On the Media

0

ON THE MEDIA, HAITI: Interested in Haiti? Read this book: Why Haiti Needs New Narratives by Gina Athena Ulysse

A Haitian-American anthropologist makes sense of her homeland in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.

Mainstream news coverage of the catastrophic earthquake of January 12, 2010, reproduced longstanding narratives of Haiti and stereotypes of Haitians. Cognizant that this Haiti, as it exists in the public sphere, is a rhetorically and graphically incarcerated one, the feminist anthropologist and performance artist Gina Athena Ulysse embarked on a writing spree that lasted over two years. As an ethnographer and a member of the diaspora, Ulysse delivers critical cultural analysis of geopolitics and daily life in a series of dispatches, op-eds and articles on post-quake Haiti. Her complex yet singular aim is to make sense of how the nation and its subjects continue to negotiate sovereignty and being in a world where, according to a Haitian saying, tout moun se moun, men tout moun pa menm (All people are human, but all humans are not the same). This collection contains thirty pieces, most of which were previously published in and on Haitian Times, Huffington Post, Ms Magazine, Ms Blog, NACLA, and other print and online venues. The book is trilingual (English, Kreyòl, and French) and includes a foreword by award-winning author and historian Robin D.G. Kelley.

Source: UPNEBookPartners – Why Haiti Needs New Narratives: Gina Athena Ulysse

0

ON THE MEDIA: Truth, Fact, and the Future of Journalism (Co-hosted w/Citizen Futures) – StoryCode Boston (Boston, MA) | Meetup

Truth, Fact, and the Future of Journalism (Co-hosted w/Citizen Futures)

Wednesday, Jan 25, 2017, 6:00 PM

Workbar Cambridge
45 Prospect Street Cambridge, MA

20 StoryCodas Went

On Wednesday, January 25th, StoryCode Boston and Citizen Futures will present a discussion on the future of journalismThe Big Idea: What “truth” do we want from journalism? How will we define media and journalism going forward? Is the business model broken? Will journalism still have a voice?Overview // Follow the money: The media landscape is p…

Check out this Meetup →

0

ON THE MEDIA: Predictions for (Local) Journalism 2017: Nieman Journalism Labs

Each year Nieman Jourmalism Labs asks people in journalism and digital media what they think is coming in the next 12 months. Here’s a selection of the responses that specifically address the power of local perspectives. Join our campaign: #LookListenLocal #csfilm #MentProdInfor

LOCAL JOURNALISM WILL FIGHT A NEW FIGHT “We will never be able to compete with the national news outlets on scale. So instead, we will acknowledge our strengths: Proximity. Intimacy. Fidelity.” 

LOCAL NEWS GETS INTERESTING “Going deep with local news means creating uniquely valuable journalism, rather than fighting the traffic battle against dozens of hot takes on Washington’s latest twists and turns.” 

JOURNALISM IS COMMUNITY   “Who is consuming our work? Is this audience different from who we would expect? Are there other people who would benefit from our work, and how do we reach them?” by 

STOP FLYING OVER THE FLYOVER STATES  “We have to stop thinking of these people as subjects we cover and relate to them as neighbors, friends, and readers we make journalism for.” 

CHAOS OR COMMUNITY? “Newsrooms must hire decision-makers, not just reporters, who are reflective of the communities we cover.” 

THE YEAR OF LISTENING ““The thing about listening,” some bold newsroom leader will say, standing atop a desk addressing the newsroom, “about really listening, is that it’s not soft. It’s not a kind of nice thing to do when you have extra time. If you do it right, it will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do. And make no mistake: The future of this newsroom, the future of our democracy even, depends on it.””

INTERNATIONAL EXPANSION WITHOUT COLONIAL OVERTONES “So much of the conversation about media internationalization and global expansion uses a lot of conquest language and colonialist overtones — and sometimes not even subtly” 

Find all the predictions here:  Nieman Journalism Lab

0

ON THE MEDIA: How to Find and Support Trustworthy Journalism – Go Local – Medium

If you are hungry for news you can trust, journalism that helps you make decisions about your community, reporting that holds power to account, then this is for you. This is my personal advice for people who want to support journalism that matters.

Source: How to Find and Support Trustworthy Journalism – Highlighting Generosity – Medium

#MentProdInfo #CSFilm #LookListenLocal

0

ON THE MEDIA: Are humans evolving beyond the need to tell stories?

By Will Self, www.theguardian.comNovember 25th, 2016

Neuroscientists who insist technology is changing our brains may have it wrong. What if we are switching from books to digital entertainment because of a change in our need to communicate?

A few years ago I gave a lecture in Oxford that was reprinted in the Guardian under the heading: “The novel is dead (this time it’s for real)”. In it I argued that the novel was losing its cultural centrality due to the digitisation of print: we are entering a new era, one with a radically different form of knowledge technology, and while those of us who have what Marshal McLuhan termed “Gutenberg minds” may find it hard to comprehend – such was our sense of the solidity of the literary world – without the necessity for the physical book itself, there’s no clear requirement for the art forms it gave rise to. I never actually argued that the novel was dead, nor that narrative itself was imperiled, yet whenever I discuss these matters with bookish folk they all exclaim: “But we need stories – people will always need stories.” As if that were an end to the matter.

Non-coincidentally, in line with this shift from print to digital there’s been an increase in the number of scientific studies of narrative forms and our cognitive responses to them. There’s a nice symmetry here: just as the technology arrives to convert the actual into the virtual, so other technologies arise, making it possible for us to look inside the brain and see its actual response to the virtual worlds we fabulate and confabulate. In truth, I find much of this research – which marries arty anxiety with techno-assuredness – to be self-serving, reflecting an ability to win the grants available for modish interdisciplinary studies, rather than some new physical paradigm with which to explain highly complex mental phenomena. Really, neuroscience has taken on the sexy mantle once draped round the shoulders of genetics. A few years ago, each day seemed to bring forth a new gene for this or that. Such “discoveries” rested on a very simplistic view of how the DNA of the human genotype is expressed in us poor, individual phenotypes – and I suspect many of the current discoveries, which link alterations in our highly plastic brains to cognitive functions we can observe using sophisticated equipment, will prove to be equally ill-founded.

The neuroscientist Susan Greenfield has been prominent in arguing that our new digital lives are profoundly altering the structure of our brains. This is undoubtedly the case – but then all human activities impact upon the individual brain as they’re happening; this by no means implies a permanent alteration, let alone a heritable one. After all, so far as we can tell the gross neural anatomy of the human has remained unchanged for hundreds of millennia, while the age of bi-directional digital media only properly dates – in my view – from the inception of wireless broadband in the early 2000s, hardly enough time for natural selection to get to work on the adaptive advantages of … tweeting. Nevertheless, pioneering studies have long since shown that licensed London cab drivers, who’ve completed the exhaustive “Knowledge” (which consists of memorising every street and notable building within a six mile radius of Charing Cross), have considerably enlarged posterior hippocampi.

This is the part of brain concerned with way-finding, but it’s also strongly implicated in memory formation; neuroscientists are now discovering that at the cognitive level all three abilities – memory, location, and narration – are intimately bound up. This, too, is hardly surprising: key for humans, throughout their long pre-history as hunter-gatherers, has been the ability to find food, remember where food is and tell the others about it. It’s strange, of course, to think of Pride and Prejudice or Ulysses as simply elaborations upon our biologically determined inclination to give people directions – but then it’s perhaps stranger still to realise that sustained use of satellite navigation, combined with absorbing all our narrative requirements in pictorial rather written form, may transform us into miserable and disoriented amnesiacs.

When he lectured on literature in the 1950s, Vladimir Nabokov would draw a map on the blackboard at the beginning of each session, depicting, for example, the floor plan of Austen’s Mansfield Park, or the “two ways” of Proust’s Combray. What Nabokov seems to have understood intuitively is what neuroscience is now proving: reading fiction enables a deeply memorable engagement with our sense of space and place. What the master was perhaps less aware of – because, as yet, this phenomenon was inchoate – was that throughout the 20th century the editing techniques employed in Hollywood films were being increasingly refined. This is the so-called “tyranny of film”: editing methods that compel our attention, rather than leaving us free to absorb the narrative in our own way. Anyone now in middle age will have an intuitive understanding of this: shots are shorter nowadays, and almost all transitions are effected by crosscutting, whereby two ongoing scenes are intercut in order to force upon the viewer the idea of their synchrony. It’s in large part this tyranny that makes contemporary films something of a headache for older viewers, to whom they can seem like a hypnotic swirl of action.

It will come as no surprise to Gutenberg minds to learn that reading is a better means of forming memory than watching films, as is listening to afternoon drama on Radio 4. This is the so-called “visualisation hypothesis” that proposes that people – and children in particular – find it harder not only to remember film as against spoken or written narratives, but also to come up with novel responses to them, because the amount of information they’re given, together with its determinate nature, forecloses imaginative response.

Almost all contemporary parents – and especially those of us who class themselves as “readers” – have engaged in the Great Battle of Screen: attempting to limit our children’s consumption of films, videos, computer games and phone-based social media. We feel intuitively that it can’t be doing our kids any good – they seem mentally distracted as well as physically fidgety: unable to concentrate as they often look from one handheld screen to a second freestanding one, alternating between tweezering some images on a touchscreen and manipulating others using a remote control. Far from admonishing my younger children to “read the classics” – an utterly forlorn hope – I often find myself simply wishing they’d put their phones down long enough to have their attention compelled by the film we’re watching.

The Great Battle of Screen … a teenager triple-screening. Photograph: U Baumgarten via Getty

If we take seriously the conclusions of these recent neuroscientific studies, one fact is indisputable: whatever the figures for books sales (either in print or digital form), reading for pleasure has been in serious decline for over a decade. That this form of narrative absorption (if you’ll forgive the coinage) is closely correlated with high attainment and wellbeing may tell us nothing about the underlying causation, but the studies do demonstrate that the suite of cognitive aptitudes needed to decipher text and turn it into living, breathing, visible and tangible worlds seem to wither away once we stop turning the pages and start goggling at virtual tales.

Of course, the sidelining of reading narrative (and along with it the semi-retirement of all those narrative forms we love) is small potatoes compared with the loss of our capacity for episodic memory: would we be quite so quick to post those fantastic holiday photographs on Facebook if we knew that in so doing we’d imperil our ability to recall unaided our walk along the perfect crescent of sand, and our first ecstatic kiss? You might’ve thought that as a novelist who depends on fully attuned Gutenberg minds to read his increasingly complex and confusing texts I’d be dismayed by this craven new couch-based world; and, as a novelist, I am.

I began writing my books on a manual typewriter at around the same time wireless broadband became ubiquitous, sensing it was inimical not only to the act of writing, but that of reading as well: a novel should be a self-contained and self-explanatory world (at least, that’s how the form has evolved), and it needs to be created in the same cognitive mode as it’s consumed: the writer hunkering down into his own episodic memories, and using his own canonical knowledge, while imagining all the things he’s describing, rather than Googling them to see what someone else thinks they look like. I also sense the decline in committed reading among the young that these studies claim: true, the number of those who’ve ever been inclined “to get up in the morning in the fullness of youth”, as Nietzsche so eloquently put it, “and open a book” has always been small; but then it’s worth recalling the sting in the tail of his remark: “now that’s what I call vicious”.

And there is something vicious about all that book learning, especially when it had to be done by rote. There’s something vicious as well about the baby boomer generation, which, not content to dominate the cultural landscape, also demands that everyone younger than us survey it in the same way. For the past five years I’ve been working on a trilogy of novels that aim to map the connections between technological change, warfare and human psychopathology, so obviously I’m attempting to respond to the zeitgeist using this increasingly obsolete art form. My view is that we’re deluded if we think new technologies come into existence because of clearly defined human objectives – let alone benevolent ones – and it’s this that should shape our response to them. No, the history of the 20th century – and now the 21st – is replete with examples of technologies that were developed purely in order to facilitate the killing of people at a distance, of which the internet is only the most egregious example. Our era is also replete with the mental illnesses occasioned by such technologies – sometimes I think our obsession with viewing violent and horrific imagery is some sort of collective post-traumatic stress disorder.

So, it may be that our instinctive desire to kill at a distance is a stronger determinant of our cognitive abilities than our need to tell other humans where the food is. Which would certainly explain why poring over a facsimile of Shakespeare’s first folio is being supplanted by first-person shooters. I’ve referred throughout this piece to Gutenberg minds, and I do indeed believe that each successive knowledge technology brings with it a different form of human being. It’s worrying that our young seem distracted and often depressed, and sad for those of us who have invested so much of our belief and our effort in print technology, that it – and the modes of being associated with it – appear to be in decline. But it may be the case that our children are in the larval stage of a new form of human being, one which no longer depends on their ability to tell the others where the food is. Why? Because, of course, they know where it is already, due to the absolute fluidity and ubiquity of bi-directional digital media. Indeed, there may not be any need to tell the others where the food is in the future, because in an important sense there are no others.

The so-called “singularity” proposed by tech gurus, whereby humans hybridise with machine intelligence, and form a new genotype, subject to evolution by natural selection, may not begin with a cosmic bang; rather, the whimpering of our children as they shoot at their virtual enemies, or are defriended, may be the signal that it’s begun already. Richard Brautigan, the great hippy writer, envisaged a “cybernetic meadow” in which “mammals and computers live together in mutually programmed harmony”. It sounds to me an awful lot like our own current state of storytelling, without, of course, the need for anyone to read poetry, which is the form within which Brautigan did his visualising, and we received his rather optimistic vision.

This is an edited version of a lecture delivered by Will Self as part of Scottish Book Week. His new novel, Phone, will be published by Penguin next year.

0

Divided We Fall, But Bland Calls For Unity Won’t Cut It Either

Emotional_hug_-_L1-e1478932928836

This is about the deep listening that needs to be done and that Community Supported Film wants to nurture and champion…

“The biggest mistake we can make is to assume that it is up to our political leaders to unify us. They can set the tone, but it is primarily in the hands of the American people to rebuild a basic level of mutual respect and dignity …
Hate and bigotry almost always grow out of fear.
Caring for those you disagree with is not the same as compromising your principles.
Emotional connections change everything; rational arguments don’t. …
1. Whatever it is you are pursuing, think about who loses if you win.
2. Decide you care what happens to them.
3. Reach out across that divide to start a real conversation. …”

The 2016 election highlighted divisions that run deep in American society. Here’s what you can do to help bridge them.

Source: Divided We Fall, But Bland Calls For Unity Won’t Cut It Either

0

ON THE MEDIA: Eight Ways to Strengthen Democracy Beyond Voting

Chuck Collins great post on the work to be done. Community Supported Film particularly encourages us all to evaluate the impact of his point #1 and #2. We must do some “deep listening,” as Christopher Lydon (Open Source) has been saying. We need to hear the perspectives of those we don’t know and don’t understand. The media is not doing this work for us and we must find a new way to hear each other. Community Supported Film is committed to empowering local voices.

‘Especially after the deeply toxic experience of 2016,’ writes Collins, ‘we all need to step up to protect our real democracy.’

Source: Eight Ways to Strengthen Our Democracy Beyond Voting

0

ON THE MEDIA: Local Investigative Reporting – Nieman Reports

voiceofsandiego.org,

At the nonprofit voiceofsandiego.org, ‘From day one our job has been to fill the gaps between what people want from their local media and what they have.’

Source: Defining an Online Mission: Local Investigative Reporting – Nieman Reports

0

ON THE MEDIA: Journalist Murders: The Ultimate Form of Censorship | Inter Press Service

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has condemned the killing of more than 800 journalists globally since 2006. A measly seven percent of these murders have been solved. The protection of journalists and fighting against impunity is part of the UN’s 16th Sustainable Development Goal – to ensure public access to information and to protect fundamental freedoms. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has released their annual impunity index which ranks countries based on the

Source: Journalist Murders: The Ultimate Form of Censorship | Inter Press Service

0

ON THE MEDIA: A Twin Cities documentary filmmaking project helps local Iraqi refugees tell their stories

Jameelah Hassoon and Jamal Ali came to the U.S. in 2009.

In Baghdad, Jamal Ali was a U.S.-trained engineer who worked as a UPS manager. In Minnesota, he has reinvented himself as an interpreter — and, in recent years, a fledgling documentary filmmaker.

Ali is part of an annual project launched in 2012 that enlists Iraqi refugees to tell their stories on film. This year, he led a team that set out to highlight success stories in the small local Iraqi community and examine the idea of Muslim refugees as a threat. St. Paul’s Landmark Center will host a screening of the documentary and a discussion with the filmmakers later this month.

 “We just want to pass a ­message that [the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] is not representing Islam,” Ali, the movie’s co-director, said. ISIL “has been denied and refused by all Iraqis.”

Funded with a state Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund grant, the “Iraqi Voices” project is the brainchild of a local nonprofit called Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project. Since 2007, the nonprofit has brought in visiting Iraqi professionals and supported clean water projects at Iraqi schools.

Ali says he and his family discovered the documentary project at just the right time. He was resettled in Minnesota with his wife and two adult children in 2009 after a stint in Jordan, among the first ­refugees from the Iraq war to arrive in the state.

It was a challenging transition at first. Ali’s wife, Jameelah Hassoon, an anesthesiologist in Baghdad, struggled to come to terms with the realization she would not be able to restart her career because of education and licensing requirements. Getting involved with the project provided a good outlet.

Nathan Fisher, a Twin Cities filmmaker who had shot a documentary about Iraqi refugees in the Middle East, recruited the family to the project. They and other participants — a largely middle class bunch that included a former veterinarian, teacher and entrepreneur — shot three- to eight-minute documentary shorts about their lives. A middle-aged woman dreams of reuniting with her adult children, who couldn’t accompany her to Minnesota. A young man recounts narrowly avoiding a terrorist attack in an Iraqi barbershop during a visit to a barber in ­Columbia Heights.

 Ali’s son, Naser, in his early 30s, created a movie about realizing that not all Americans are rich and happy. The movies have been screened at the Walker Art Museum, on the Macalester College campus in St. Paul and in churches across the metro.

“We wanted to express our feelings to the Americans,” Ali said. “It helped us release some of the stress we had.”

This year, the group of 10 amateur filmmakers decided to collaborate on one longer film.

“This year’s film was about debunking myths about Iraqis: ‘We are here. We are not that scary,’ ” Fisher said.

The film features a family that runs a St. Paul neighborhood grocery with a diverse clientele, where they serve Middle Eastern food and cheesesteak sandwiches. It also highlights Hala Asamarai, an Iraqi-American who won election to the Columbia Heights school board earlier this year.

The Landmark screening Oct. 29 will include a Q&A led by Joseph Farag, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota. The free event runs from 2 to 4 p.m.

0

ON THE MEDIA, HAITI: Hurricane Matthew in Haiti: Looking Beyond the Disaster Narrative

Well-meaning people have either emailed or texted me over the past couple of days, with some variant of “how are things going in Haiti?”

Short of people’s prayers, and the question, “is everyone you know ok?” How indeed to respond?

Hurricane Matthew is a Category 4, meaning that winds are gusting at 145 miles per hour. This is the first category 4 since 1954, Hurricane Hazel, which introduced nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to Haiti.

Aside from random notes trickling in here or there, the coverage has been minimal. This is in direct contrast to the earthquake that rocked the country on January 12, 2010.

Anthropologist Gina Athena Ulysse has inspired a generation of scholars, challenging us with a deceptively simple call: “Haiti needs new narratives.” The coverage of this storm is an urgent case for why.

Disaster aid is faciliated by media coverage. An article inDisastersdemonstrated a correlation in the amount of seconds allocated on prime time news to a particular disaster and the generosity of the response. However, the Haiti earthquake’s high media profile—and the generosity it inspired—came at a price. With stories of devastation, appearing to many foreign observers as hell on earth with phrases like “state failure” often repeated, foreign media coverage also naturalized foreign control of the response.

The media coverage—then and now—highlights the importance of what can be called “disaster narratives.” What is covered, what is not, who is hailed as a hero, whose efforts are ignored, shape the results. I detail this connection in a just-published book chapter.

The story is still unfolding. As I write this Tuesday night the category 4 storm is leisurely moving north, still dumping rain on an already fragile environment. So we won’t know for quite some time the full extent of the damage.

Coastal cities in the southern peninsula, including the largest cities, state capitals Les Cayes and Jéremie, are under water. The main road connecting the peninsula to the rest of the country has been blocked as the bridge in Petit Goâve has been destroyed by the torrent.

The centralization of political and economic power in Port-au-Prince that began under the 1915 U.S. Occupation and accelerated withneoliberal economic policies imposed by the U.S. Government, multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others renders getting relief much more difficult.

Once-thriving ports and regional economies, these secondary cities are now dependent on the road to the capital for almost everything. The province of Grand’Anse, with Jéremie as its capital city, is particularly isolated. Its primary economic lifeline, accelerated as the asphalt road has been advancing in the past several years, is charcoal.

Paradoxically because of its isolation, the Grand’Anse has noticeably more trees than other provinces. But this is changing: commentators from all across Grand’Anse have commented on the connection between this road and an uptick in charcoal production. Anthropologist Andrew Tarter is collecting quantitative data on charcoal.

The cutting of trees for charcoal production has rendered Haiti much more vulnerable to extreme weather events. The photos of the deep brown deluge testify to the topsoil being washed away, that would have been otherwise protected by tree roots.

Washing along with the soil is this season’s crops. This summer many breathed a measured sigh of relief as an almost two-year drought ended. These hopes were washed away with the downpour, representing not only food to feed Haiti’s exponentially growing urban population in competition with cheaper, subsidized imports, but the cash to send rural children to school. The high cost of education, and that it comes at once, is a major trigger for individual families producing charcoal in the first place.

With water everywhere in the photos it is easy to forget that clean, safe, drinking water will be an urgent priority in Haiti, still battling cholera brought to the island nation six years ago this month by U.N. troops. While finally apologizing for the disease that killed over 9,000 in five years, the U.N. has evaded responsibility for reparations.

These longer-term impacts are unfortunately not a part of the story. Frankly I would be surprised if news outlets will be talking much about the storm at all after tomorrow, as the focus is on Matthew’s impact on U.S. coastal areas. The governors of Florida and North Carolina have declared a state of emergency, issuing evacuation orders. Given the juxtaposition in this several-second media blips, one might well be wondering: why can’t Haiti do that?

The short answer is: they most certainly tried.

The Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles discussed the efforts of the elected mayor of seaside Cité Soleil trying to offer relocation assistance. Other local mayors refused, except for Pétion-Ville, offering emergency shelter for 200 residents (the request was 10,000). This is among the only accounts of Haitian people, particularly elected officials, doing something.

Given the fragile state of infrastructure and communications, local Haitian governments, the Civil Protection Department (DPC in the original French), have been doing an admirable job of moving people out of the most danger. Residents of Île-à-Vache were moved to Les Cayes, only to be doubly displaced by the deluge. In Abricots, an hour and a half from Jéremie via a very difficult and rocky road, moved residents up the hill.

While we outside of Haiti may not be told, grassroots organizations are doing an admirable job. In Cité Soleil, Konbit Solèy Leve has offered emergency assistance and Sakala, shelter. Peasants associations in Camp Perrin and all over the South province are welcoming people from LesCayes, down the hill.

These patchwork efforts highlight the limitations, particularly lack of resources. Charles reported that the Cité Soleil government was bankrupt. The communication and logistics necessary for evacuation, emergency shelter, and life-saving food and water, are straining Haiti’s already fragile economy.

And yes, there are still people living in what used to be called “camps.” Given official pressure to reduce the statistic, tens of thousands of people living in Karade are not “internally displaced persons” since Karade is now a “village.” Not two weeks ago, residents were newly threatened with violence in an effort to force them to leave.

I hesitate to write this given how Haiti has been politicized in the most cynical way by a candidate who has expressed his hostility to immigrants and black people generally, but frankly, Haiti was not “built back better” by the $16 billion relief effort to the 2010 earthquake, as UN Special Envoy Bill Clinton cheerfully promised.

So, what now? Right after the earthquake I wrote a piece for Common Dreams offering suggestions, which basically boil down to support local efforts, initiatives, ideas, and organizations.

Many people, including Haitian scholars, journalists, and social movements, have taken stock of the lessons learned from thehumanitarian aftershocks. Among them include:

1)      Support the initiatives led by Haitian people and groups

2)      If we contribute aid to a foreign agency, demand they post their decisions and relationships with local groups

3)      Solidarity, not charity

4)      Address the root causes, including neoliberal policies our governments enforced

5)      Demand that our aid has real participation by local groups, not just doing the work but setting priorities and identifying how the work is to get done

6)      Actually reinforce human capacity – making sure this time expertise is shared with a critical mass of Haitian actors, who can and should be the ones making decisions

7)      Link humanitarian aid to development (not the old, failed neoliberal model), and disaster preparedness

The storm will leave, the flood waters recede. I hope the world’s attention span will last at least a little longer, so that we will finally apply lessons at least Haitian people learned.

Mark Schuller

Mark Schuller is Associate Professor of at Northern Illinois University and affiliate at the Faculté d’Ethnologie, l’Université d’État d’Haïti. Schuller’s research on NGOs, globalization, disasters, and gender in Haiti has been published in thirty book chapters and peer-reviewed articles. Schuller is the author or co-editor of seven books—includingCapitalizing on Catastrophe: Neoliberal Strategies in Disaster ReconstructionHumanitarian Aftershocks in Haiti—and co-director / co-producer of documentary Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy. Recipient of the Margaret Mead Award, Schuller is the board chair of the Lambi Fund of Haiti and active in several solidarity efforts.

0

ON THE MEDIA: To avoid mistakes like banning the Napalm girl photo, Facebook needs to start acting like social ‘media’

To avoid mistakes like banning the Napalm girl photo, Facebook needs to start acting like social ‘media’

By saying that Facebook is a tool and not media, Zuckerberg seeks to protect his company from the kind of content regulation that media organisations have to abide to

Bart Cammaerts: 

To avoid mistakes like banning the Napalm girl photo, Facebook needs to start acting like social ‘media’

By saying that Facebook is a tool and not media, Zuckerberg seeks to protect his company from the kind of content regulation that media organisations have to abide to

Facebook has recently been criticised for banning arguably the most iconic photo from the Vietnam War. The photo depicts children, including the naked Kim Phuc, fleeing from a US napalm attack.

A Norwegian newspaper covered the story and criticised Facebook for its indiscriminate editorial interventions. It also reproduced the famous photo, which they shared on the newspapers’ Facebook page, Facebook subsequently demanded to “either remove or pixelize” the image.

This is turn prompted Espen Egil Hansen the editor in chief of the Norwegian newspaper Afternposten to write a front page editorial voicing his anger about the decision but also touching on a few relevant and important tensions and contradictions inherent to Facebook as a social media platform.

My own take on this debate regarding editorial responsibilities of Facebook is that Zuckerberg’s claim that Facebook is not a media company, but a tech company, a neutral tool, is utterly false. Facebook is of course a media company, as much as it is a tech company. The clue is in the name, it is social “media”, not social “tool”. It is high time that Facebook accepts this, as well as the important democratic responsibilities that come with it.

The tension to which Zuckerberg implicitly alludes with his comments relates to the distinction that is often made (also in terms of regulation) between media on the one hand and communication on the other. The postal services, the telegraph and the telecommunication industry have always argued that they cannot be held responsible (nor be liable) for the content that circulates through their networks, be it in a letter, a telegram or a telephone call, whereas “the media” is. However, this stark distinction between media and communication is a thing of the past. The internet and the many platforms and protocols that it offers has increasingly blurred this schism between media and communication.

A good example of this convergence, is how people who say silly or libelous things on Twitter or Facebook are increasingly prosecuted for what they say online. In the libel case of the false allegations against Lord McAlpine, the measure used to sue people was the amount of followers someone had on Twitter. In a way this could be seen as an acknowledgement that social media is also a broadcaster in the hands of elites. Hence, Sally Bercow got sued whereas someone with fifty followers saying the same thing was not.

Another example of this blurring between media and communication is the editorial power which Facebook and Twitter has to and does exercise on the content that circulates on their platforms. I say “has to” because its claim that it is merely an innocent platform ignores the fact that in various jurisdictions the distribution of certain content is illegal. Just one example, in Belgium and Germany it is illegal to deny the Holocaust, regardless of which media platform you use to voice such heinous views. Furthermore, we as an open multi-cultural society – nor Facebook or Twitter – would want to encourage the free and unfettered circulation of Isis propaganda and it is thus right that this kind of content is regulated and ultimately removed from the public space.

However, by saying that Facebook is a tool and not media, Zuckerberg also seeks to protect his company from the kind of content regulation that media organisations have to abide to. The press and broadcasters have a lot of power in our society but with that power comes some degree of responsibility. Part of that is the requirement that media organisations abide by certain rules and guidelines about what is acceptable and what is not. In a democracy, such rules or guidelines, which tend to differ between press and broadcasting – are agreed upon by a profession, an industry or democratically through parliaments and enforced by regulators (in the UK: Ofcom and Ipso).

The establishment of the boundaries of what is acceptable as public speech online and what is not, is a very complex and highly sensitive matter. However, just as media organisations do, Facebook is a very powerful actor which needs to assume responsibility for the content that circulates on its network and walk a fine line between protecting its users – including children – from harmful and racist content and promoting an open space for the expression of a radical diversity of views, opinions, representations and identities. This drawing of the line should be done transparently and in respect of democratic values, involving humans rather than algorithms to make decisions and with fair and user-friendly means of appeal and redress in the case of mistakes being made. Acknowledging that Facebook is media rather than a benign “neutral” tool would be a good first step in that direction.

Bart Cammaerts is Associate Professor in Media and Communication at the LSE. 

0

ON THE MEDIA: What We Mean When We Talk About “Engagement”

0

ON THE MEDIA: A Deaf Journalist in Nigeria Fights to Advance Disability Rights

A Deaf Journalist in Nigeria Fights to Advance Disability Rights

People with disabilities in Kaduna State in Nigeria took to the streets in May to protest a proposed law banning street begging and hawking. The administration of governor Nasir el-Rufai said that the goal was to keep children in school rather than begging in the street and to enhance security after a street bombing that left 25 dead and others injured.

But activists say the government needs to enact the Disability Rights Law and provide gainful employment before they ban the primary means of income for people with disabilities.

People with disabilities in Nigeria protest a proposed law that would outlaw begging on the streets — a main source of income for many. Credit: Julius Shemang

Despite decades of activism and advocacy by nongovernmental organizations, disability legislation in Nigeria has been stymied since 2013 when a bill was passed by the National Assembly during the administration of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo but never signed into law by the president. The current Senate reintroduced and once again passed the Disability Bill in June 2016 and it is waiting for presidential approval.

Julius Shemang, a journalist and the Chairman of the Joint National Association of Persons With Disabilities (JONAPWD) Kaduna State, has been at the forefront of the call for a disability rights law in Nigeria.

“Lack of education, employment and poverty in the disability community made many resort to begging in order to finance their education and that of their children,” he said in an article from The Nation (in Nigeria). “While we welcome and commend the present policy on free education for all children by the present regime, the gesture should be effectively extended to People Living with Disability.”

The Joint National Association of People with Disabilities appealed to the government to pass the Disability Rights Law before banning people from begging and hawking on the street. Credit: Julius Shemang

People with disabilities need the protection of the a disability rights law because of discrimination faced in school and at the workplace, often based in a fear that disability is contagious.

Julius Shemang

Shemang lost his hearing at the age of 14 and he developed a passion for reading and writing because he felt, “…as a Deaf person, these were the best options I now had to cope effectively with the world having lost touch with the hearing world.”

As he adjusted to his deafness, Shemang became upset at the way the able-bodied population viewed disability, treating it as a matter of charity rather than a human rights issue. He went to the New Nigerian Newspaper(NNN) headquarters in Kaduna State to propose writing on issues of the disabled to draw public and government attention to their needs. He was initially told he should go teach at a school for the Deaf but he was able to convince them to give him a chance at journalism. His first article was titled “The Deaf Want to be Heard” and discussed how the Deaf were being denied admissions into universities and being denied employment opportunities.

“That was the beginning of my involvement in advocating for the rights of people living with disability,” he said in an interview in Poor Magazine.

When questioned by a news editor about how he was able to report as a Deaf person, Shemang says, “Whenever I go to cover an event, I go with a partner or get someone at the event and ask him or her to listen and to jot down points from various speakers. In addition, I use my eyes to observe movements and the behaviours of people around and try to make sense and meaning from what I observe, after which I sit down to combine and write everything into juicy reports for the reading public.”

Having the readers know that he was a Deaf reporter, “…really helped change public perception, negative attitudes and feeling toward the disabled as they too began to join the campaign for a society that speaks inclusion and justice for all,” he said.

In 2006, frustrated with the lack of coverage of disability issues in mainstream media, Shemang was inspired to start his own newspaper — Kafanchan Times –that covered disability as well as other human life issues. For financial reasons, he was forced to stop publishing the paper in 2010 but he hopes to revitalize it soon. It is currently the only newspaper owned by a disabled person in northern Nigeria and fully registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission.

“Both the disabled and the abled population viewed Kafanchan Times as an ideal platform that encouraged the learning and recognition of both sides in a collective struggle, as well as the need to liberate the disability community in Nigeria, Africa and globally,” he said.

Although there are some other media focusing on disability issues, such as Inclusive Network News (INN) TV, an effort of Sign Language Interpreters and other disabled people in southern Nigeria, currently the coverage is still sparse.

“I will say that the mainstream media have not done enough in fighting the disability cause in Nigeria,” says Shemang. “For instance, I don’t know of any media organization that ever visited the headquarters of JONAPWD Abuja to find out what we are there for, what we do, how we do it, our struggles, and challenges. In recent months, it was wrongly reported in a national daily that the population of Nigerians living with disabilities is close to 15 million when in reality the number is 25.5 million, according to United Nations data. The mainstream media do not consult organizations of people living with disabilities to get accurate information about disability issues.”

Shemang also acknowledged that media coverage is influenced by money. “Most media organizations in Nigeria cover issues that increase the size of their pockets and not the issues that impact [marginalized] people’s lives. The poverty state of the Nigerian disability community coupled with the unwillingness of the mainstream media, are principally and systematically responsible for the huge failure of the government in successfully implementing the National Disability Law. Some media in Nigeria have done well, but a lot more needs to be done to impact lives and change public perceptions.”

JONAPWD works to advance the causes of people with disabilities in Nigeria.

He offered a plan for how media coverage of disability issues can improve. “One, we organize and invite the media for coverage. Two, the media invite us or come to us and do the coverage. Thirdly, we jointly plan how to get the issues out.”

“In essence, there should be no limit to what the media should do to impact the lives of people with disabilities because we are the most neglected and discriminated group in the society,” said Shemang.

The Kaduna government passed the street begging and hawking bill into law September 1, but Shemang says people with disabilities are still protesting and monitoring the situation to ensure that further harassment does not occur. He and his organization continue the struggle to enact the Disability Rights Law.


Patricia Chadwick, Digital Media Coordinator for Internews, writes on disability and media issues in the international arena.

0

ON THE MEDIA: Frederick Wiseman to receive honorary Oscar

Frederick Wiseman. Photo by Gretje Ferguson

Documentarian Frederick Wiseman will be one of four individuals honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at its 2016 Governors Awards gala in November.

Wiseman will receive an honorary Oscar statuette at the Hollywood presentation on November 12, along with actor/director/producer Jackie Chan; film editor Anne Coates; and casting director Lynn Stalmaster.

The acclaimed documentarian, awarded with Venice’s Golden Lion in 2014, has helmed 40 documentaries over the span of his career, with his most recent, 2015′s In Jackson Heights, being the first project he took to public pitch forums – specifically, to the Hot Docs Forum in 2015.

While presenting the project to a host of international commissioners at the Forum, Wiseman told the roundtable: “One of the reasons people like my films is because they’re complex explorations of complicated subjects, and I try not to simplify them in the service of having some fantasy of reaching a larger audience.”

In addition to the honorary Oscar and the Golden Lion, Wiseman has been recognized with three Primetime Emmys, and a Peabody award given to the filmmaker “for a mastery of television documentary destined to be studied through the ages.” He has also received the International Documentary Association Career Achievement Award and an Award of Distinction from the American Society of Cinematographers.

According to the Academy, the Honorary Award is given “to honor extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement, exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences, or for outstanding service to the Academy.”

“The Honorary Award was created for artists like Jackie Chan, Anne Coates, Lynn Stalmaster and Frederick Wiseman – true pioneers and legends in their crafts,” said Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs in a statement. “The Board is proud to honor their extraordinary achievements, and we look forward to celebrating with them at the Governors Awards in November.”

 

0

ON THE MEDIA: Documentary pays? Navigating the “anti-system” – part three

Documentary Pays 3

Realscreen‘s special report on doc financing and the economic pressures on filmmakers continues with a look at the issue through the commissioning and distribution lens. For part one of the report, click here, and for part two, click here.

In every generation, there’s a small group of doc makers for whom “sustainability” is more than a buzzword. They’re able to make that second documentary – then third, then fourth – and sustain lengthy, sometimes illustrious, careers.

But as realscreen previously explored, most doc makers working today fall outside of that elite circle. As the Center for Media & Social Media (CMSI) have found in a forthcoming study, 67% of respondents who identified as documentary professionals don’t make their primary living through doc filmmaking. Director Emily James illustrated her struggle through the concept of ‘auto-exploitation,’ while noting a wider – sometimes seen as exploitative – commercial system around doc makers that uses their work as the central commodities of the industry.

But what do those on the other side of the commissioning table make of the commercial system in which they operate? In what ways do they look out for the filmmakers they commission? And what about the distributors, professionally entrusted to turn profits for the filmmakers they represent?

Nick Fraser (pictured, top left), editor of the BBC’s ‘Storyville’ doc strand, says bluntly that the whole genre is “catastrophic” when it comes to sustaining careers, but also doesn’t see a way of regulating documentaries or the process behind them.

“The problem about all these surveys and stuff is they circle around this subject; they kind of hold out the prospect that it will be possible to normalize and industrialize docs, and I feel trying to write a book on the subject of docs is something you can’t do.

“Docs will always be the strange hybrid of something that people love, but they get made in a borderline miraculous fashion and there really isn’t any way of industrializing them, because if they’re any good, they’re different.”

Fraser acknowledges a significant inflation of doc costs in North America, but notes more opportunities – though “poorly spread” – in the region, with decent levels of government funding available in Canada. The situation, he says, is tougher in Europe where some broadcasters have experienced hefty cuts, particularly the BBC.

“Increasingly my job is putting bits of string together into knots and hoping they hold together for the package and the film.” – Nick Fraser, BBC ‘Storyville’

“It’s very tough, and the only way I can get around this has been to amalgamate the work of many broadcasters, put it together and find enough money for filmmakers,” he says, referencing the successful ‘Why Poverty?’ seriesand recent ‘Why Slavery?’ project, which unites international broadcasters in commissioning and funding a number of films around a theme.

Fraser says he tries to give all filmmakers hope and assistance in putting packages together for their projects – “Increasingly my job is putting bits of string together into knots and hoping they hold together for the package and the film,” he explains – but adds that solutions to the funding squeeze aren’t straightforward.

“[It’s] an anti-system – it always has been – and you just have to hope that more important players or individuals come to the market with money,” he says, adding that an essential step is encouraging traditional elements of the “anti-system,” such as broadcasters, to step up their game and “spend more money on docs… the erosion of funding, from my point-of-view as someone working at the BBC, has been pretty borderline awful.”

“My license is what my license is.”
Jane Jankovic – commissioning editor at the publicly-funded TVOntario (TVO) – agrees there are more opportunities for doc financing in Canada through a mix of public and private funds that aren’t as widely available in other countries.

She commissions projects with budgets that range from CAD$200,000 up to $1 million, with most budgets coming in between $350,000 and $400,000. Her license fees for first-window commissions average $70,000 to $80,000 per film, with occasional exceptions on either side of that range. And often, that fee is at least matched by the Canada Media Fund, which is triggered by a broadcast license fee.

But Jankovic (pictured, center) is clear about the parameters of her support, particularly for bigger-budget projects.

“My license is what my license is, and I’ve been very vocal about what my license is. My Canada Media Fund commitment is what it is. If someone’s coming in to me with a project, I don’t really care what their budget is, as long as they can raise the money,” says Jankovic, who has served as a doc commissioner at TVO since 2006. “I can trigger a lot of it, but they have to do the footwork and the sweat equity to get that money together.”

She says that when filmmakers come in – particularly those who are new to the field – she indicates that they must pay themselves in the budget, and asks to see it in on paper as a commitment.

“It doesn’t mean [their salary] stays there, because they will continue to whittle away at it [with production expenses], because they think, ‘Oh it’s just $1,000, it’s worth the $1,000′ or ‘It’s only $5,000, that’s okay.’

“I have certainly worked with teams that have brought in outstanding documentaries but when I look at the time they put into that film and I compare it to their budget, I know they did that for nothing and they were paying their bills in some other way,” she adds. “I don’t think that should be encouraged or even, frankly, admired.”

“If someone’s coming in to me with a project, I don’t really care what their budget is, as long as they can raise the money.” – Jane Jankovic, TVO

On the other end of the spectrum, she says, are filmmakers that “absolutely pay themselves first” and appear in every budget line. Jankovic outlines that a budget has to be reflective of the needs of the production plus the filmmaker’s salary, but doesn’t have to take into account total living expenses for the numbers of months or years a project is in development.

“Sometimes, I see what I think is a very high fee for a producer or director, and they’ll say to me, ‘Well yes, but I’ve been working on this for three or four years,’ and I [say] ‘I can’t pay you for the time you’ve put in on your own. What I can pay you for is to get this film out.’”

Jankovic makes it known that her financial obligation ends following the endorsement of a license. After that, she says, it’s up to the filmmakers to look for funding from as many avenues as possible that the broadcast license can trigger.

And herein lies the problem with dual director-producer roles and the navigating of finances, says Jankovic.

“[Filmmakers] just keep slicing away at their 15% of the budget and they think, ‘Because I’m doing both the producing and directing, I can afford to lower my fee just a little bit,’ and then it’s always just a little bit, a little bit, a little bit [more].”

The commissioner says she doesn’t often meet as many people who are interested in producing. In fact, she offers that there doesn’t seem to be a full understanding of what producers do.

“They’re horrifically undervalued and I’ve seen many projects where there’s been a weak director, or a director that’s gone off the rails, and it’s the producer that saves the project – not just financially, but also from a creative perspective,” she says.

“Having that second set of eyes that can step back and see whether or not that story is working, is really critical I would say [for] 99% of the projects that I deal with.”

Art vs. commerce: a distributor’s take
Esther van Messel (pictured, right), founder and CEO of the Zurich- and Berlin-based distributor First Hand Films, is often caught in a limbo between art and commerce. Offering the character of Ari Gold from the HBO drama Entourage, she says some people perceive distributors as greedy ten-percenters.

“That’s not us. It’s documentary. Nobody goes into documentary sales or distribution for financial reasons. But on the other hand, it has to make sense and it has to pay and it has to not be abusive in any financial way. It’s a very challenging job.”

Alongside acquiring films on completion and serving as an international distributor and sales agent, First Hand is one of a growing number of distributors that often comes in early on projects, getting involved as executive producers or co-producers and helping with financing and the production process.

One of their recent co-produced successes was Ido Haar’s Presenting Princess Shaw, which last year premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and was picked up by Magnolia and Participant.

A key factor in the commercial viability of such projects is an acknowledgement of what things costs, says Van Messel, who served as an EP on Princess Shaw.
“If a budget is $300,000 but you’ve been working on it for five years, then it’s not $300,000 and you have to face that. You can’t tell your landlord or the person in the supermarket that you’re living off air,” says Van Messel.

“Nobody is in this for the money, but at the same time, as sales agents, if we don’t make the producers more money at better conditions – sooner, and including our commission – than without us, we don’t have a reason to [exist],” she says.

“If a budget is $300,000 but you’ve been working on it for five years, then it’s not $300,000 and you have to face that.” – Esther van Messel, First Hand Films

Van Messel points out that, overall, there has been more of a professionalization of the industry in the past 10 years, but admits the situation could be better, and there could be more self-respect among filmmakers as well as respect for the genre.

“I do think there’s a professionalism required, [an ability to] actually think a bit vertically and think ahead, and I think that’s a producer’s job in cooperation with their international representative,” she says.

“It’s such a complex profession that I really wish people would take more pride in it and refuse to be taken for granted just because they’re allowed to tell stories. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be paid properly.”

0

ON THE MEDIA: Documentary pays? A field-wide responsibility – part two

Financing - Part Two image

Realscreen’s special report on doc financing and the economic pressures on filmmakers continues with a look at some funders’ perspectives on sustainability and diversity, creative producers and carving a way forward. Catch up on the first part of the report here

Paradise Lost director Joe Berlinger admits he chose “a tough subject” for one of his first feature docs, Brother’s Keeper (1992), which he made with the late Bruce Sinofsky.

“Four farming brothers who all slept in the same bed together. One was accused of murdering the other,” Berlinger says plainly. “Today, that would be a very common thing to make a film about, but back then, it wasn’t common.”

Joe Berlinger

Joe Berlinger

The pair maxed out a dozen credit cards, took second mortgages out on their homes and went hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt in order to make the film, which “at the twelfth hour” received some funding from PBS program ‘American Playhouse’ and UK pubcaster Channel 4.

Brother’s Keeper later won the Sundance audience prize, and grossed about US$2 million in its international theatrical release via self-distribution.

“We really gambled everything. Luckily it paid off, but I swore I would never pay for a movie myself again unless it was something that meant a lot to me and I couldn’t raise the funding any other way.”

Since that experience, Berlinger says he’s “always had commercials as part of his DNA” and also pursues branded content and TV series. “You’ve got to treat it like a business and pay yourself a living wage,” he says.

“If you’re going to go about it as your way of making a living, you have to either know how to budget a film or hire a producer who knows how to budget a film, and figure out what it fairly costs.”

Costs of the “average” doc

But how can early-stage filmmakers know what things are supposed to cost when there are few rules of thumb, particularly when it comes to how much they pay themselves?

At the Sundance Institute, Tabitha Jackson, director of the Documentary Film Program, finds herself wrestling with exactly this quandary: the cost of the average doc.

“There is no such thing,” she says, but if there were, she estimates a price tag of around $400,000 to $500,000.

“And that actually is not true. I would say that it’s probably closer to $800,000, $900,000, if the filmmakers paid themselves,” says Jackson, who joined the organization from UK pubcaster Channel 4 in late 2013.

Tabitha Jackson

Tabitha Jackson

With all kinds of different money sources starting to enter the field – some of it recoupable, some of it not – Jackson says the sustainability conversation is stirring among funders who are keen to convene and discuss ways of making the system work for all stakeholders.

“Part of what I hope is that we, as a field, can be scrutinizing budgets as we give grants, and making sure filmmakers have a proper line and a realistic line [of] what it would take to pay them – and not just the directors but the producers as well – so that we, as funders, can get more used to seeing what a doc actually costs.”

Jackson advises that improving education around the cost of filmmaking, and what is okay to put into a budget, are steps in ensuring not only sustainability, but also diversity among filmmakers.

“The voices we also need to hear from are the people who can’t even contemplate going into this work because it’s not sustainable, and they simply can’t shoulder the amount of debt that it might take to make their film with no expectation of getting any money back from it,” she says.

“If we’re not representing the voices that can express our realities somewhat, it weakens the power of the form, and it’s not a cultural record anymore – it’s a very partial picture.”

Supporting producers

One recent advancement, Jackson says, is increased support of creative producers through such initiatives as the Documentary Creative Producing Lab, taking place at the Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah this August.

The myriad roles occupied by producers working in documentary warrants its own exploration, but what is clear is that many directors are also wearing producer hats on their projects – a tension that can negatively impact their finances.

The Overnighters

Jesse Moss’ The Overnighters

“When my director self is fighting with my producer self, you know who wins? The director always wins,” says Jesse Moss, director of The Bandit (2016) and The Overnighters (2014).

“The director always wants or takes more time, wants or takes the expensive archival shot, wants or takes the extra production days. The production part of me loses out and the creative part wins, often. It’s very hard to maintain internal financial discipline when you’re wearing both hats.”

Creative producer roles, which are commonplace in the narrative world but less so in non-fiction, involve management of budgeting, legal, accounting and other financial aspects, as well as the creative resources needed to keep projects running day in and day out.

“We really see the need for, and the shortage of, creative producers in the non-fiction field, particularly in the U.S. economy,” says Jackson, who adds that Sundance wants to address issues of recognition, education and sustainability around these roles as well.

As such, delineating best practices around budgeting should also include conversations about crediting, and the role of creative producers as well as producers and EPs – another dialog that is essential, says Jackson, in helping the industry acknowledge the expectations of not just the individual filmmaker, but also the doc making team.

But ultimately, the filmmaker needs to be recognized as the first investor.

“So often the filmmaker spends years of their lives going out and getting the story, filming and doing the research and getting contributors for their film – completely unpaid – so we need to bear in mind that the artist is the first investor, and find a way that that is reflected somehow in the budget.”

A way forward

Looking ahead, Luke Moody, head of film at the London- and New York-based Britdoc Foundation, predicts there will be more developments in non-project specific support that allows filmmakers to hone their creativity without financial restrictions. Some examples are the BFI’s Vision Award, intended to support a “new generation of diverse and ambitious film producers,” as well as Sundance’s ‘Art of Nonfiction’ program, which helps filmmakers develop creative voices without having a specific film to pitch (though it is invitation-only).

Other opportunities might take the form of fellowships, residencies, artist development bursaries, seed funding and production company overhead grants. And to bridge professional knowledge gaps, Moody points to such producing labs and workshops as European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs (EAVE), Future Producer School and Jihlava Emerging Producers.

Luke Moody of Britdoc

Luke Moody of Britdoc

He similarly notes there is “no one model” to adhere to in structuring a team and raising budgets, but adds, “More could be done on our behalf and other funders. For example, collecting sample anonymous budgets to share on the Britdoc resources page.”

Also key, he says, is that industry events – festivals, labs and workshops – build detailed sessions on financing into presentations.

One such major opportunity to coalesce and broach some of these topics will be the IDA’s Getting Real conference, which takes place in Los Angeles from September 27 to 29. Career sustainability is one of the event’s three pillars, alongside diversity and the art of storytelling.

“One of the approaches of Getting Real is to create spaces for a much more frank conversation,” says Simon Kilmurry, executive director of the IDA.

And while that’s hard to do on an individual level because a doc maker’s projects may rely on grants and commissions, it’s easier as an organization to step back and identify who’s getting paid, and who’s not.

“I think what we’ll get out of Getting Real as an organization is a way to frame the [conversation] with funders and financiers, so at least there will be a more field-wide acknowledgement that perhaps we might be undervaluing some of this content, and if we really want a field that is sustainable and vibrant and creative, we may need to step back and reassess the economics of it.

“There’s probably a percentage of filmmakers who are doing really well and others who are kind of embarrassed that they’re struggling. But the reality is, when I talk to filmmakers who might be perceived as really successful, they’re struggling, too.”

0

ON THE MEDIA: Documentary pays? The price of filmmaking – part one

financing-feature-image
realscreen.com, by Manori Ravindran, July 8, 2016

In this special report, realscreen examines the economic pressures placed on some documentary filmmakers working today, and why doc directors – many of whom also play double duty as producers on their projects – aren’t paying themselves for their time.

In part one, we look at recent surveys and studies investigating the costs of doc making, while part two, to publish tomorrow (July 8), features funders’ thoughts on transparency around financing.

Forgoing personal wages to force down a budget and secure funding is a familiar exercise for doc makers. So familiar, in fact, it makes you wonder: if this is the so-called golden age of documentaries, why aren’t more filmmakers getting paid accordingly?

“It’s like I should be grateful to be able to do my art, and expecting to get paid is like an after-thought”
-Jesse Moss (The Overnighters)

The reasons are two-fold. The democratization of technology and abundance of distribution platforms allows most anyone to make docs, but with so many opportunities and a saturated market, it also means more doc makers – even veterans of the field – are struggling to first get their films financed, and then make money and recoup debts incurred.

Personal pay cuts and deferred fees abound, rendering documentary filmmaking a curious profession in which one pays an impossible price to sustain a career – if you’re lucky.

“Part of it is that tension between art and commerce that afflicts us,” offers Jesse Moss (pictured above, left), director of critically acclaimed doc The Overnighters (2014). “It’s like I should be grateful to be able to do my art, and expecting to get paid is like an after-thought.”

financing-moss-films

Jesse Moss-directed docs

Moss recently made his fourth feature doc, the CMT-backed The Bandit – the first of his films to be fully financed at conception, allowing him to take a combined producing and directing fee. Most of his previous work, however, including Speedo (2003) and Full Battle Rattle (2008), was made through a combination of sweat equity, private equity, grant funding, loans and – as always – a significant personal financial investment.

“You assign a commercial value to your work, and it’s almost like that’s antithetical to the [act of] making art, yet we need to survive,” he says. “And because the system is so fluid, the way in which films are financed is so different in every film that your value on one project is not necessarily your value on another project because of the nature of the film itself.”

The golden age offers no golden rules for budgeting, but many argue it’s time now for a field-wide conversation about sustainability. If the doc community aspires to be less self-selecting and more diverse, part of that effort should include improved transparency around financing, and best practices for drawing budgets, discussing maker salaries and crediting.

It appears that for the documentary field to move forward, it needs to first step back and turn the lens on itself.

Unpaid or underpaid, from Los Angeles to London

Perhaps one of the best indicators that sustainability is becoming a priority in the non-fiction community are recent surveys delving into the pressing, day-to-day issues facing doc makers in the field.

A forthcoming study by American University’s Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI), in collaboration with the International Documentary Association (IDA), is looking at the experiences of working documentary filmmakers and other industry professionals in the U.S.

Launched in late January, the tentatively titled “The State of the Documentary Field Trend Study: Perspectives from the Industry” had collected 573 complete responses to its IDA-distributed survey as of June 17, with a breakdown of about 47% directors and 28% producers. Full results will be presented at the IDA’s Getting Real conference in September.

Jane Ray of Whicker’s World Foundation

Caty Borum Chattoo, co-director of CMSI and the study’s director, says preliminary findings show that about 67% of respondents who identified as documentary professionals do not make their primary living through doc filmmaking, and about 66% of those who identified as such made either no salary at all, or less than 50% of their annual salary from their films.

Initial findings of how recent doc projects were funded reveal the main sources of funding as foundation grants (31%), followed by personal finances (26%) and then broadcasting and cable licensing deals (21%). In response to how much personal money was spent on a recent project, about 36% said they spent between $5,000 and $50,000.

Meanwhile, the London-based Whicker’s World Foundation (WWF) in January partnered with Sheffield Doc/Fest and the European Documentary Network to assemble a picture of the current doc making field in the UK and Europe by reaching out to filmmakers via a 16-point questionnaire. The goal was to see how much the organization’s top funding award of £80,000 could buy for a doc maker.

Based on the responses of 191 participants at varying stages of their careers, findings revealed that around 27% of respondents said their time would have cost more than £60,000 if they had paid themselves fully for every day of work, while the median valuation was roughly £10,000.

In addition, 87% of respondents said they had not received the calculated wages for their work. Common reasons included “tight production budgets” or the inability to raise necessary funding, while some who worked on passion projects out of love, or a need of experience, simply didn’t expect pay.

“Auto-exploitation”

Jane Ray, consultant artistic director for Whicker’s World, says the financial strain evident in their survey wasn’t only relegated to emerging talent, but also involved 30-year veterans of the industry.

“The whole emphasis on the broadcasters is the strength of your idea: ‘You seduce us and we will take your idea but let’s not talk about money,’ and it makes things very difficult because obviously the whole nature of doc production is enormously isolating,” says Ray.

“I think there’s a sense that it’s such a competitive world that if anybody gets a whiff that [a doc maker is] a bleeding heart, difficult person who is going to go into the commissioning room and say, ‘Look, are you going to pay me for this or what?’ they will never work again. I think it’s a mix of fear and shame.”

Filmmaker Emily James

California-born doc maker Emily James was among the respondents of the Whicker’s survey. A UK resident since 1995, James studied documentary directing at the National Film and Television School (NFTS) and sold her first doc, The Luckiest Nut in the World (2002), to Channel 4. Her current feature effort is a copro between BBC’s ‘Storyville’ doc strand and A&E Indie Fund.

James hasn’t managed to pay herself much of a salary on any of her projects, and like many filmmakers, she subsidizes her docs through commercial work and savings. In the 16 years since graduating NFTS in 2000, the amount of time she has been in production – fully-funded – and without needing other sources of income adds up to five years.

Speaking of her experience at film school, James says there was little practical guidance around financing – a pattern she still notices while mentoring.

“Often you meet filmmakers and you show them a budget and they don’t even know what they’re looking at,” explains James. “If you’re not able to get your head around where the money is and how you use your resources to maximize efficiency, then it’s like you’re trying to run a race one-legged. It’s such an important skill but it’s one that gets very, very little formal teaching or education.”

In the Whicker’s World survey, James labeled the standard of paying everyone on a film crew full rates except yourself “auto-exploitation” but cautions that the wider commercial system also needs to be challenged.

“We’re exploiting ourselves, but we’re also being exploited by all the people around us who are making a proper living from what they’re doing, and using our work as the center of that.

“Nobody ever pays you back for all of that effort you put into [development]. But then, if the film is good, you suddenly have all of these other people that are working for distributors, festivals and broadcasters – who are being paid a waged job – and they’re using the work that we’ve created as the central commodity of their industry without ever repaying the people that took the major risk at the beginning.”

0

ON THE MEDIA: #DocsSoWhite? – A Panel on Diversity in Documentary Filmmaking

only-black-person-bold-italicfilmmakermagazine.com, Conversation Moderated by , Septem 7, 2016

#OscarsSoWhite is hardly a new phenomena in dramatic narrative circles and Hollywood, but determining where the doc community fits into the debate – is. Without empirical data, it would seem the doc community is doing a better job at building diverse and inclusive opportunities than Hollywood counterparts. But if that’s true, by how much? What measures are in place to ensure that the people in front and behind the camera better reflect the world in which we live and the stories we tell? How do public vs. private dollars impact this outcome? If, in the end, it is determined that the doc-world also has a race problem, who is accountable and what, if anything, can the industry-gatekeepers, creators and consumers do to change course? 

The following conversation was part of a #DocsSoWhite? – Diversity & Inclusion Panel at the 2016 Independent Film Festival Boston (IFFB). An introduction to the panel was given by Julie Burros, Chief of Arts & Culture for the City of Boston. The panelists included: Lois Vossen, Independent Lens Executive Producer (ITVS), Simon Kilmurry, Executive Director, International Documentary Association (IDA), Darius Clark Monroe (Filmmaker, Evolution of a Criminal), and Sabrina Avilés, Executive Director, Boston Latino International Film Festival (BLIFF). The conversation was guided by Chico Colvard, Filmmaker, Professor & Founding Curator of the UMB Film Series.

Chico Colvard: There are, of course, any number of people — Black, White, Brown and others – people outside, as well as inside the industry, who find it difficult to talk about race. Lois you said White people need to be on this panel so that there’s an element of “accountability” – I was thinking that allies are also needed to create a robust conversation. I wonder if you each can speak to why you agreed to talk about what is a difficult conversation for many to have?

Simon Kilmurry: I understand that this is a play-on what’s happening with the OscarsSoWhite campaign, but I think it’s actually a really important question. I come from primarily a public media background and would like to say that we are better than our commercial counterparts in terms of how we create points of access for our diverse voices and diverse communities, but I think we can all agree that public media and commercial media can be doing a better job at that in the documentary field. And I think it all goes back to, not only who’s making the films and who’s telling the stories – both in commercial and public media, but who are the gatekeepers, too? Who are the funders? Who are the people on the broadcast side? Way beyond series like Independent Lens and POV, who do a good job, but across the broad spectrum of people who are getting to produce and are getting to make decisions about who is getting to produce and direct these films. I think it is a serious question that we need to step back and look at. I think there is some really good research that we can build on and broaden. So I’m glad we’re having this conversation and this certainly is part of our “Getting Real” conference. Diversity is an issue filmmakers are raising with us constantly and that needs to be a central theme. So it’s definitely a focus of our work, at the moment.

Lois Vossen: I do feel that this issue is paramount to the work that we do. It’s absolutely at the center of what ITVS is all about. It is the reason the organization was founded — to mandate to bring more diversity to public media and to set a role model so that other media can step onboard – and obviously it is the key mandate to Independent Lens. So it’s what we do all day, everyday, to the best of our ability. As Simon said, we can certainly always do more. And not only can ITVS do more, and we’re always striving to do more on Independent Lens, but I think PBS and public television, as a whole, has a mandate to do this on a level that is higher than commercial television. And so you see great things like Stanley Nelson’s Firelight Media emerging because of this issue.

The reason I think this continues to be an issue is because of the transparency issue. At ITVS we set out to gather the information in order to hold ourselves accountable. We spent years trying to get the information from other organizations – both inside public media and outside public media – and no one shared the information: How many filmmakers of color were they funding? How many filmmakers of color were they mentoring? How many stories were they telling that came out of communities of color? Who was telling those stories? So the fact that people wouldn’t even share the metrics was alarming to us and very much underscored the problem to us that the problem is still very much real.

I do think there’s a good sign in that non-fiction film is better than fiction, to some extent. Women are doing better in non-fiction – but even women are in secondary roles and are being paid less. And certain filmmakers, who come from non-white communities, are up against a huge plethora of issues. Darius and I have had great conversations about this. I know when we were working together on Evolution of a Criminal and he was out in the world… just the conversations he was having about just this issue were enough to infuriate me. So that’s why I did the panel. I think it’s a really important topic.

Darius Clark Monroe: Evolution of a Criminal was my first experience of navigating the whole festival circuit, distribution circles, pitches – essentially meeting everyone in the documentary community. It felt a bit like the Twilight Zone. So this panel was something that intrigued me. Not just to continue to stir the pot, but I also think this is a necessary discussion – especially because when I would go to festivals, I would see in the program guide so many films about people of color, all over the globe, but when you look at the producing team, the director, the editor, everyone was pretty much white. That just annoyed me to no end because I feel it is important to be open and honest about the culture we live and that it’s not easy to just swoop in and study and observe people you did not grow up with and don’t know and have some semblance of authenticity. We are talking about documentaries, so on some base level we are talking about truth and representation — allowing people to speak truth and have a say.

To me, what’s even more powerful than the shooting of people outside of the dominant culture – it’s the editing. Who is truly controlling the voice of the people in front of the camera? I was starting to get a chip on my shoulder because I was seeing it over, and over, and over, again. And I kept wondering, why, if anything, so many filmmakers, who happen to be White were so interested in people of color? Yet, I never saw so many documentaries that explored what it meant to be white – what it meant to go to another country, let alone another continent to shoot and observe – just what does that entail? You rarely see filmmakers discussing what it means to turn the camera onto them and explore that.

So I feel like this conversation isn’t just about diversity. It is about who owns the power and how can we divvy up that power – but also how can we investigate what it means to be diverse, what it means to control the lens?

Sabrina Avilés: A lot of the documentaries that I’ve worked on — and what I find frustrating, as well — is that we’re trying to tell stories about relations of our people, if you will; about the experiences of Latino people, whether it’s a positive theme or a negative theme, and yet, it’s hard to find people with my background working in the industry. Everyone wants to be a director. Everyone wants to be a producer, but when you come to the editing – even things as a PA or researcher, I need someone who speaks Spanish. It can be very frustrating to try and find that. From my perspective, and I speak from the Latino experience, I think part of our responsibility is to make Latinos aware that they can actually make a living at this. It’s not easy, but from a creative source, it is so fulfilling.

I’m getting a bit emotional, but growing up in this industry – straight out of college I was really lucky and worked at WGBH – I didn’t have any mentors. Everybody saw me as this… “who are you?” And immediately, wanted to label me – “if you’re Latina, then this MUST be your experience.” And so that’s the other thing, the expectation of who you are, leads to people wanting to define you and what you can and cannot say. 

Chico: Darius talked earlier about who is in FRONT of and BEHIND the camera. That there isn’t any shortage of White filmmakers venturing into very narrow and often harmful portrayals of the so called Black/Brown experience and then widely disseminating those films and subjects to mostly White audiences as victims or objects of study. I don’t think there are white industry types: filmmakers, distributors, broadcasters, programmers and the like sitting around plotting ways to undermine and exclude Black/Brown people from access to the industry. I do, however, think there’s a correlation between these same industry types’ lack of personal ties to Black/Brown people and the racial disparities witnessed in the industry. I wonder if anyone can speak to that?

Lois: Yeah, it’s an important question. First of all, I want to underscore what Darius said about who’s telling the story and who has the access. There’s a great story told by Stanley Nelson about a time when he was making Black Panthers. He was sitting with one of the former Panthers and it was a hard interview, but it was good… and at the end of that interview, the Panther said, “in that moment of the shoot-out, I felt like a free man.” The reason Stanley tells that story is because he knows that if a white filmmaker had been sitting there, doing the interview, he wouldn’t have gotten that out of that subject. And it underscores again and again, who is sitting there asking the subject to tell their story and then, as Darius said, who’s going to edit that and then ultimately bring that story forward? And so it’s critical that you have to have that representation throughout, because you can’t fabricate that knowledge. As Darius said, if you grow up with it, you know it. You can’t fabricate it. So I think that’s important.

In terms of the accountability… I think about all the time. And I’ll be honest, there have been times when I’ve actually thought, “Should I leave this job? Should there be someone else in this position?” I’ve always had a co-programmer, who’s a person of color and that person’s counsel and conversation is critical. We constantly talk about things like this and I will say, Noland Walker, who I now work with and just have the utmost respect for beyond words, will often shed light on something. And it’s not that it’s completely foreign to me, but it’s a different gateway in that I hadn’t thought of. He’ll even give conversations like… he was recently at a pitch session, where someone came up to him – and for those of you who don’t know Noland, he’s African-American, and this person said to him, “well, you know all about violence.” [audience gasps] And Noland was like, “Woo! I do? Actually, no I really don’t.” The assumption that simply because he’s an African-American male that he somehow had this insight…. When Noland tells me these stories – literally the hair on the back of my neck just stands up because I can’t imagine what that’s like to have to consistently have to face that. So for me, there’s no way I would do my job without a Noland by my side because I think it’s absolutely essential that I be in constant conversation and reminded about those things.

Simon: I think that if you did have a more diverse set of gatekeepers making decisions, you would come up with a wider range of films and filmmakers being supported. I think there is a kind of cumulative effect that power is concentrated in one place rather than spread out. One of the great experiences I had over the past years was when I was working with Michéle Stephenson and Joe Brewster on their film, American Promise, they were examining the notion of implicit bias and I think we all have to recognize that no matter how good hearted we are or where we sit on the spectrum, that we all have our own implicit biases. And it’s only by having a wider range of voices that we can help balance that out. It is where those concentrations of power are that we have a fundamental problem.

Chico: Darius and Sabrina, when Lois and Simon are talking about the need to diversify the gatekeepers, they’re talking about that taking shape in a professional context. What I’m suggesting is that evidence of diversity in our personal spaces, or lack thereof, dramatically impact the makeup of diversity and the decisions we make in our professional circles.

Darius: You know it’s interesting just being a filmmaker, a storyteller, just being a person, who is living and breathing and walking on this planet, there are so many things you can, obviously, observe. One thing, when you are Black in the documentary or just the film community, the work or recommendations you get are specifically tied to something the White culture – the dominant culture views like, “Oh, this social justice” or “criminal justice” — this is a “poverty story,” these are “black athletes.” So every time something gets tossed your way or someone sends you an email in an effort to include you, it’s always very specific about the “Black experience.”

It’s like one of those things where I complain about not getting an opportunity, but then when I do, it’s always a very small window of options that are presented. And that’s always something that’s strange to me, because – again, as a person living and breathing in this country, everyone else – if you’re not White, you know White people just as much as they know each other, because this is the world we live in. I have to interact: I’ve had to study, educate and be educated by White people my whole entire life. So if anyone can be dispatched to tell a story about White people, it’s people of color who can tell that story. We have to navigate that world so often, on so many different occasions, that it’s not something “foreign” to us. There’s no way for us to be in this business – whether it’s documentary or commercial – without having to constantly engage with White people. Whereas it’s the complete opposite for White people. They don’t have to engage. White people don’t have to engage with Black people, with Asians, Latinos – they don’t have to engage at all and yet they want to be the authority on other cultures. So I’m asking, in addition to these interpersonal relationships, some humility – because there’s some arrogance there. Because you know for a fact that you do not need to interact with people of color at home, work. You get to choose when to engage with people of color, whereas the opposite is the case for me – I don’t get to choose. I am literally inundated with White people.

I’m not complaining about these relationships, but there is this trend. And I don’t want to just let people off the hook by saying, “Oh, there’s this dissonance and implicit bias.” A lot of times, and I’m not going to name any festivals, but when I was on the festival circuit, I reached out to a few filmmakers, including Joe and Michéle, and I said, “I’m noticing a trend!” and that is there are certain filmmakers and films that did not film in certain parts of [America]. Obviously work is subjective. Some work may or may not be as strong for one festival versus another, but I noticed a consistent pattern over 3-4 years! With films that had won Grand Jury Prizes at premiere festivals – films that had shown in competition at Sundance were just completely off the radar at some festivals and these festivals tended to be in parts of the country that are 99% White. I felt like that was strange that they believed these films were somehow marginalized or pushed aside because they didn’t feel that their audience would be able to connect to the material if it were about people of color. To me, that’s not just a random happenstance. This is something that’s been going on for years and needs to be addressed – because I do feel that when we talk about these opportunities, sometimes it goes as far down as something as simple as an economic opportunity for a filmmaker, for their career, for their future. So that dissonance can turn into oppression or suppression and it can have a deleterious impact on the future and forward movement of a filmmaker. Again, Michéle and Joe had a phenomenal film that did incredibly well, but I kept noticing that the film was not on the radar at certain festivals around the country – and when I looked at those program guides, I also noticed that there was not one single film directed by a Black person or person of color. That’s a HUGE issue – that’s not just unintentional bias, that’s on purpose and people need to be called out and shamed.

Sabrina: Now that we’re getting submissions for the Latino Film Festival, I said, “If I see one more immigration film, I’m just going to shoot myself.” It’s that whole thing again: if you’re Latina, there’s that assumption that you have to talk about immigration. Well you know, I’m actually Caribbean and that’s not my story. So I agree with you, we get a lot of submissions from Latin Americans and although there is a chunk about social justice, you actually have filmmakers making films about family, and culture, and art – things that are relevant to everybody, not necessarily only people of Latino-American descent.

On the other hand, I’m working on a film about the sterilization of Puerto Rican women and I feel like because of my background and my experience – I should tell that story. So it’s an interesting quagmire because I would be “bullshit!” if I found out a White person started to tell that story.

Chico: Darius and Sabrina, you talk about the limitations on what kinds of stories we get to tell and whether those stories – despite being cloaked in the right pedigree, are still restricted in how nuanced/“race free” or rewarded and programmed as much as our White counterparts. To that point, I want to share a bit of a conversation I had with Roger Ross. In the history of cinema – White filmmakers are handed stories to make, whether it’s about a legendary musician, hall of fame baseball player or the next redux of Iron Man. With Roger’s latest film, Life Animated, it is completely race free. I asked him if he was aware of how rare that is for an African-American filmmaker and whether it takes having to win an Oscar before a person of color can make a film that is race free. His answer was, yes!

On that note, let’s bring the audience into this conversation.

Audience: I don’t know if our panelists can see the room [via Skype], but we are about 95% Caucasian… so that just goes to show who makes up the documentary community. I came here today expecting to be all pissed-off and my expectations were met. So Darius, you keep that chip on your shoulders.

Process is impossible to navigate for people who aren’t trained to do so. The more simple barriers, like fill out an application for a grant, are put in front of people, the more difficulty they have in doing it – unless they’ve had a particularly good primary school and secondary education. That’s a very difficult thing for people to do. So you almost have to eliminate the application process and shower these creative people with money, even if they can’t define what they’re doing. Those would be my comments to you, today.

Chico: I want to give everyone an opportunity to respond to that comment.

Sabrina: For me, and speaking as a Latina, yes perhaps not everyone has that private school education, but I feel that we have to raise the bar so that – we need to address why these kids don’t know how to write these grants. To just hand them money is bordering charity. I want to go in there [schools] and say, “This is how you pitch a project. This is how you write a grant.” What you’re doing is giving them a skill set that they can use in other aspects. Yes, we need to give them the opportunities, but I don’t think we need to lower the bar.

Chico: The people of color I know in this industry are extremely qualified and just as capable and skilled to fill out a grant or take on any of the other difficult tasks required to usher a film across the finish line. I don’t think a deficiency in their skill set or talent is a barrier to their access and success.

Lois: Yeah, I agree. It’s not a shortage of talent. The talent is there. I mean, ITVS, 67% of our money goes to filmmakers of color and we could be giving more – if we had more. It’s not that there aren’t great projects by talented people. Occasionally, as is true with White filmmakers, some filmmakers come to us early and they need mentoring. They have the ideas, they have the access and they certainly have the passion and the experience. So I don’t think there’s a dearth of talent. I think its quite the opposite.

Audience: I found something really interesting. I do a lot of disability advocacy work and when we talk about “diversity,” that seems to be the thing that always gets forgotten. I wonder if this is something we’re missing? I’ve been on a lot of panels and usually it’s me, a bunch of women and one Black dude. How do we include all of the people that are Black and Brown and Native American and disabled and White – and not discount their need for access and inclusion?

Simon: I think that’s a really fair point. This shouldn’t just be a binary Black/White conversation. This is about populations and representation from a whole range of communities. And it’s also geographic. A lot of resources in the field get concentrated on the coasts or the major cities and other parts of the country – the “fly-over” states don’t get included. I think it’s a much wider conversation that this is part of and that we need to be having across the board. Issues of representation about and by people with disabilities are as important as anything else.

Chico: In Oscar history, only four films directed or produced by an African American have been nominated for Best Documentary Feature and only two for Best Documentary Short Subject. In 2009, Roger Ross Williams, who we mentioned earlier, became the first African American director to win the Academy Award for directing (in any category) the short Music by Prudence.

Three years later, in 2012, T. J. Martin became the first African American to win an Oscar for the documentary feature,Undefeated.

Here are the documentary stats for Academy Award winners and nominees: African Americans (Feature Nominees = 4/Winners = 1 | Shorts = 2/Winners = 1) Asians (Feature Nominees = 10/Winners = 3 | Shorts = 19/Winners = 6) Latinos = 0 Native Americans = 0. Disabled = unknown?

I wonder if people can talk about some initiatives and action steps you’re taking to address these dismal stats?

Simon – let’s start with you. You mentioned earlier that you and your colleague, Ken Jacobson, who is in charge of IDA’s Getting Real Conference taking place in LA later this fall are focusing on three themes: career sustainability, diversity and art. Can you tell us more about that?

Simon: Well certainly from our perspective there are a couple of things we’re doing. One, we have a survey we’re wrapping up, which looks at diversity and career sustainability, so we have some data to work with. That’s going to need to be an ongoing process and effort so we can measure whether any progress is being made.

The themes of the conference, that we are producing, which is happening at the end of September [2016], are driven by the conversations we’ve been having with filmmakers. We’ve had focus group meetings in New York and Chicago and L.A. and on the phone with probably about 100 filmmakers at this stage — producers, editors, cinematographers – and it’s out of those conversations that we came up with the three pillars: career sustainability, diversity and art, the creative approaches to documentary storytelling. They are all inextricably linked.

The group that we’re gathering in L.A. is going to be about 4-500 professionals, who are involved in the field, mostly makers, to talk about what specific solutions can we be working on as a field. We aim to come out of that with some working groups and a central task force to help us advance the conversation. We’ll see what comes out of it.

There were some concrete actions that came out of the first Getting Real conference in 2014 around conversations with funders and public media. So there is an opportunity to bring a significant number of people together to come up with some actual action steps and concrete measures. So I think there’s a chance there.

Lois: ITVS has had a Diversity Development Fund [DDF]. Originally when that fund was created from a foundation it was a termed grant – it was for 3 years. But we felt it was such a vital part of who we are and what our mandate is that when that grant ran out, we made it a core part of our programming. We lobbied to have that implemented into our ongoing funding contract so that our funder, who gives us money, allows us to spend money that way. And we will continue to have the DDF because it is the single most important way for us to identify filmmakers, who are trying to get into the system, which is closed and hard – to get them a leg-up.

What we’re looking at doing now is to add a second tier – sort of like a Diversity Development Part II. Because what we have found, not surprisingly, is that great talent comes to us with great ideas. We give them a small amount so they can go out and develop the idea and maybe put together a trailer, but they are still having a hard time competing with the predominantly White field. We’re hoping that this alternative funding will help those projects become more viable – not just for ITVS Open Call, but with all the myriad of funders out there, who are supporting documentary film.

So that’s critical to us and for me, it really is the most exciting work that we do – not just because it’s young talent, because our Diversity Development, as you can see, produces people who are at various stages in their careers, but it is about bringing in new ideas and making sure that those voices are able to continue to make the film. And a big part of what we talk about is will there be a second film and how can we keep them going?

In addition to ITVS shouting proudly that we fund 67% of diverse filmmakers, Independent Lens has 54% diversity in terms of the programming we represent. This is to go back to Darius’ point earlier: it is a sad reality that the vast majority of programming that I am able to bring to our slate is ITVS funded programming. Because when I go to festivals to look for programming, it is predominantly – heavily, by a huge majority — White filmmakers. So it is very hard, on the festival circuit, to find films that are made by diverse filmmakers because there are just less of them, as Darius pointed out.

The other thing that I think is critical, and again, I’m in a position where I have a wonderful situation, but ITVS feels very strongly about diversity on all levels. So our staff is always 60% or more diverse and we’ve never dropped below – or we’ve never certainly dropped below 50% — and that creates a huge reality. Everyone working on the marketing side, thinking about how you’re going to talk about the films, the outreach side, the funding side when you diversity throughout the organization is absolutely critical. And we do it including our vendors. Like when we’re going to hire a dubbing house, we try to find the dubbing house that has the most diverse staff, etc.

And then the last thing that I’ll just throw in there is something we’ve been working on; my colleague, Erica [Deiparine-Sugars], with other funders, is to try to create – and this grew out of the last IDA conference — is to create more consistency around the funding guidelines so that filmmakers, especially filmmakers, who are coming at it against these sort of large obstacles, don’t have to recreate the wheel every time they apply. We think that will provide more opportunities for filmmakers from diverse communities to be more competitive for larger sources of money from funders, who are typically looking for proposals that have all the “bells and whistles.” So if we can get that a little more equalized, we’re hoping that that will also increase.

So those are just a few of the things we’re working on, but we’re always open to suggestions and feel as though these kinds of conversations have to be available in order to hold us accountable and push us forward.

Sabrina: For me as a programmer with the Latino International Film Festival Boston [LIFFB] along with a ground troop of supporters, we want to create more of an educational presence throughout the year – without reinventing the wheel, but talking to other festivals and high schools about how can we start introducing filmmaking as an option for younger students. Yes, a lot of festivals have that component, but specifically targeted at communities of color.

Also as a filmmaker/producer, it is essential to me that my crew better reflect the diverse world we live in and to emphasize that we are not only minimum-wage workers, but that there are a bunch of us that area well educated – professionals with backgrounds in law and medicine… And again, I recognize that that’s just my reality and that’s what I bring to the forefront of my personal and professional life. Unfortunately, this equation isn’t always as important or part of their reality.

Darius: For me it’s difficult because I don’t run a festival, I’m just a freelance filmmaker. So all I have is the work. I feel like my role is to speak truth to power. The thing is it gets a little scary because I’ve noticed that over the last couple of years on social media I’ve almost become silent. Other than re-tweeting a few articles, I’ve just become quiet because I have been concerned about speaking too loudly about this issue and being silenced, professionally, which is a real reality. Not everyone is a Lois and a Simon. There are folks who do not want to hear this and don’t want to be bothered with it.

My focus is to continue to do work that is challenging and continue to talk about the reality. It’s not just about diversity because I don’t want people thinking this about some affirmative action thing – it’s about inclusion. That everyone has a right. Their opinion, their life experience, their talent should be at the table – not there simply because there was a need for a person of color or disabled person, but because you have a right as a human being to be present, to speak up and have your say.

Also my goal is to continue to learn. I don’t know if in 15-20 years, if I’m in a position as a gatekeeper, will I have to eat my own words and to make sure that I’m studying these issues and following through so that I’m not just talking the talk, but also walking the walk.

So yes, there is a need for this conversation to continue, but the other word that keeps coming to mind is “disruption.” There needs to be a massive disruption. TV has been dominated for so many decades by the dominant culture. This country, just living in NY, you realize that this is an incredibly diverse world we live in, but you might not know that by simply watching TV. So I agree with Lois that we need a level of diversity at every level of this operation. It can’t just be the filmmakers. We need people in the jury pools, at the festivals, broadcasters, in the edit suites – every single step we need representation of what reality looks like. The world is not 95% White.

Lois: I want to add that when Darius said he thought he was going to have to be quiet, is when I became infuriated and also quite afraid, if someone of Darius’ stature, who’s made this extraordinary film and who has proven he’s a great filmmaker and talent with a unique voice – if he has to be silent, then I thought… I must be living in a glass bubble. So the more that we don’t silence Darius — the more that we say, “Darius, louder, louder, louder,” is what we have to do.

I would also like to just say one more small thing, but it all adds up. My challenge to all filmmakers, but especially White filmmakers, is to have people on camera, who represent. So, if you’re doing a historical documentary, people tend to, “what did the White person say about this in 1965?” You know there are a diverse group of people we can use as experts, who represent who we are, as well. It’s about who’s behind the camera, who’s in front of the camera – especially who’s in the role of “expert” or “social commentary.” So I challenge filmmakers all the time. I’ve even asked filmmakers to go out and re-shoot interviews where I’ve heard, now, like what five White people think about – can you tell me what anyone else thinks about this?

Darius, please keep talking.

Darius: I’ll try [audience laughter].

Audience: Hi everyone. Really great conversation, but I want to shift the conversation to that moment, where a filmmaker has an idea and that filmmaker may be a 12 year old White boy or 12 year old Black girl, but their idea might be stopped because of this massive brick wall they have to overcome with regards to access. For instance, if I wanted to create a documentary about disabled or Puerto Rican women sterilization, why shouldn’t I be able to do that if I’m really passionate about it and how do I overcome that stigma of, “Oh, you’re a White male” and how do I connect to my characters as well as maybe you can?

Sabrina: I just have to respond to your comment because I find it really disturbing. When in the history of the world has a White man needed permission? The job of any documentary filmmaker is to gain access and build trust with their characters – whatever subject or community you’re going into. That is your job regardless of whatever is compelling you to tell that story. If it is a community who’s experience is not yours because of region, race or ethnicity, then you have to be aware of that. As someone who works in programming or as someone like Chico, who reads proposals, you look at the team they surround themselves with. OK, maybe this person isn’t from that community, but have they built a team of crew-members and advisors that balances them? I’ve lobbied for White filmmakers making films about Black or Latino communities because they did their due diligence. They did everything to show that they are taking great care and responsibility to build trust – as is your job as a documentary filmmaker. So I take exception with your comment. I think it was a bit naive and that’s okay, but I also think it’s really important to listen and not ask for permission that stems from guilt or not wanting to be associated with the history of White men.

White allies are important, as I think some of the panelists were saying. Listen to Lois. ITVS is the model in terms of building-up a team that reflects and challenges them about their own assumptions. Of course you should make a film about what you’re passionate about, but maybe it takes an extra step to listen to that community and question, “Why do I want to tell this story?”

Darius: I don’t believe everyone should make a film just because they can. That whole, “give me a camera and I should jump into this because I’m passionate about it…” — it’s imperialistic. It’s arrogant. There are certain stories that no, you should not be telling. I’m not saying a lot of stories, but there are certain topics, where you should tell yourself, “I have no business going down this road. This is not my lane. I should not do this. I don’t know anything about this. Even with due diligence, I will be doing a disservice by going down this road – regardless of how passionate I am about it.”

We have seen this endlessly in the whole entire continent of Africa, where you have so many different groups, who are flying over there to lend a helping hand; not even understanding the politics, the culture, the language, but just feeling a passion to help. I think you need to channel that passion to looking in the mirror and ask yourself, “Why am I obsessed about this thing?” You need to sometimes turn the camera around and ask, “Why am I going to seek out the other without exploring what it means to be me?” For example, what does it mean to be a White man in America? What does all of that entail?

You will notice for the last decade in documentary film, a lot of White men don’t have any interest in even talking about that. But as a Black man, I would love to go see that film. And as passionate as I am about wanting to go see that film, I don’t want to make that film. I think a White man should make that film. There are some things I don’t want to touch.

So I don’t think we should just toss around, “Oh, you should be able to do whatever you want to do.” As an adult, you should understand that there are certain things that out of respect for different cultures and different experiences that I should understand where I stand and allow someone else to tell their particular story.

Again, this is a very subjective litmus test, but we have got to remove arrogance and add humility to these ideas in order to understand that we are not just talking about an hour and a half and subject matter – we are invading peoples’ lives and cultures and experiences and we have to respect that. We have to know when to get involved and when to step back.

0

ON THE MEDIA: Documentaries Make An Impact Through Artistry As Much As Advocacy

huffingtonpost.com, Blog from Lara Stolman and Shanna Belott, Aug. 18, 2016

“What’s your call to action?” This was one of the first questions asked of us when it was announced that our film Swim Team was chosen for this year’s IFP Documentary Completion Lab. It’s a familiar question for sure.

Somewhere along the line, it became important for documentary films to have a so-called call to action, particularly if these films are competing for the typical sources of funding. Some of the best known and most generous documentary funders now explicitly state or demonstrate through their choice of films that fundable documentaries must address contemporary social issues and seek to challenge the status quo, inspire people to join or create a movement, or otherwise call for social action.

But if you’re making an independent documentary on an artist, any sort of biography or historical film, or something non-traditional, good luck getting support. “There’s been a gradual change in the understanding and acceptance of what a documentary can be,” says Milton Tabbot, Senior Director of Programming for IFP. “Although there are exceptions among funders, these days most of the films that get funding are the ones that have real strong social issues, where it’s clear how the film can be used as a tool for outreach and impact. Some people are still surprised if there’s a strong narrative and story.”

Even our film, about a competitive swim team of teens on the autism spectrum, was dismissed by some as “not about a hard hitting social issue,” and thus ineligible for support. Swim Team focuses on young people seeking acceptance in a society that takes every opportunity to segregate based on disability, and the nonprofits that we have begun to partner with certainly recognize the potential of our film to engage in a national conversation about inclusion. That said, our narrative throughline of a sports team trying to dominate the competition makes our film more difficult to categorize for some funders.

To be clear, supporting films that tackle social issues head-on isn’t a negative trend. Social issue documentaries offer incalculable value towards generating real world impact. And it’s not a zero sum game; films with an agenda are luring new funding to the space. As director Marshall Curry recently observed to The New York Times, “If these funders weren’t funding activist films, they would be funding some other form of activism — not some other form of filmmaking.”

IFP is the rare organization now supporting independent film that embraces diverse voices, including the kind of films that may not be the obvious candidate for a grant. The documentaries IFP has supported through their Documentary Lab, Film Week and/or other channels include such outstanding films as Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson, Keith Maitland’s Tower, Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo’sRich Hill, Penny Lane’s Our Nixon, Zachary Heinzerling’s Cutie and the Boxer, Todd Miller’s Dinosaur 13, Eva Radivojevic’s Evaporating Borders, Jason Osder’s Let the Fire Burn, and Amanda Wilder’s Approaching the Elephant. In an increasingly competitive field, it’s validating and meaningful to be chosen for IFP’s Documentary Lab, and we were pleasantly surprised to discover the eclecticism of IFP’s other selections.

“We support voices that might otherwise not be heard,” says Tabbot. “As a programmer, I’m drawn to diversity of approaches in this artform, and above all any documentary has to succeed as cinema. If you return to a work five to ten years from now, the film should be able to stand alone as a film, not just as an issue. The issue isn’t the film.”

Film is a powerful medium to change people’s perspectives, but impact isn’t easily measured. This is true even when there’s a strong social issue, but quantifying impact is doubly difficult when the film is not singularly focused on a cause and more concerned with characters, story and cinema. Nevertheless, these films have the ability to absorb and deeply affect viewers.

“Documentaries that are more cinematic, stylistically unconventional and less issue-focused retain the power to challenge audiences’ views of the world, but perhaps in a subtler way,” says Paola Mottura, Documentary Program Manager for IFP. “These films can change the way we perceive certain realities by drawing us into characters, making us empathize with their stories in a way that ultimately may still result in changing our attitudes towards the subject matter.”

Our first week of the IFP Documentary Lab in May included a number of opportunities to learn about and discuss distribution and impact – terms that are increasingly linked in the documentary world. Funders and distributors have ratcheted up their expectations for audience engagement plans from filmmakers, making it our job not only to make the film itself but also design a campaign around its distribution to engineer its impact. If that sounds daunting, it is. As the landscape in the documentary world has shifted to favor the films that are deemed best suited to “make an impact,” an enormous responsibility is placed on the shoulders of filmmakers to create films that make the case for impact right out the gate.

As we got to know the other IFP Lab fellows and discover their films, we realized that what all of our films had in common was a personal and sometimes quirky perspective on stories that have deeper and yet sometimes subtle roots in social and political issues. These issues include women’s equality, mental illness, patient rights, immigration, poverty, racism and more – but none of this year’s IFP Lab films seem geared to change the law, feature a ripped from the headlines story or include experts articulating issues in a talking heads style.

“It takes more work to have that discussion outside the film instead of people talking in the film,” says Tabbot. But films that introduce compelling characters and communities and don’t necessarily advocate or present a succinct “case” may be just as if not more resonant simply because they ask the viewer to arrive at his own conclusions.

Indeed, sometimes an intimate, character-driven story can generate tremendous impact. Tabbot believes that there’s an innate excitement around more personal films that often make them more engaging, and therefore more effective at times. “Rather than approaching a topic in a very traditional way and listening to an issue again and again, it’s intriguing to see artists that are trying something different,” he observes.

Every documentary is a form of commentary on its subject, every documentary filmmaker’s work is informed by her personal point of view. In documentary film, the personal is indeed political. As IFP Lab editing mentor Carol Dysinger said, “Every movie is a conversation with the world.” So if we’re paying attention to the circumstances surrounding a film’s story, many documentaries reveal social issues in unexpected ways.

The late, great Roger Ebert once noted, “film is a machine that generates empathy.” It’s the viewers’ experience of empathizing with a character in a film that can help awaken them to certain causes. By leaning on the raw power of personal, human stories, films that have deep impact may not appear to have an agenda at all, but instead tiptoe lightly towards changing hearts and minds.

Learn more about the forthcoming documentary “Swim Team” at www.swimteamthefilm.com

Page 2 of 712345...Last »