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.

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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 PBS.org for one week only, so take advantage while you can!

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.

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.

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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

The ITVS Indie Roundup

A curated list of indie news and recommendations from ITVS’s Rebecca Huval.

It’s #FollowFriday! Here are the TV and film aficionados who made Time magazine’s 140 Twitter feeds to follow of 2013.

Filmmakers of all stripes are encouraged to apply to San Francisco Film Society’s six-month and year-long FilmHouse residencies. Though Bay Area dwellers are given priority, anyone older than 18 with a video budget less than $3 million is eligible! Early deadline: April 22.

The latest installment in MIT Open Documentary Lab’s “Should Filmmakers Learn to Code?” series is an interview with Hugues Sweeney of National Film Board of Canada. He encourages doc makers to team up with techies: “The time is for collaboration—get contaminated. What we call a ‘webdoc’ today is not about putting a doc online but using the web for all its storytelling capacities—its grammar.”

Occasionally, indie filmmakers feel isolated. Abstract painter Agnes Martin has inspirational words for the solitary artist: “The best things in life happen to you when you’re alone.”

Kartemquin just added some ancient gear to its “equipment graveyard”: The Auricon Sound-On-Film Recording Amplifier. “In spite of being obsolete, obscure, and something that Kartemquin never even used, it taught us about one more way filmmakers could record sound on film and fleshed out a little more of Camera #1′s history,” Kartemquin writes.

Relatedly, Kartemquin produced a video ode to its early days of cinema verite, and the penny-pinching camera that made it possible: the custom-made 16mm crystal-sync General Camera No. II.

The ITVS Indie Roundup

A curated list of indie news and recommendations from ITVS’s Rebecca Huval.

San Franciscans, rejoice! Nick Offerman, who plays the meat-lovin’ libertarian and all-around heartthrob Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation, will be in-person at the Roxie Theatre Saturday for the indie flick he stars in, Somebody Up There Likes Me.

MacArthur Foundation just awarded nine documentaries grants of more than $1 million total. Check out the lucky grantees, including ITVS-funded Cooked by Judith Helfand.

The 42nd edition of New Directors/New Films runs March 20 to 31 in New York City at the MoMA and the Films Society of Lincoln Center. Here are Hammer to Nail’s picks to watch.

Destin Daniel Cretton just won SXSW’s 2013 Grand Jury Award and the Audience Award for Narrative Feature competition for his premiere of Short Term 12. The San Francisco Film Society produced a lovely video interview of Cretton, where he talks about his filmmaking process and his start as a young storyteller, “building forts or making plays to perform to my mom or creating choreographed dance moves.”

Live chat with Ashley Sabin, director of Girl Model, and model Rachel Blais March 24th at 7 p.m. EST at POV.

Good news for The Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum, featured in the documentary Typeface! The collection of “over one million pieces of wood type” has a new location in its hometown of Two Rivers, Wisconsin, but twice the size. (via @Kartemquin)

“Should Filmmakers Learn to Code?” asks MIT Open Documentary Lab as part of its new blog series. In the second installment, documentarian Elaine McMillion (Hollow) said, “As an interactive storyteller, you need to have an understanding of user experience, design and coding, but most importantly you have to understand what makes a strong narrative.”

ITVS Co-Presents Two Films at CAAMFest!

For the next 10 days, the Center for Asian America Media presents CAAMFest, a celebration of film, music, food and digital media form the world’s most innovative Asian and Asian American artists.

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Yesterday marked the beginning of the 2013 CAAMFest, formerly known as the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, and ITVS could not be more excited to co-present two of the films featured in this year’s festival, The Mosuo Sisters and Xmas Without China.

This year, in an effort to transition away from the traditional film festival, CAAM has embraced new forms of artistic expression with a spirit of curiosity and adventure. Come celebrate the festival through various live events, multimedia performances, and expanded ventures into the music and culinary worlds. With such a wide variety of entertainment to choose from, Bay Area participants will be able to enjoy Asian American media in all its various forms.

Be sure to check out the trailers (after the jump)! Continue reading

The ITVS Indie Roundup

A curated list of indie news and recommendations from ITVS’s Rebecca Huval.

These 22 storytelling tips by Emma Coates, Pixar’s former story artist, are as uplifting and imaginative as Pixar’s films, and the guidelines are useful for non-fiction and fiction storytellers alike.

If you’re hungry for more storytelling tips, check out this Kickstarter campaign for a “creative advice book” by 50 of the world’s preeminent documentary filmmakers. “Learn from your mistakes,” says James Marsh, director of Man on Wire. “Write them all down and torment yourself with them.”

There are so many interesting transmedia storytelling projects, it seems impossible to keep up. AIR’s Public Media Scan addresses this by featuring five projects weekly “at the intersection of technology, journalism, and blended media craft.” (via @povdocs)

Interested in making a short film? IFP shares how short videos can lift your overall filmmaking career.

SXSW rages on this week in Austin with a host of compelling documentary panels, screenings, and interactive storytelling workshops. Over at Indiewire, meet the filmmakers who are presenting their work at SXSW.

Doc lovers in Chicago have just as much to be excited about. The Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) 2013 Chicago Conference will unite legendary filmmakers and critics March 6 to 10.

Something for everyone this week! New Yorkers, check out POV Digital, Non-fiction Storytelling presented by the creator of the POV Hacakthon, Adnaan Wasey, March 19 at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. The event features “insights into cross-platform and immersive projects in a completely different way from many of the fiction projects StoryCode has presented.”

The ITVS Indie Roundup

A curated list of indie news and recommendations from ITVS’s Rebecca Huval.

Priceless advice on interactive documentary filmmaking comes from an unlikely source: The Guardian’s Global Development Professionals Network. Emma Wigley, director of the interactive documentary Big River Rising, says to take a holistic approach: “Big River Rising is much more than a media project. It is a long-term educational resource for students and development organisations around the world.” (via @povdocs)

Could this be the first documentary filmed with Google Glass? This latest gadget by Google displays information in front of your eyes — imagine a smartphone strapped to your face. Gizmodo claims to have spotted a camera team filming with the elusive product still unavailable to the public.

For once, filmmakers are seeking guidance on how to transition from the theatrical film world to TV. A panel at New York Television Festival counseled indie filmmakers to invigorate projects that “might otherwise languish in cinematic purgatory.” Indiewire writes: “Over the past few years, television’s begun to challenge film as the preeminent outlet for American storytelling, the breadth of interest and means of distribution at an all-time high for a medium that can no longer be looked at as of inferior artistic merit.”

UK doc-makers now have more opportunities to receive funding for their films. The BFI Film Fund will accept pitches twice a year, when selected applicants will give a 10-minute pitch to an expert panel.

This psychedelic short video by Dutch designer and director Mischa Rozema is an homage to the 1990 space shuttle Voyager 1, combining real-life NASA footage, sci-fi animation, and experimental orchestration. (via @brainpicker)

This could be the first year a YouTube video wins an Emmy, according to Mashable. With Arrested Development on Netflix, it’s clear that some of our greatest shows are no longer confined to cable.

The ITVS Indie Roundup

A curated list of indie news and recommendations from ITVS’s Rebecca Huval.

The real reason we watch the Oscars: the surprising gaffes. Here are the best and worst moments of the Academy Awards ceremonies since 2008.

First-time documentary filmmakers, apply by March 8! You can get mentorship when you sorely need it through IFP’s Independent Filmmaker Labs, which guide low-budget films (less than $1 million) through completion, marketing, and distribution.

New York doc lovers should check out the Documentary Fortnight 2013 showcase at MoMA, Feb. 15 to March 4, and enter at POV to win free tickets to MoMA Selects: POV screenings.

Now in its third year, the upstart Open City Doc Fest in London rages on June 20 to 23. Late deadline for submissions is March 4!

If you haven’t seen it already, watch a snippet of the Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague and learn about the filmmaker’s original inspiration. (via @TheBayCitizen)

Recovered Super 8 footage of President Nixon in the documentary Our Nixon will cap the New Films/New Directors festival on March 31.