International collaboration leads to Spain documentary

"A Portrait of Teruel" examines why students and residents love their community.

In 2021, Associate Professor of Design Chris Stagl initiated the beginning of a collaborative partnership with the University of Zaragoza’s Fine Arts Center in Spain, eventually leading to a 2024 trip abroad to the small, “forgotten” town of Teruel and the production of a documentary. 

Teruel, a city in Aragon with a population of about 35,900, is also the capital of the Teruel Province. Teruel is noted for its renowned jamón serrano (cured ham), pottery and surrounding archaeological sites where some of the oldest dinosaur remains of the Iberian Peninsula were discovered. 

Stagl’s interest for a remote typography seminar was reciprocated by Teruel resident Alfonso Burgos Risco, and plans were put into place.

“I sent the original email inquiring about partner schools because we were still dealing with COVID protocols, and I was wanting to learn more about how international schools perceived and handled the importance or typography in their design curriculum,” Stagl said. “I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email back from Alfonso stating there would be interest in this type of seminar.”

After the success of the initial seminar, the pair worked for nearly two years developing a second event and made plans for Stagl to travel to Spain to host an in-person event.

“The students who took place in the typography seminar learned a lot from Professor Stagl about working with typography structurally and as a design element,” Burgos Risco said. “Once we were clear of travel restrictions, Chris and I started discussing a trip where he could come here to Teruel and replicate that seminar in person.”

TROY professor Chris Stagl teaches students in Spain.
TROY Associate Professor Chris Stagl

A month before the project kickoff, the word “documentary” triggered the lightbulb that shed light on what they could accomplish this time around. While neither professor had a traditional film background, both had found themselves being drawn to making and editing cinematic content, and both saw the value of integrating video as a storytelling teaching tool into any classroom environment. It was in video that they found the most common throughlines for the seminar to reach its maximum potential.

During the week of January 29th – February 2nd Burgos Risco and Stagl worked with 25 University of Zaragoza students to create a short documentary, “A Portrait of Teruel,” which examines why students and community members appreciate their community. Students spent the week with the two professors learning about concepting, planning, writing, production and editing their work, along with the intricacies of technologies and proper handling of production gear while on set.

“Artistically and professionally, the workshop has given me the opportunity to discover how to work in an audiovisual production: cameras, microphones, planning, interviewing people, editing—the many things to take into account, the problems that arise and have to be solved,” said University of Zaragoza student Ignacio Martin Perez. “On a personal level, I have been able to meet new people, work in a team and also in English.”

Zaragoza student Yaret Genzor said the workshop was a true collaboration between people working in the fields they are passionate about.

“I have been able to connect with people I didn’t know before and feel a bond with the group and the project we are developing,” she said. “I think it has given me great knowledge in all senses. As such, it is a workshop that I would definitely do again. In addition to learning, I have enjoyed it and I take with me very good memories.”

Stagl called working with Burgos Risco and his students “the experience of a lifetime.”

“Leveraging Teruel as the backdrop for the documentary has been an incredible experience,” he said. “I look forward to us working together again and building a robust relationship filled with academic projects, research and a vibrant student exchange program.”

Dr. Miguel-Angel Benitez-Castro, University of Zaragoza’s Vice Dean of International Relations, said he is excited for the continued partnership between the two institutions. 

“The strong partnership that Alfonso and Chris have forged during the past week is clearly seen in the creative work the students have produced,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier with the results and look forward to seeing what our two schools will work on next.”

To watch the documentary, click here.