Solution

Provide a facilitated support system to develop and incubate new documentary films

Role

Co-Creator and Facilitator

Challenge

How do we support documentary filmmakers through the ins and outs of making their films?

Background/Problem to Solve

Documentary filmmaking is a challenging field. Oftentimes, filmmakers are making films on their own and bootstrapping their films with their own money or limited funds from grants. As a result, making documentaries can sometimes be isolating and depressing without collaborators to encourage you to pursue your passion project. Realizing this, in 2013 I approached the Executive Director of Docs In Progress and pitched an idea to create a program that helps filmmakers with the ins and outs of doing film, which we called the Docs in Progress Documentary Film Fellowship. We spent the next several months co-creating the content and structure to meet the needs of the intermediate filmmakers that we were targeting. 

How Its Done

The Docs In Progress Fellowship gives up to ten DC-area filmmakers each year a facilitated support system for them to develop new documentaries. Since 2013, the Docs In Progress Fellowship Program has been a space for emerging documentary filmmakers to develop their works-in-progress in a peer cohort. Selected through a competitive application process, these ten Fellows represent emerging documentary filmmakers with a variety of professional backgrounds and at different stages of their current documentaries-in-progress. 

Over eight months Fellows participate as a cohort in a series of monthly facilitated meetings where they come together to:

  • Share progress with their projects and hold each other accountable for progress towards their current projects
  • Get feedback/advice on portions of their documentary or the landscape from their peers
  • Participate in interactive workshops from guest speakers on topics like work/life balance, creating a great team, and the creative process

Fellows also build community through various field trips to places like the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and various production firms or programs in the Washington, DC area. It is funded through National Endowment for the Arts and Art Works grants.

Past Fellows have included both first-time and more seasoned filmmakers and both those who make a living in the world of media and those who are working on a labor of love in addition to another career. We have welcomed projects at all stages of development -- from pre-production to production to post-production to completed films beginning the distribution phase. Projects have ranged in topic from the global to the local, from social issue exposes to personal documentaries, from feature length documentaries to trans-media projects.

When reviewing applications for the Fellowship, we look at both the individual applicant and how they will fit in to the group. We want to see that the filmmaker has a solid idea he or she would like to develop, specific goals for how the Fellowship will help at this stage, and a willingness to open up to give and get feedback from peers. This is less a training program than it is an incubator and a cohort where peer-centered discussion is at the forefront.

Benefits to Fellows

The benefits of participating in this fellowship include: 

  • Accountability: By setting realistic goals for progress and having monthly check-in sessions with the facilitator and other participants, Fellows are more likely to make significant progress with their films than going it alone. 
  • Expertise from seasoned documentary industry professionals who come as guest presenters on topics ranging from work/life balance to time management to getting control of your story. 
  • A professional development voucher which can be applied to a one-day or one-evening Docs In Progress program during the course of their Fellowship.  This could be used towards registration for a one day or one night workshop or Peer Pitch. 
  • A 60-minute consultation with Executive Director Erica Ginsberg about their work-in-progress.  This may focus on mentoring to help get a project ready to apply for a work-in-progress screening, Fiscal Sponsorship, or on questions related to structural development, fundraising, or outreach. 
  • Featured as a Fellow on the Docs In Progress website, including a photo and information about the work-in-progress. 
  • Exclusive networking opportunities with past Fellows as part of our larger Fellowship network. 

Impact

More than half of the films that start the program have been finished as part of this cohort. One film in particular: Indivisible, has played in more than 25 film festivals across the country and have received distribution rights. Nearly a dozen filmmakers who had been taking 10 or 15 years to make their film were able to finish and get past the roadblocks that were keeping them from telling their stories. Here's what one filmmaker was able to say in the first cohort: 

"I was able to find my voice as a filmmaker as a result of this Fellowship." Rouane Itani, 2013 Fellow, Director/Producer of Madame Parlamentarian

Here's an excerpt from a blog post written by a 2015 Fellow:

Saaret Yoseph, 2015 Fellow, Director/Producer of iEthopia: the Round Trip

"I learned to find inspiration and renewed purpose in my side projects, and ease my anxieties about my project, by asking myself some important questions. I held tight to good quotes from a few guest speakers and applied them like salve to my creative process:

Your approach is you and you are your motivation. What are you driving towards? -- Kathryn Washington, Director of Diversity & Innovation, Corporation for Public Broadcasting
A film that exists inside your head is incomprehensible to the world. -- Nina Seavey, documentary filmmaker /Director of The Documentary Center at the George Washington University

I will definitely miss the structure and support of the Docs in Progress program, as well as the opportunity to collect these calming voices to supplant the doubts in my head."