Author Archives: docuphile

About docuphile

Karen Cirillo is a programmer and content consultant specializing in non-fiction film and video. She is the founder and programmer of Doxita, a traveling festival of short documentaries, and was shorts programmer for the True/False Film Festival. She has programmed and advised for Silverdocs, IFP, Human Rights Watch, Margaret Mead Film Festival, Duke University Screen Society, the Aurora Picture Show and Full Frame. She worked at UNICEF for 12 years in program communications, serving as the Executive Producer of Children's Broadcasting Initiatives. She also was the global coordinator of the OneMintuesJr. initiative and conducted video workshops with young people in 25 countries around the world.

The State of the Short? (Part 2: $)

docnyc2So you made a short documentary – now what? Who’s going to pay you for it?  Or, you have a great idea for a short – who can you get to pay you to make it?

DOCNYC’s “All About the Short” day of panels included discussions of content, style, and new platform possibilities, but the audiences displayed the most hunger for information surrounding how to get paid for short documentaries.  The second panel of the day (“Who’s Buying?”) focused on this issue, although the subject was also raised during the general panel.  People are clearly interested in how to leverage this new zeitgeist of short filmmaking and what options exist for funding.

“Who’s Buying?,”moderated by director/producer Trish Dalton, presented the perspectives of folks in the corporate, online sphere – Sarah Lash (Acquisitions) and Jed Weintrob (VP Production) for Conde Nast and Dan Silver (Director of Development) and Andrew Jenks (filmmaker) for ESPN.

I never would have expected that the most creative approach to short docs would be coming from ESPN, but Silver impressed me with his interest in finding good stories and collaborating with filmmakers.  ESPN has gained recognition for its 30 for30 series.  While one might write off the ESPN avenue as being only for popular sports, he indicated that they’re interested in all sports (even something obscure or amateur) and are also developing data-driven films (for 538) and pop culture films (for Grantland).  Most important for him were story and execution.  And passion.  “I’m interested in giving people starts, to nurture filmmaking.”  They don’t buy short documentaries so much, but produce and distribute a lot.  “We collaborate with filmmakers to see what the project is together.”

 

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The State of the Short? (Part 1)

docnyc1

Image: Bob Sascha

DOCNYC has expanded their panel lineups this year and I was excited to see that they were devoting a day to short documentaries: “All About the Short.” I’ve been focusing on short documentaries for a while now in my programming.*  I love the short form for its capacity to break new boundaries, to experiment with form, to be able to live outside the art vs. social impact mode that features sometimes get stuck in.  So I’m always pleased to see more attention being given to short films, especially if it means there are more opportunities to watch them and ANY opportunity for filmmakers to actually get paid for their work.  But the first two panels of the day gave me pause about the state of short non-fiction filmmaking and the market it lives in today: it seems to be all about “content” for websites – there was very little talk about artistic approach (and seemingly little interest from the audience either).  I am thrilled that the market is expanding for a form I’ve always championed, but does it have consequences for the form as an artistic endeavor?  And is it elitist to be concerned about that?  After all, I’m not the one worrying about getting paid.

First up was “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Short Filmmaking But Were Afraid to Ask.” The panel, moderated by Jessica Edwards (short filmmaker, producer and writer of Tell Me Something), included two filmmakers (Heidi Ewing and Lucy Walker) who are known for their feature films but have also made many shorts and two people in producer/acquisitions roles (Adnaan Wasey, POV Digital, and Jeff Seelbach, AJ+). Continue reading

Art or Agenda? Documentary discussion at Codes & Modes

What is documentary culture?  Hunter College’s Integrated Media Arts MFA Program held the conference Codes and Modes: The Character of Documentary Culture the last weekend to unwrap that question.  On my mind a lot these days is the question of art vs. social impact – can they exist simultaneously?  Do they need to?  Why are they expected to?  So I was interested to see the panel Documentary Film: Art or Agenda?  Competing Paradigms in the World of Non-Fiction Film.  Panels have been tackling the same question at film festivals and industry conferences, but this academic approach enlisted filmmakers and producers instead of funders. The panel included Whitney Dow (filmmaker, Two Towns of Jasper, Unfinished Country, the Whiteness Project), Jennie Livingston (filmmaker, Paris is Burning, Earth Camp One), Joslyn Barnes (producer, Bamako, Trouble the Water, Black Power Mixtape) and Jonathan Oppenheim (editor, Paris is Burning, Children Underground, William and the Windmill) and was moderated by Julia Haslett (assistant professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, filmmaker, An Encounter with Simone Weil).

There’s never really enough time to deal deeply with this core question (or answer it…but is there even an answer?), but a lot of very interesting thoughts were posed.

So what is documentary?
Livingston agrees with Michael Moore that she doesn’t like the word “documentary,” and prefers “non-fiction.”  She sees it as taking reality and making a structure around it.  “We’re not dealing with real life; we’re dealing with fragments that are shaped by someone’s mind.”  When thinking about reality, she notes that when you watch a really good fiction film, it feels real but ironically, when we think of documentary, we think of documenting reality, when filmmakers are really just taking real life and creating a fake structure around it.
Oppenheim agreed and sees himself as taking fragments of real life to create a tableau of human experience.
Whitney Dow sees documentary as the process of understanding his place in the world that he’s observing.  “I don’t have answers when I start, I don’t have an agenda.  I start out with a set of questions.” Continue reading

What is a “docuphile”?

A “docuphile” is the lover of all thing documentary.  A lover of reality.  In essence, a lover of the world that surrounds us.  I believe knowing more about the world around us makes us better human beings.

I’ve been working as a programmer and consultant specializing in non-fiction film and video for almost twenty years.  When I started my company, Docuphile Media, I was inspired by the excitement I felt when landing in another person’s shoes, or being allowed the opportunity to glimpse into another life.  Documentaries (in all forms) teach us so much about the world landscape, both on a global level and a personal level.   It’s amazing what we’re able to experience visually, sonically and emotionally through the documentary form.

(This idea can in some ways become dangerous, when we start assigning “worth” to documentary films or feeling like they need to teach us something.  I think this is going backwards for both makers and viewers alike, but I’ll be exploring this idea in more detail going forward.  It’s a question that artists have long been grappling with, and one that is maintaining a strong presence in the documentary field presently.)

But I also think we can learn just as much through other forms of creative practices.  How many times have we learned about a political situation in another country or gone behind the curtain into a private culture through a novel or a fiction film – where fictitious characters take us on a journey that exposes us to things we might not find in the newspaper (or find difficult to follow in a more journalistic way).  In university, I studied American Social and Cultural Studies – looking at American history not only through the traditional history and politics lens, but also through literature, sociology, cinema and arts.

I believe there’s incredible opportunity for learning and understanding at the intersection of media, arts and cultures (as in “the beliefs, customs, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time,” not “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively”).

Exposure only gives us more opportunity to contemplate and analyze what is not directly in our sphere of being. I believe this fuels creativity and growth potential. Technology has opened the world to us, and while it can keep us from fully experiencing life, it also has the capacity to make the world smaller.  I’m interested in how all these things – media, storytelling, technology, art, societies – can influence positive social transformation.

– Karen Cirillo