ITVS heads to Austin for SXSW ’16


By Elisabeth Copper, @eacopper

Sr. Manager, Social Media

Can you believe it’s almost time to head to Austin for SXSW? It feels like just yesterday we were filling up on Torchy’s Tacos and partying with PBS at the Parish. We’ll be back in town this Friday to support our funded films, participate in panels, and keep tabs on what’s new and exciting in the film and tech world. If you’ll be joining us in the Lone Star State, here’s where we’ll be. Come say hi!

Film Screenings

If you have a Film, Gold, or Platinum badge, don’t miss these three ITVS-funded documentaries screening at the film festival this week.


Filmed over the course of nearly three years, the filmmakers use unique access and never before heard testimonies to tell a story of the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting of schoolchildren in American history. Newtown documents a traumatized community fractured by grief and driven toward a sense of purpose. Joining the ranks of a growing club to which no one wants to belong, a cast of characters interconnect to weave an intimate story of community resilience.


On August 1st, 1966, a sniper rode the elevator to the top floor of the University of Texas Tower and opened fire, holding the campus hostage for 96 minutes. When the gunshots were finally silenced, the toll included 16 dead, three dozen wounded, and a shaken nation left trying to understand. Combining archival footage with rotoscopic animation in a dynamic, never-before-seen way, TOWER reveals the action-packed untold stories of the witnesses, heroes and survivors of America’s first mass school shooting, when the worst in one man brought out the best in so many others.


From 2011 to 2015, hundreds of regulations were passed restricting access to abortion in the US. Reproductive rights advocates refer to these as “TRAP” laws – Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. Southern clinics, in particular, have been hit hardest and are now in a fight for survival. Trapped interweaves the personal stories behind these regulatory battles: from the physician, to the clinic owners, to the lawyers, to the women they are determined to help. In this feature length character driven film, our main characters fight alongside dedicated attorneys to preserve abortion rights in a country living with the mistaken belief that Roe v Wade still protects a woman’s right to choose.

Ovarian Psycos

Riding at night through the dangerous streets of Eastside Los Angeles, the Ovarian Psycos use their bikes to confront the violence in their lives. At the helm of the crew is founder Xela de la X, a single mother and poet M.C. dedicated to recruiting an unapologetic, misfit crew of women of color. The film intimately chronicles Xela as she struggles to strike a balance between her activism and nine year old daughter Yoli; street artist Andi who is estranged from her family and journeys to become a leader within the crew; and bright eyed recruit Evie, who despite poverty, and the concerns of her protective Salvadoran mother, discovers a newfound confidence.


Demystifying Digital Distribution

Thanks to the shift towards digital distribution, there’s more opportunity than ever for filmmakers to reach viewers and monetize their films. While video-on-demand has become an invaluable option, it also presents its own share of challenges. At this panel, industry experts Linzee Troubh, Scott Kaplan, Jason Kwong, and Flora Pereira will tell you what you need to know about launching titles on platforms such as Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon. They will provide an overview of the most common deal structures and windowing strategies, what factors distributors consider when negotiating a licensing deal, how much your rights are worth and which ones you should consider retaining or exploiting.

New Partnerships in Digital Storytelling

Are the futures of journalism and documentary intertwined? Filmmakers and journalists each play a vital role in informing the American public. While journalists excel at breaking news, filmmakers illuminate the personal, human stories behind the headlines. Doc film nonprofit ITVS presents, Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg of The Atlantic, Erika Cohn, director of the documentary In Football We Trust, and Lois Vossen, Executive Producer of the anthology documentary series Independent Lens on PBS, will discuss the challenges and opportunities of a new model of in-depth storytelling, and provide insight on how journalists and filmmakers can work together to strike up critical conversations.

Can’t make it to Austin this year? We’ll be capturing all of the madness on Twitter and Instagram so be sure to follow along!

Applying for the News & Documentary Emmy® Awards: What You Need to Know


Every year, the News & Documentary Emmy® Awards recognize outstanding achievement in broadcast journalism and documentary filmmaking, awarding their coveted statuette to the very best news reports and documentaries that have aired on national television or streamed over the Internet. This year marks the 37th Annual News & Documentary Emmy® Awards which are currently accepting submissions with a final entry deadline of April 14, 2016.

Last year, over 1,600 entries were received, which were winnowed down to 218 nominees, then 45 winners. Needless to say, the competition can be fierce, leading every producer to the question: how can I make my submission stand out? With this in mind, ITVS hosted a live conversation via our social screening platform OVEE earlier this week, featuring David Winn and Christine Chin who are, respectively, Senior Vice President and Director of the News & Documentary Emmy® Awards. Here’s a recap of some of the takeaways from that webinar:

How Are Submissions Judged?

Submissions are screened and judged throughout the months of May and June. Submission videos, ballots and judging instructions are delivered to judges who have two weeks to review the submissions and cast their ballots. Entries are judged online by panelists who are certified as peers. Each judge casts a secret ballot. Judges’ votes are not shared with other judges or with members of The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. They are tabulated by the accounting firm of Lutz and Carr.

What’s the 50% Rule?

A program needs to be available to 50% of U.S. television households in order to be considered a national broadcast. Over-the-air network broadcasts, as well as cable or satellite programming generally satisfy the “50% rule.” Recently, entries that have streamed online qualify, which opens up more opportunities for independent producers…yes, Virginia, YouTube counts!

Open to Innovation

In addition to the eligibility of online content, the News & Documentary Emmys include categories favorable to producers working outside of traditional broadcast formats. Three categories, deemed New Approaches, exist to recognize interactive, multimedia, and transmedia work. This year, a new category —Outstanding Short Documentary — has been added to recognize films that are 40 minutes or less in duration.

Put on Your Writing Cap

Obviously, the video sample that you submit is key to showcasing your talents, but don’t forget that the submissions essay is your chance to speak directly to the judges about the merits of your program. Be concise, serious, and substantive, avoiding marketing pitches or accolade listings. Stick to the guidelines and observe the 750 word count.

Don’t Double Dip

If you decide to submit your work to the News & Documentary Emmy® Awards competition, then you should not also submit to the Primetime or Sports Emmy® Awards. Do your homework first to determine which awards competition is the best fit for your program. Similarly, while you may apply to multiple News & Documentary categories, you may only apply to one Outstanding and one Best Of category (you can go crazy and apply to as many craft categories that may apply, though).

Follow Instructions!

The same rule that applies to acing the SAT and surviving IKEA furniture assembly should guide you well, here: FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS! Be sure to read the Rules & Procedures guide closely before preparing your submission. However, if you’re still stumped, David and Christine will gladly answer your questions (see the cover sheet of submissions guide for their contact info).

For additional tips on how to make your News & Documentary Emmy® Award submission the best it can be, watch the webinar recording, below. And if you’re interested in more filmmaker-focused webinars, including an upcoming presentation on the Primetime Emmy® Awards, follow us on Facebook or Twitter for more info!

ITVS Digital Open Call Now Accepting Submissions


ITVS is excited to announce its call for entries for the Digital Open Call. Now in its second year, the fund will support independent filmmakers in developing and piloting original web series for public media’s digital platforms, including, PBS-branded YouTube channels, and others. ITVS is thrilled to continue building a pipeline for producers to propose dynamic independent digital series projects for R&D and eventual production.

We seek web series that redefine the form and engage younger and more diverse viewership as we expand public media’s presence and mission into the digital sphere, with bold, unflinching, and innovative original storytelling that defies convention and tackles current and controversial issues. Applications for web series in any genre are eligible, and may incorporate interactive or transmedia elements.

The deadline to apply is May 2, 2016, and the online application is now live on the ITVS website, where prospective applicants can also learn more about eligibility and submission requirements. Selected applications will contract with ITVS to receive between $10,000 and $30,000 in R&D funding to develop and pilot their web series over the course of a three-month term.

Here are the four series projects we are proud to be supporting through the 2015 round of Digital Open Call:

Produced & directed by Michele Barnwell
Party Girls follows a group of young diverse women of varying personal, religious, and political beliefs, as they take a road trip together across America in the months leading up to the 2016 Presidential elections, engaging in the political process as voters for the first time in their lives.

Produced & directed by Garland McLaurin
Pops follows three African American men facing the toughest challenge of their lives: becoming good fathers. Their stories reflect the reality of black fathers in America, a role rarely portrayed and often stereotyped in the media.  

Produced & directed by Nicole Opper & Kristan Cassady
The F-Word will chronicle the challenging and sometimes comedic journey of Nicole and Kristan, a queer Bay Area couple, into the foster care system to become fost-adopt parents.

Produced & directed by Angela Tucker
African Americans are returning to the South in one of the most notable migrations of the new century. But in this moment where churches are being burnt to the ground and crimes against black people are rising at a startling rate, This series looks at this new phenomena and asks the question, “where is a good place to be black?”

For further questions or inquiries about the ITVS Digital Open Call, please contact Programming & Production Coordinator Clementine Briand, at

ITVS Funds Diverse Filmmakers Through Open Call

In its 25th year, ITVS is committed to open access, transparency, and diversity. In that spirit, ITVS is proud to release filmmaker statistics from our first round of Open Call funding in 2016. Over 300 filmmakers applied for ITVS’ Open Call; 48 percent were women and 40 percent were filmmakers of color. First-time applicants made up 42 percent of funded filmmakers, demonstrating our unique position of bringing new and diverse voices to the American public.


ITVS funds programs from all points of view that bring new audiences to public television and expand civic participation by delivering diverse voices into the public sphere. ITVS begins its next round of open call for funding in July of 2016. We look forward to finding new and compelling stories to share with our viewers.

How to Craft Competitive Work Samples to Get Your Film Funded

The deadline for Open Call is quickly approaching!  Before every deadline, we offer a series of webinars geared to help filmmakers become stronger applicants.

Last week, we held a webinar on creating competitive work samples.  We were joined by two incredibly skilled editors: Aaron Wickenden and Eileen Meyer.  Aaron has had a prolific career as a documentary editor (Finding Vivian Maier to The Interrupters) but fundraising for his own film was a whole new experience.  He shared the work sample for his film Almost There and talked about the difficulty of balancing the issues of outsider art and filmmaker-subject ethics in just ten minutes.

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Filmmaker Aaron Wickenden (Right)

And while Aaron was one of the editors of Best of Enemies, it was his co-editor Eileen who had the arduous task of creating multiple fundraising reels for the film.  And despite being helmed by an Oscar-winning director, they struggled at first to translate the film into a short work sample.  Watch their conversation as they talk about editing challenges and how to incorporate feedback.

Yesterday, we held our bi-annual Open Call Live Chat with N’Jeri Eaton (Content Development & Initiative Manager) and David Eisenberg (Associated Director of Production & Supervising Producer). Over 135 filmmakers attended to get their burning questions answered. If you’re still confused about what makes a strong treatment or what budget mistakes to avoid, watch the video below.

If you still want to learn more about writing the ITVS treatment or crafting a budget, be sure to check out the webinars that we have previously posted here.

The deadline for Open Call is this Friday at 4 pm PST. If you questions about Open Call, please email Programming Coordinator Alexandra Cantin (  To keep up to date about future webinars, be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Film Festival Strategies: What Every Filmmaker Needs to Know

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At a time of year when visions of sugar plums are dancing through the heads of many, filmmakers are making their festival wish lists and checking them twice. In anticipation, we recently held a webinar featuring Independent Lens Executive Producer Lois Vossen and the directors of the acclaimed documentary, Peace Officer, Brad Barber and Scott Christopherson. During this live conversation via our social platform OVEE, the panelists shared their thoughts and tips on how best to strategize and navigate the film festival circuit.

Here are a few of the takeaways that emerged:

Premiere Strategically

Top film festivals stake their reputations on premieres and will not screen your film if it’s already played at another major festival. Plan accordingly as you schedule your post production homestretch. Top U.S. festivals include: Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, True/False, Full Frame, AFI, Camden, and the Los Angeles Film Festival. For international premieres: Toronto Hot Docs, International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), and Sheffield.

Schmooze…You Can’t Lose

Film festival programmers and sales agents are always looking for great content. Attending festivals is the best way to meet these folks and build relationships…but don’t be afraid to cold call someone who might be a strong champion for your film. In following up, don’t be a pest, but be persistent if a contact has expressed genuine interest. Lastly, play nice: the documentary community is small, so don’t burn any bridges if someone says no to you. There may come a time when they could say yes.

(How to) Meet the Press

Public relations (PR) professionals can be key to getting your film on the radar of press. They’re also much better equipped to time press opportunities to support festival premieres, a theatrical release, or a broadcast when you’re in the middle of finishing your film. Once you know who your early fans are, create a list of everyone you meet who loves your film, then make sure to leverage those relationships to reach press and other influencers.

For additional tips on how a festival strategy can support your film, watch the webinar recording, below. And if you’re interested in more filmmaker-focused webinars, follow us on Facebook or Twitter for more info!


Big Night for ITVS Series and its Films at International Documentary Association Awards


The International Documentary Association (IDA) announced the winners of the 31st IDAs this weekend with ITVS receiving four IDA awards. This weekend’s honors brings the total number of IDA honors for ITVS to 21, including a third consecutive win for its acclaimed weekly series Independent Lens.

ITVS’ Independent Lens established a bona fide winning streak last night, sharing its Best Curated Series honors with POV. Independent Lens was previously awarded the 2013 International Documentary Association Best Continuing Series Award and the 2014 International Documentary Association Best Curated Series Award.

“ITVS is thrilled to see the work that we believe in so deeply, be recognized by the IDA, and we are proud to have played a role in their success.(T)ERROR, Best of Enemies and The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (nominated for for Best Feature) all show the changing face of America – on camera and off. Every day, our mission is to champion independent filmmakers who are working to tell the world’s untold stories. These filmmakers capture the lives of underrepresented people on film, then we help to make their stories accessible to everyone,” said ITVS President and CEO Sally Jo Fifer.

“We are particularly pleased that Independent Lens continues to be recognized and congratulate Lois Vossen and her Independent Lens team. We would also like to congratulate Gordon Quinn on his well-deserved Career Achievement Award. Gordon was integral to the creation of ITVS, leaving an important and lasting legacy around our mission of diversity and inclusion in the independent filmmaking community,” continued Fifer.

“Receiving the 2015 IDA Best Curated Series is a great honor and I am proud of my team at Independent Lens and the amazing filmmakers who contribute to the success of the program,” said Lois Vossen, executive producer of Independent Lens. “We are proud to be a part of ITVS and its mission to bring audiences face-to-face with the lives and concerns of their fellow Americans who are underrepresented in the media landscape today.”

The Emerging Documentary Filmmaker Award was given to filmmakers Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe for their work on the film (T)ERROR, which will air on Independent Lens February 22, 2016.

“In our film, we wanted to highlight what we consider a serious threat to the fabric of our democracy. ITVS’ generous support allowed us to have a strong platform to tell this story at a critical time in our country,” said Cabral and Sutcliffe. “It is an honor to be recognized by IDA with the 2015 Emerging Documentary Filmmaker Award.”

The acclaimed Best of Enemies (which will air on Independent Lens in the fall of 2016) was honored with two awards: Best Music for the original score by Jonathan Kirkscey; and the the ABC News VideoSource Award, which recognizes the best use of news footage in a documentary.

“We are both grateful to have received two awards tonight and want to thank ITVS for its generous support of Best of Enemies,” said Best of Enemies directors Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville. “Just as Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr.’s diverse points of views shaped television forever, ITVS’s mission of supporting diverse and independent filmmakers have helped shaped a generation of storytelling in this country.”

The full list of winners was published on Variety.

Applying for the Peabody Awards: What You Need to Know

Peabody Trophy

Every year, the Peabody Awards recognize those who excel in radio, television broadcasting, and online media in America. The judges review over a thousand documentary entries and only a select few are awarded the prestigious gold medallion. With such stiff competition, what makes a film stand out? Earlier this week we hosted a webinar featuring Dr. Nate Kohn and Matt Shedd of the George Foster Peabody Awards at the University of Georgia who gave us the inside scoop.


The Peabody Awards honor a diverse range of stories across radio, television, and digital media. To qualify, documentaries must have appeared online or on local or national television. Films with minor theatrical releases (art houses, indie theaters) are eligible but those with large-scale theatricals (Friday night release, available in 3k theaters nationwide) are considered major motion pictures and are disqualified.


When you upload your project for consideration, you’ll be asked to include a short essay. Don’t let this requirement scare you! You won’t be judged on this section, only the project itself. This is your opportunity to tell the judges what the film is about, who was involved in making it, why it’s important, and the impact it’s had. If you have any press reviews or additional content, you can include them in the “Supplementary Material” section. While the film’s reach and impact can be included in the essay or supplementary materials section, it’s what the judges are seeing on screen that matters most.


Although you’ll submit your entry into one of six subcategories, this is just a way for the Peabody Board of Jurors to remain organized. The prizes aren’t awarded by category, nor are there finalists or nominees. When the judges meet face-to-face to determine the winners, they have only one criteria on their minds: excellence. They’re looking for stories that matter and documentaries of substance. Films aren’t compared to one another, they’re judged only against themselves. The jurors must unanimously agree on the films that they choose to recognize.

This is just some of what we covered in our conversation with Dr. Nate Kohn and Matt Shedd, For additional tips on making your submission shine, watch the recording below. ITVS-funded films and Independent Lens broadcasts have won 30 Peabody Awards to date. This webinar is the first of several awards-related webinars presented for free to all filmmakers. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter for more info!


San Francisco Film Society’s New Doc Stories Series

We’re absolutely thrilled that our friends at the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) have added a new documentary series to their autumn programming. An essential element of the organization’s year-round celebration of contemporary world cinema, the Fall Season spotlights international film cultures and now features Doc Stories, a brand-new showcase exhibiting some of the year’s best nonfiction films.


With numerous filmmakers in attendance, Doc Stories (November 5-8 at the Vogue Theatre) will give audiences opportunities to see the movies that will likely define this year’s awards season while engaging in in-depth conversations about critical contemporary issues with some of the most talented documentary storytellers. From intensely personal essays to hard-hitting topical investigations into urgent global issues to examinations of some of culture’s most fascinating figures, there is something for everyone with an interest in the world around them in this inaugural festival.


With films like What Happened, Miss Simone? and Cartel Land — movies already available streaming — the key difference brought to Film Society viewership will be the illuminating and thought-provoking onstage discussions with filmmakers and other special guests in attendance for each screening. SFFS will host directors for nearly every film in the program, putting them in dialogue with key cultural critics.

We’re so excited for this new series to get started. Don’t miss your chance to see the ITVS funded film  Thank You for Playing  on November 8th, and more at:

ITVS Announces Diversity Development Funded Films

ITVS is pleased to announce 10 projects have been selected for development funding out of 158 submissions through the ITVS Diversity Development Fund. The Diversity Development Fund (DDF) provides up to $15,000 in research and development funding to producers of color to develop single documentary programs for public television. The next round of DDF funding opens October 9th with an application deadline of November 6th. For rules and how to apply click here.

From the strange world of Chinese online showrooms to an exploration of African-American masquerading practices in New Orleans, these films speak to the ITVS mission of tackling complex issues and reflecting the concerns of the diverse society that we live in.

We are proud to welcome the following filmmakers to the ITVS family:

Millennium Island, by Lulu DeBoer, follows a young I-Kiribati woman returning home to her ancestral islands in the south Pacific, only to find that global warming has threatened the existence of her people.

Hail to the Queens, by Brian Nelson, showcases the New Orleans connection to the African diaspora through African-American masquerading practices.

Listen to My Heart Beat, by Nyjia July, explores the cultural currency of Washington, D.C.’s regional music called Go-Go, a blend of funk, rhythm and blues, and early hip-hop, and the politics of poverty and violence that influenced its sound.

My Tiger Mom, by Debbie Lum, follows Asian American mothers and their daughters as they relentlessly pursue their greatest aspiration: getting into an elite American university.

Bound by Blood: Reconciliation and Reparations, by Llewellyn Smith, recounts the brutal massacre of black sharecroppers by white citizens of Elaine, Arkansas in 1919 and shows reverberations lingering through lives of descendant families, white and black, today.

A Woman’s Work, by Yu Gu, chronicles the fight of NFL cheerleaders to receive fair wages.

Triad of Us, by Angela Chen, follows the filmmaker’s journey to piece together her estranged family ultimately shattered by an assassination of an alleged triple spy.

Wisdom Gone Wild, by Rea Tajiri, at 93, Rose Tajiri has dementia. Guided by her mother’s “crazy wisdom”, Rea and her mother Rose journey together to find meaning at the end of life.

Por La Situación, by Nina Alvarez, shows Salvadorans fleeing military and death squad persecution during El Salvador’s civil war as they fight the U.S. government for recognition of their rights as political refugees.

People’s Republic of Desires, by Hao Wu, journeys into a uniquely Chinese internet phenomenon—an exploding virtual entertainment world where performers earn as much as $50,000 a night singing karaoke or doing talk shows for tens of thousands of people.