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.

Wisdom Gone Wild, by Rea Tajiri, explores the painful memories of the filmmaker’s family’s forced stay in Japanese internment camps, which they prefer to keep hidden.

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.

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.

Behind the Scenes with the Makers of the Interactive Documentary After the Storm


After the Storm, co-created by Andrew Beck Grace and Helios Design Studios, is an immersive personal essay created for online, tablet, and mobile viewing. Recently launched through a partnership with Independent Lens and The Washington Post, it tells the story of what happens after the storm passes, the media leaves town, and the adrenaline subsides.

ITVS Senior Content Producer Cathy Fischer asked filmmaker Andrew Grace and Creative Technologist Mike Robbins about the process and for some tips for filmmakers working in the emerging area of interactive documentary. 
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PBS Listening Tour Comes to New York City: A Report

This post was originally published on the POV blog 

PBS Listening Tour

A National Listening Tour on Independent Film on PBS came to New York City on February 23, 2015 at SVA Theatre in Manhattan.

PBS, ITVS, POV, Independent Lens, Indie Caucus and WNET hosted a full house on the Independent Film on PBS Listening Tour on Monday, February 23 at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan.

Building on the conversation that began last month in San Francisco, a panel of PBS leadership, series producers and independent filmmakers heard from an audience of more than 400 filmmakers, local and national independent film organizations, public media advocates, educators and community leaders, and shared and discussed their perspectives on PBS’s role as a provider and platform for independent documentary films.

On stage, Beth Hoppe, Chief Programming Executive and GM and General Audience Programming at PBS, laid out new potential strategies around marketing initiatives, live events and theatrical distribution of independent films, while Marie Nelson, Vice President of News & Public Affairs at PBS, continued to welcome innovative ideas to promote larger viewership. Stephen Segaller, Vice President of Programming at WNET, further explained WNET’s reasoning for wanting to experiment with scheduling times for POV and Independent Lens, and was receptive to the concern of the New York City audience at the event.

Moderator Mikel Ellecessor did his best to drive the conversation to a new phase, urging speakers to move on from discussing proposed scheduling changes for POV and Independent Lens, towards bringing forward alternative suggestions to ensure that PBS provides independent film to its largest audience.

Simon Kilmurry, Executive Producer of POV, Sally Jo Fifer, President and CEO of ITVS and Executive Producer of Independent Lens, and Lois Vossen, Deputy Executive Producer of Independent Lens, provided their perspectives as representatives and funders of the two largest showcases for independent film on public television, while Marcia Smith, President of Firelight Media, and Dawn Porter, Director/Producer of Gideon’s Army and Indie Caucus representative, offered their experiences working with the series, and advocated for their continued prioritization by PBS locally and nationally.

PBS Listening Tour Panel NYC

From left to right: Simon Kilmurry, Executive Producer, POV; Dawn Porter, Director/Producer, Indie Caucus Representative; Marcia Smith, President, Firelight Media; Lois Vossen, Deputy Executive Producer, Independent Lens; Sally Jo Fifer, President and CEO, ITVS and Executive Producer, Independent Lens; Beth Hoppe, Chief Programming Executive and GM and General Audience Programming, PBS; Marie Nelson, Vice President, News & Public Affairs, PBS; Stephen Segaller, Vice President, Programming, WNET

Attendees waited in the aisles of the theatre to share their experiences, perspectives and concerns, touching on issues around the visibility of independent films on television, accessibility of programs in low-income neighborhoods of New York City and representation of the diversity of the city in programming decisions and scheduling. Speakers on the mic included POV and Independent Lens filmmakers, partners and founders.

PBS launched “Independent Film on PBS: A National Listening Tour” in partnership with ITVS, POV, Independent Lens, and WNET. The Indie Caucus and Kartemquin Films will host the next stop in Chicago in March, date TBD.

Independent Film on PBS: The National Listening Tour Comes to New York City

This post was originally published on the POV blog 


On February 23, 2015 from 2 PM ET to 5 PM ET, POV, along with PBS, ITVS, WNET, Independent Lens and the Indie Caucus, will be in New York City for the second stop in the National Listening Tour for Independent Films on PBS at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan. RSVP now »

In keeping with its commitment to independent film and filmmakers, PBS leadership is hosting a series of open forums around the country with independent filmmakers, PBS series producers, and other public media and community partners. At each event, participants are invited to voice their priorities and innovative ideas on how all can work together to strengthen distribution, viewership and community engagement through Independent Lens, POV and all kinds of independent films.

Watch highlights from San Francisco, the first stop on the tour last month. The Indie Caucus and Kartemquin Films will host a third stop in Chicago in March, date TBD.


Budgeting for ITVS Open Call

ITVS programming staff Jen Gilomen and Jorge Trelles hosted a budgeting webinar for Open Call on Thursday, July 24, 2014. Below is the recorded event, which includes an overview presentation and Q&A with participants. Also below is a recap of the new budget format for Open Call.

As part of your application to Open Call (now in WizeHive, an online system), we ask for summary budget information for your program – including secured funding and expenses. Your “request to ITVS” is based on your total budgeted expenses minus the total secured funding you have received for your project. The “Total Request to ITVS” is therefore the total amount you need to complete your public television program as outlined in your proposal. Your budget, with the rest of your application, tells a story to reviewers about how you plan to complete your film.

Secured Funding: This section is only for “secured” funding (no in-kind contributions). This means “Producers Cash” contributed to the production (hard costs you have incurred that weren’t covered by other funding sources) and other grants and income sources you have obtained for your film. “Secured” means you have already received the funding or have been promised the funding in writing.

Expenses: Expenses are all of the costs associated with producing your public television program from inception to final masters delivered for broadcast. It should not include any other expenses, such as costs associated with creating another version of your film, distribution, marketing, your film’s website, outreach efforts, etc. Budget categories from the ITVS Budget Template are pre-populated in the online application for convenience, but you can edit the categories to fit your existing budget. You are welcome to use (but not required to use) the ITVS Production Budget Template (download here in Excel formats: xlsx or xls) to calculate subtotal amounts for your major budget categories. (Please note that if your project is selected for Open Call panel review, you will be required to submit a full ITVS Production Budget in this format. Even then, you will be able to modify the category names.)

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My So-Called Enemy, Sunday on Global Voices

This Sunday on Global Voices, filmmaker Lisa Gossels presents the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through a human lens in her documentary, My So-Called Enemy. The film begins in July 2002, when twenty-two Palestinian and Israeli teenage girls traveled to the US to participate in a ten-day women’s leadership program. My So-Called Enemy is about six of those girls and how the transformative experience of knowing their “enemies” as human beings meets with the realities of their lives at home in the Middle East over the next seven years. In this post, Gossels shares her motivation for making this film.

There’s many things that a person might look like and you’re one hundred percent positive who they are. And when you talk to them, you’re shocked that they’re completely the opposite. Like whoever looks at me, “No way you’re an Arab.” But I go like, “Oh, dude, I am an Arab!” So, don’t concentrate on the first impression. If you think you don’t like the person, approach them to know who they really are.
-Rawan (Palestinian, Muslim)

by Lisa Gossels, Director

When I introduce My So-Called Enemy at screenings, I always say that making the film was an eight-year journey of both learning and unlearning for me – and a stripping away of personal narratives that I was raised with.  My hope as a documentarian is that audiences will experience some of that same transformation when they watch the movie.

I live in downtown Manhattan and shortly after 9/11, I remember engaging in some heated political conversations with close friends about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. When I tried to express any nuance in those discussions, I came to understand how wars could be fought on words and how easy it is to reduce conflicts to black and white terms. At a conference two months earlier, I had the privilege of meeting Melodye Feldman (the founder of Building Bridges for Peace), and four participants from her just-completed summer program. After listening to the girls’ dramatic stories about how the program had changed them, I begged Melodye to let me film her program the next year! I was excited that Building Bridges for Peace empowers teenage girls because, as Nicholas Kristof wrote, “Focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism.” Continue reading

Summer #ThrowbackThursday’s Return!

For a second year, ITVS’s Emmy-award winning series, Independent Lens, is unlocking the PBS Video vault to revive previously aired, fan favorite films.


This week’s #ThrowbackThursday offering is Summer Pasture, the story of a young nomadic couple living with their infant daughter in eastern Tibet.  The documentary provides a rare window into a highly insular community seldom seen by outsiders. In the collective imagination of Tibet, nomads have traditionally occupied a dual role — romanticized as embodying the purest form of Tibetan identity and mocked as being backwards, uncivilized, and inferior.

Make sure you’re following Independent Lens on Twitter and Instagram to see which docs will be offered next. The “throwback” films are available on for one week only, so take advantage while you can!

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


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.

Mapping Our Memories: Tributopia Launches Memorial Day

Tributopia, the project inspired by the ITVS-funded documentary The Grove, is a free iPhone app for creating virtual memorials and remembering lost loved ones by posting tributes on an interactive map. Tributopia invites engagement by connecting memories to a specific place. With the augmented reality feature, users looks through the viewfinder and can find virtual tributes overlaying the real world around them. Tributopia launches in conjunction with Memorial Day, just before Gay Pride Month.


Filmmaker Andy Abrahams Wilson gives us this inside look at the inspiration behind the app and his take on the changing interactive media landscape:

How did making The Grove inspire your idea for Tributopia?

The AIDS Memorial Grove founders envisioned a nature-based memorial in which individuals could till their grief and find comfort in seeing their own human experience reflected in nature. While the stigma of AIDS created invisible victims and survivors often excluded from traditional rituals of burial and remembrance, having a special place to remember and share was especially important.

While I was in the midst of production on The Grove, I vacationed in Mexico and witnessed scores of roadside memorials adorned with flowers, pictures, and photos. I was mesmerized and wanted to know what happened and whom it happened to. It was as if those shrines wanted to speak to me, to tell me their story. I began to realize how vital the connection was between memory and place, and between community and communication.  Hence, the idea for Tributopia was born: a way to use new media to tell stories of loss – to connect memories to place and join in a community of remembrance.

What was the experience like, going from being a “traditional” documentary filmmaker to working in the interactive media space? Was there a large learning curve?

There was an enormous learning curve. We tend to take for granted our mastery over our own craft. Suddenly I found myself facing a technology, terminology and business model that were alien to me. While we cling to the idea of “storytelling” as a unifying theme and comforting commonality, I really did feel like I was entering a brave new world! Continue reading