Hacking Story at ITVS

By Karim Ahmad
ITVS Senior Digital Content Strategist, @the_karachi_kid

ITVS recently hosted four producer teams who were greenlit by the organization’s newly developed ITVS Storylab initiative. These producer teams met with ITVS staff and external mentors to gain intensive consultation in the areas of story development, user experience mechanics, and producing multi-platform content. 

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In early April, ITVS rekindled its love affair with the hackathon. And while we’ve hosted hackathons before, this was something different. This time, we weren’t coding anything. We were hacking story. Not a totally new concept, our process was inspired by our good friends at StoryCode, who’ve run a couple story hackathons in the past – events borrowing from the software development world’s rapid prototyping process to create digital multi-platform stories at breakneck pace. And that’s exactly what we did. We selected a handful of immensely talented indie storytellers with ideas for immersive webseries concepts, and locked them in a room for two days to conceptualize, scope, and paper prototype them for ITVS.

And why? To answer that, let me back up a few steps.

Call it what you like – immersive storytelling, cross-platform, cross-media, or the now-seemingly-dreaded “T-word” (aka transmedia) – if you’ve had a conversation with me about it in the last couple years, you know I have a real obsession with it’s applications to creating impactful and artistic fictional storyworlds. Interactive docs are awesome. But as I said at our recent SXSW panel on the very same subject, i-docs are officially everywhere – including here at ITVS – but if you ask me, the real wild west of transmedia storytelling right now is in fiction.

Look at most narrative webseries and you’ll find they mimic a broadcast paradigm – either the episodic serial or the anthology, like FUTURESTATES. And while I love these stories, I’ve long felt that the new opportunity with web series is to create one that doesn’t feel like a broadcast series – one that really unleashes the user experience potential of web to tell a nonlinear story in serialized form. Our upcoming and final season of the FUTURESTATES series is exactly that. The first act of this narrative is unfolding right now on Twitter and Tumblr. And on May 14, 2014, we’re taking it to a whole new level. It’s a multi-platform futuristic mystery, with you at the center of it all. Stay tuned, you won’t want miss it. Continue reading

In Loving Memory of Patrick Baroch

We have lost a beloved colleague and a dear friend. Patrick Baroch, ITVS’s National Engagement Consultant in Seattle, passed away last week in Port Orchard, Washington.

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The loss to ITVS and the world-at-large is immeasurable. In his role organizing Community Cinema screenings in the Pacific Northwest for the past nine years, Patrick cultivated a vibrant community of partners who collaborated with him to present memorable events that left a lasting impact on those who participated. Beyond his work in the Northwest, Patrick guided and supported 20 other ITVS partner organizations across the country in producing local engagement activities inspired by our documentaries. He approached his work with creative zeal, warmth, intelligence, and humor. Words cannot express how much he will be missed. Continue reading

Diversity Development Fund Announces New Projects

ITVS has announced the eight documentary projects selected as part of the 2013 Diversity Development Fund, a funding initiative that provides research and development funding to producers of color to develop single documentary programs for public television. 

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This year’s selections provide extraordinary access and insight into the daily lives and struggles of people around the world, from Navajo railroad workers in the U.S. to an interracial punk band during the height of apartheid in South Africa.

The productions were selected through a competitive application process, which resulted in 114 submissions.

Check out the complete list of funded projects after the jump. Continue reading

ITVS Celebrates Native American Heritage Month

ITVS and PBS offer viewers the opportunity to explore the rich and vibrant history and cultural contributions of Native Americans throughout the year, but this November offers a special slate of new and encore programs in honor of Native American Heritage Month.

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This November, Independent Lens is shining a spotlight on Native American culture with two new films. Premiering Monday, November 18th, Indian Relay documents an unheralded aspect of modern-day Native American life and what it takes to win one of the more exciting forms of horse racing. From the bitter cold of winter to the heat of summer, this lively documentary follows teams from three different tribes as they compete across a grueling season. Then on November 25th, Young Lakota takes viewers to South Dakota, where abortion politics bring political turmoil to the doorstep on the Pine Ridge Reservation and three young idealists, along with the tribe’s first female president, must decide how far they will go to change politics.

Throughout the month, Community Cinema and Women and Girls Lead continues to celebrate Native American Heritage Month by showcasing additional films featuring outstanding women leaders. These documentaries are available on PBS Video and additional online screenings will be offered using OVEE – the social screening platform for watching PBS content and engaging in meaningful discussions around films. Continue reading

Submit Your Film to Independent Lens!

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Independent Lens is currently seeking submissions of films in advanced rough cut or fine cut stage or completed films to broadcast during the October 2014 – June 2015 season. To learn more about eligibility, what we’re looking for, and to complete our online submission form go to www.ilsubmissions.org.

Any questions? Feel free to drop a line to ILsubmissions@itvs.org.

Independent Lens and ITVS Receive Eight News and Documentary Emmy Nominations

The News and Documentary Emmy nominations are in and several Independent Lens docs and ITVS-funded films have been recognized by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

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Danfung Dennis’ Hell and Back Again — which had previously been nominated for an Oscar — was nominated for a Best Documentary Emmy. The film intimately traces a Marine’s rough re-landing back Stateside after a stint in Afghanistan.

Brad Lichtenstein’s film As Goes Janesville, about how the recession hit a Wisconsin town and what it says about the American Dream, is nominated in the Outstanding Investigative Journalism Long Form category.

David Weissman’s We Were Here, which movingly looked back at how the AIDS epidemic both ravaged San Francisco but also brought it together in inspiring ways, was nominated for Outstanding Historical Programming Long Form.

Aaron Schock’s Circo, which follows a Mexican circus family struggling to maintain their way of life in a rough economy, was nominated in the Outstanding Arts & Culture Programming category.

“We congratulate all the filmmakers nominated today,” said Lois Vossen, Independent Lens Senior Series Producer. “The extraordinary quality of their work demonstrates again the unique and vital role that independent documentarians play as journalists, going behind the headlines to delve deeper into the most important issues of our time.”

We’re also proud that ITVS-funded documentaries for PBS’s POV series, including Give Up Tomorrow (directed by Michael Collins) and Granito: How to Nail a Dictator (directed by Pamela Yates), received Emmy recognition as well, nominated in the Outstanding Investigative Journalism Long Form category; while the ITVS-funded Frontline film The Interrupters (directed by Hoop Dreams filmmaker Steve James) was nominated for Outstanding Informational Programming and Outstanding Editing.

Click here for the entire list of nominations for the 34th Annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards.

Mourning the Loss of Robert West

We deeply regret to announce the death of Robert West, who passed away peacefully in his home Thursday morning.

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Robert has been part of the ITVS family since the late 1990’s, when he worked as an Outreach Coordinator for the later-branded Community Cinema program. During the years that Robert was a part of the ITVS enterprise, he brought a level of commitment and sophistication to the art of community engagement – or as he later dubbed it “reel engagement.” Those of us who had the great pleasure of working with Robert during those years saw firsthand his deep commitment to supporting social issue documentaries and connecting people and organizations in a way that resulted in creating real change. Although he moved on to co-found his own organization, Working Films, Robert always remained involved in the ITVS mission, often assisting staff and filmmakers on various projects over the years.

Robert has been a visionary and a leader in the intersections of media and public engagement. Last fall, he was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM), an aggressive and terminal brain cancer. We at ITVS and Independent Lens, along with countless colleagues who have been beneficiaries of his work, were devastated by the news. Not surprisingly, in the months since then, Robert earned our even deeper admiration for the dignity, humor, and grit he has shown. Someone wise once wrote, “A vision without a task is but a dream. A task without a dream is drudgery. But dreams and tasks together are the hope of the world.” Robert epitomized “the hope of the world” through his courage, his actions, and his contributions – back in the day at ITVS, Working Films, and with all the films and filmmakers he has helped. Continue reading

ITVS Responds to The New Yorker article on Park Avenue and Citizen Koch

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In the past week, The New Yorker published an article drawing a connection between corporate influence and freedom of expression that has generated a flurry of press coverage.

ITVS appreciates the scrutiny of the important issue of corporate influence on public broadcasting, and indeed on media in general. As a majority-publicly-funded institution, a rarity even within public broadcasting, ITVS has long been proud of our ability to act independently of corporate and government influence.

Our history of providing top-flight journalism among the rich mix of films we help bring to public broadcasting often puts us in the position of taking on powerful stakeholders. Viewers depend on ITVS-funded filmmakers for the high-quality independent documentaries that appear on our signature TV series Independent Lens and on other PBS series including POV, Frontline, and American Masters.

We treasure our relationship with our viewers, with public broadcasting, and our many other community and NGO partners. Above all, we hold dear our relationships with independent producers and deeply respect the courage and tenacity it takes to tell authentic, compelling stories that inform and connect citizens in a noisy 21st century media space.

As a matter of policy, ITVS respects the privacy of filmmakers and our negotiations. We therefore declined an interview request from The New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer for a May 20, 2013 article she was framing around two documentaries with storylines on David H. Koch. In the days after its publication, we continued to decline interview requests from other outlets.

ITVS now believes the rising flow of misinformation surrounding Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream and Citizen Koch requires public exposure of the facts. We believe these facts demonstrate our commitment to the creative vision of filmmakers, independent journalistic documentaries, and diverse perspectives on issues that are critical for our American democracy and culture.

Here are the facts:

  • ITVS not only supports but also seeks out and funds hard-hitting journalistic documentaries on timely and important issues. ITVS funded and shepherded to Independent Lens in the current season alone award-winning films such as Park Avenue, The House I Live In, The Invisible War, and As Goes Janesville. The quality of Independent Lens programs is reflected in 10 Peabody awards and seven Emmys for the series, which is co-curated with PBS.
  • ITVS funded Alex Gibney’s film Park Avenue, and Independent Lens senior series producer Lois Vossen worked closely with him, per standard protocol, to meet PBS editorial standards and have the film broadcast on PBS.
  • In April 2012, ITVS sent filmmakers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal a standard letter inviting them to begin negotiations for production license funding from ITVS based on their written proposal. Communications between the filmmakers and ITVS continued until April 2013, well beyond the Park Avenue broadcast on November 12, 2012.
  • ITVS initially recommended the film Citizen Corp for production licensing based on a written proposal. Early cuts of the film, including the Sundance version, did not reflect the proposal, however, and ITVS eventually withdrew its offer of a production agreement to acquire public television exhibition rights. The film was neither contracted nor funded.
  • ITVS has worked with thousands of independent filmmakers since our inception. We are committed to supporting the creative vision of filmmakers and respectfully acknowledge that their creative process will bring forth films that no longer reflect the original proposal on which ITVS based its funding recommendation. Filmmakers sometimes choose a new path during the negotiations of the ITVS production agreement as other financial, distribution, and editorial opportunities arise. In the case of the proposed project Citizen Corp (later retitled Citizen Koch), the filmmakers’ shift in editorial direction from the written proposal during the negotiation window led ITVS to cease negotiations.
  • ITVS works hard to shepherd programs en route to broadcast, but it has no authority over the national or local public television schedule. Neither ITVS nor Independent Lens confirmed a broadcast slot for Citizen Corp.
  • ITVS did not attach its name to Citizen Koch at Sundance Film Festival because a production licensing agreement had not been executed.
  • ITVS did not share a cut of Citizen Koch to PBS or any public television station because the film was never contracted by ITVS. The filmmakers continue to control distribution of their film.

Public broadcasting is a complex set of mostly independently operating entities, including PBS, broadcast stations, and a variety of producing organizations. ITVS is unique in this ecosystem. We hope the important conversation about corporate influence will continue, within not only public broadcasting but also the broader media, and stay grounded in facts and substance.

ITVS Names Claire Aguilar as Executive Content Advisor

ITVS is happy to announce that Vice President of Programming Claire Aguilar has been named Executive Content Advisor.

In this new consulting role, Claire will provide high-level, portfolio analysis and content feedback under the direction of Jim Sommers, Senior Vice President of Content and head of ITVS’ Content Strategy Team. With a focus on recommending content for ITVS International and selected public television series, Claire will also continue to co-curate programming for Independent Lens.

Previously, Claire served as head of ITVS’s programming department. She joined the organization in 2000 from public television station KCET/Los Angeles, where she programmed the station’s schedule and managed programming acquisitions. Earlier in her career, Claire worked as a film programmer at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, one of the leading exhibition venues for international documentary and classic Hollywood films. She has served as a programming consultant and panelist for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Rockefeller Foundation, the NEA, the Pew Fellowships in the Arts, and many other media and funding organizations. She has also led and participated in film juries for IDFA, Sheffield Doc/Fest, Silverdocs and Visions du Réel. Claire holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications Studies and a Master of Arts in Film and Television Studies from UCLA. She serves on the board of Women Make Movies, STEPS International, and the EURODOC Steering Committee.

For more information, please click here.

A Very Merry DDF Announcement

ITVS has announced the eleven documentary projects selected as part of the 2012 Diversity Development FundThis year’s selections provide extraordinary access and insight into the daily lives and struggles of people around the world, from female parliament members in Afghanistan to the bicycle brigade formed by feminist women of color in East Los Angeles.

The productions were selected through a competitive application process, which resulted in 120 submissions.

Check out the complete list of funded projects after the jump. Continue reading