeles Review of Books –– addressing recent works by the documentary artist Bill Morrison emerged from my own practice's contemplation of audiovisual art as history.  Meanwhile, my work and life around Unisphere has prompted archive-derived transhistorical essays, in writing as well as video, about transnational NYC's present and past –– viewed from Queens.

Unisphere resonates with me across decades; our lives orbit one another. I told our tale in Flushing Town Hall at the Moth's first-ever Story Slam in Queens.