Last Friday, which in internet years is long, long ago, I ran in the rain to The Paley Center to check out Doc U: Global Impact - Docs as Tools of Change. The panel, moderated by International Documentary Association (IDA) Executive Director, Milton Tabbot, was brought to the center by way of IDA and the Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP). The evening addressed how filmmakers can utilize resources available through the U.S. State Department and The United Nations.
Although the U.S. State Department recognizes particular documentaries, through the the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts' American Film Showcase, there is not an application process for filmmakers to submit their films for consideration. From what I got out of it, they choose the documentaries and approach the filmmakers. If you're a filmmaker with a high quality film that's an emotionally engaging American story, you have nothing to worry about though. They'll find you. They want to share these stories as a cultural exchange.
Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of State, American Film Showcase sends delegations of U.S. filmmakers to foreign communities to conduct workshops on developing documentaries along with screenings of their film. As Program Administrator of American Film Showcase at USC, Rachel Gandin Mark said, they play match-maker by bringing together chosen films with carefully chosen countries.
She sited the example of Anne Makepeace's film (who was also a fellow panelist at this event) We Still Live Here, about the Native American Wampanoag's modern day revival of their original culture and language. Through the American Film Showcase, Ms. Makepeace screened her film, along with other team members in the program, for audiences in other countries where their cultural identity had been stripped away by another population. These screenings of American films work in other countries because they effectively encompass commonalities that go beyond the American experience.
Ms. Gandin Mark also noted that The Interrupters, a story about "violence interrupters" trying to protect their Chicago communities. This film did very well in certain towns and cities in Mexico where gang and drug activity is high. So match-making is key, but when done right, it obviously has potential for sparking real dialogue and broaden understanding across the globe.
Stacy White, Foreign Service Officer at the State Department’s Cultural Programs Division was also on the panel and talked about their wide range of cultural exchange programs covering many artist mediums in addition to films through American Film Showcase. To check out their programs and grant opportunities, visit exchanges.state.gov
Carlos Islam from United Nations Creative Community Outreach initiative was another panelist last Friday night to speak about the resources available to filmmakers through the UN. IFP's partnership with The United Nations' Department of Public Information resulted in the ENVISION program, which has been going on for several years now. I've attended two of these ENVISION events, which are usually held over the course of a few days. Films like Waiting for Superman, A Small Act and their filmmakers have been screened at ENVISION along with panels of NGO's and other organizations that have worked with the films to enhance impact. At these events filmmakers can meet United Nations and non-profit representatives and learn more about these types of partnerships. ENVISION seeks bring the efforts of NGOs, diplomatic efforts, and filmmakers together in order to utilize documentary film as social change and outreach agents.
To close this informative event, I must say, The Paley Center puts on a nice reception. Audience members and panelists hung out and continued the conversation. Great evening and worth running in the rain to get to.
If you're interested in other documentary panels but can't make it to them in person, IDA has recently launched Doc U Online for its members.