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

#ITVSSXSW: A Preview

By Elisabeth Copper
ITVS Social Media Manager, @eacopper

altthumbITVS is packing up and heading out to Austin for what is going to be our busiest and most memorable SXSW yet! We’ll be in the Lone Star state on Thursday to meet with filmmakers, innovators, and storytellers, as well as eat some BBQ… lots and lots of BBQ.

If you have a film or interactive badge, you won’t want to miss the first of our Saturday panels, “New Narratives: Building an Interactive Storyworld.”  ITVS, Murmur, Storycode, and Ted Hope will be on hand to discuss the emerging genre of interactive narrative film, as well as provide attendees with ways to create immersive storyworlds.

Our second Saturday session, “Meet the Insiders: Funding and Special Organizations,” will provide independent filmmakers with a plan of action to help get their passion projects funded. Expert panelists – featuring Independent Lens Series Producer Lois Vossen and ITVS Senior VP of Content Jim Sommers – will present best practices when trying to get your project off the ground, review funding options, and shed light on what makes a funding proposal really stand out.

For filmmakers in town on Monday, don’t miss the chance to join Vossen at the “Meet the Mentors: Distribution, Documentary” event. She will be on hand to give advice and answer your questions about distribution for documentary films.

The ITVS crew will be around for the duration of the festival, so if you see us at the SXSW Film Opening Party or chowing down at Stubbs, make sure you stop by and join in on the fun. We’ll be sharing all things Austin on Instagram and Twitter, so if you aren’t already, be sure to give us a follow!

Celebrate Women’s History Month with #SheDocs!

March kicks off the second annual #SheDocs, an online film festival showcasing 12 documentaries highlighting extraordinary women and their accomplishments in celebration of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. The festival is presented by ITVS’s Women and Girls Lead campaign and sponsored by Eileen Fisher, Inc.

Female protagonists in film are few and far between. According to the Annenberg Public Policy Center, women have been consistently underrepresented as main characters for at least six decades. In 2013, females accounted for only 33% of all characters in the top 100 grossing films and only 11% featured women in leadership positions.

Women and Girls Lead is proud to combat these gender stereotypes and misrepresentations with the second annual #SheDocs online film festival, a collection of 12 documentaries highlighting extraordinary women working to close the gender gap and fight inequality. This month-long, free event presents films by prominent independent filmmakers and shines a spotlight on women who are working to transform their lives, their communities, and the world. Continue reading

Fundraising in a New Media Landscape: Three Lessons From Sundance

This year, three ITVS-supported films premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris showcased both his feature film and transmedia project as a part of New Frontier, a program that showcases multi-media storytelling. These projects inspired ITVS to create a panel focusing on the challenges of fundraising for documentary and transmedia projects.

Kamal Sinclair, Sr. Manager Sundance New Frontier Story Lab; Jim Sommers, Sr. Vice President of Content at ITVS; N'Jeri Eaton, Programming Manager at ITVS; Thomas Allen Harris, Through A Lens Darkly and Digital Diaspora Family Reunion; Shukree Tilghman, More Than A Month and More Than A Mapp app; Kay Shaw, Director of Public Media Corps at NBPC

Pictured (L-R): Kamal Sinclair, Sr. Manager Sundance New Frontier Story Lab; Jim Sommers, Senior Vice President of Content at ITVS; N’Jeri Eaton, Programming Manager at ITVS; Thomas Allen Harris, Through A Lens Darkly and Digital Diaspora Family Reunion; Shukree Tilghman, More Than A Month and More Than A Mapp app; Kay Shaw, Director of Public Media Corps at NBPC

The panel marked ITVS’s first event with the Blackhouse Foundation. For the last seven years, Blackhouse has held a venue at the Sundance Film Festival as a place that both celebrates Black cinema and provides networking opportunities for filmmakers.

The panel was packed with experts in the field who could speak specifically to the challenges facing filmmakers. Panelists included Director of Public Media Corps Kay Shaw from the National Black Programming Consortia; Senior Manager Kamal Sinclair from the Sundance New Frontier Story Lab; filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris of Through a Lens Darkly and its transmedia component Digital Diaspora Family  Reunion, and myself.  The panel was moderated by filmmaker Shukree Tilghman, who also went through the film/transmedia funding gauntlet with his film More Than A Month and the related phone app More Than A Mapp. 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

Vote for ITVS with the SXSW Panel Picker!

Public voting for SXSW Interactive 2014 is well underway. Check out ITVS’s two panel proposals and vote for your favorites – hurry, voting closes September 6th!

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ITVS is proud to to be part of two proposed panel discussions for next year’s SXSW festival in Austin. We may be biased but we think both our panels are very worthy of inclusion in SXSW programming, and we could use your vote. So sign up and give us a thumb’s up!

First off is the “New Narratives: Building An Interactive Storyworld” panel that ITVS and some of our partners (Storycode, San Francisco Film Society) are doing around interactive fiction film (e.g. the new Futurestates, some upcoming hackathons, etc.), its emergence as a new and untapped genre, and why it’s important for feature makers.

“This is such an exciting time to be working in digital content – interactive documentaries are everywhere, changing people’s notions of how to tell a story,” says Karim Ahmad, Senior Programming Manager at ITVS. “But when you think about the implications of these new platforms for fictional storyworlds, the possibilities are literally limitless. What does an interactive fictional film or web series look like? How do you build one? Why would you even want to build one? These are all the things we’re going to explore in our panel.” Continue reading

ITVS Backs Award at the 2013 Pixel Market

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ITVS and Power to the Pixel (PttP) announce the ITVS Impact Pixel Market prize for the best social impact project.

ITVS is excited to partner with this year’s Pixel Market in launching a new award for the best social impact project. Over $4,500 (£3,000) in development funding will be awarded to the winning fiction or non-fiction project that makes a significant social impact.

The Pixel Market lies at the heart of PttP’s Cross-Media Forum, now in its seventh year, which covers the latest trends in audience behavior and new business models in the international marketplace.

The Cross-Media Forum will take place October 15 through 18, 2013 in association with the 57th BFI London Film Festival. The four-day event incorporates a conference, a think tank, and The Pixel Market, a two-day finance and co-production market.

The deadline for entries to the market and eligibility for the ITVS Impact Pixel Market Prize is August 1, 2013.

To learn more about The Pixel Market and Power to the Pixel’s Cross-Media Forum, please click here.

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.

Four ITVS Programs Nominated for Imagen Awards

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Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, Mariachi High, Precious Knowledge, and Tales of Masked Men were the ITVS programs recognized with nominations for the 28th annual Imagen Awards.

Administered by the Imagen Foundation, the Imagen Awards aim to recognize and reward positive portrayals of Latinos in all forms of media, as well as to encourage and recognize the achievements of Latinos in the entertainment and communications industries.

A panel of entertainment industry executives and Latino community leaders select the winners for each category. The awards will be presented on Friday, August 16 at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles, CA and will be aired as a one-hour special on PBS SoCal. Continue reading

LA Film Festival and ITVS Presents: Brothers Hypnotic

The 2013 Los Angeles Film Festival, June 13-23 at L.A. LIVE, will screen a diverse slate of nearly 200 feature films, shorts, music videos, and documentaries from around the world.  Don’t miss 10 days and 11 nights of red carpet premieres, conversations, live music, free outdoor screenings, and films from around the world.  

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Filmmaker Reuben Atlas’ upcoming Independent Lens documentary, Brothers Hypnotic, will screen on Sunday, June 16th and Wednesday, June 19th as part of the Los Angeles Film Festival, co-presented by ITVS.

Some of the most energetic, riveting, and symphonic sounds in jazz today emanate from the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. The band, consisting of eight brothers–all sons of jazz legend Phil Cohran–who were raised on Chicago’s South Side and have been practicing as a family since they were kids.

Whether playing on the streets of New York City or performing alongside Prince, when the brothers raise their horns, they create a music that looms large in the imagination. As the brothers come of age on the world’s stage, brotherhood becomes more than just a biological fact. It becomes an ideal, even when it clashes with their future dreams. Continue reading