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News

Updates and statements from the Indie Caucus.

 

Success on the Homefront

Tim Horsburgh

by Rachel Raney, Executive Director, Southern Documentary Fund

Word is beginning to spread in public media circles that UNC-TV, North Carolina’s statewide PBS affiliate based in Research Triangle Park, has surprisingly decided to move Independent Lens and POV to Mondays at 10pm. I say surprisingly because for many, many years the station has aired these two critically acclaimed documentary series on Fridays at 2am. But that’s not all -- it’s also surprising because as most of us have heard by now, WNET in New York recently decided to do just the opposite — taking POV and Independent Lens off primetime.

So why did UNC-TV make this unexpected move?

A lot of folks have chalked it up to the Indie Caucus, which makes sense. In light of WNET’s programming bombshell, this vocal and passionate group of independent producers is working hard to get PBS and stations across the country to deepen their commitment to independent documentaries. But with regards to UNC-TV’s programming change, I’d like to acknowledge our North Carolina producers, who’ve been fighting the good fight locally for many years.

When I joined the Southern Documentary Fund in 2011, I got an earful from SDF filmmakers about our local PBS station -- bemoaning how unresponsive UNC-TV was to independents. Having worked off and on for over a decade at KQED-TV in San Francisco, I suspected the story was more complicated. At KQED I produced local series that regularly incorporated independents’ work, and even launched a documentary series called Truly CA, now in its tenth season. And yet we’d still get called out for not doing enough. That’s okay, I know very well where independents are coming from.

Yet as a longtime public TV producer, I also recognize that stations are under enormous pressure — from viewers, donors, PBS — not to mention serious competition from cable and other platforms. In UNCTV’s case, the station is part of the mammoth University of North Carolina system, and their budget is approved annually by the state legislature. Plus UNC-TV has a robust stable of staff producers, churning out local content. What do they need independents for?
Well, here’s what happened: despite the lack of support from our local PBS station, a dearth of funding opportunities in our region, and little access to documentary gatekeepers located in New York and California, North Carolina producers have continued making good work, actually great work — documentaries that have premiered at top tier film festivals like SXSW, Tribeca, and Sundance, and aired nationally on Independent Lens, Voces, HBO, Discovery, and elsewhere. Last year the SDF sponsored (and North Carolina produced) PBS series A Chef’s Life won a Peabody Award, its very first season on the air.

Through these ups and downs our producers didn’t give up on UNC-TV, and the station began to notice the inspiring content being made around them. After many conversations, and a shift in leadership at the station, UNC-TV has changed course.

SDF is now working with the station, reconnecting them with our growing slate of media makers. Because there’s over a decade of history to acknowledge, and process, we suggested a Listening Tour of our own a few months back. I’ve moderated these gatherings around North Carolina -- frank, and sometimes difficult conversations between UNC-TV executives and independent producers. At the very first meeting last Fall, a long-time SDF filmmaker stood up and suggested the station move POV and Independent Lens to primetime, to send a message that independent documentaries are a priority. And that’s exactly what they’ve done.

Hopefully things won’t end there: I’ve begun working at UNC-TV a handful of days each month to help the station launch some of the best initiatives that are bubbling up from our Listening Tour. Our punch list includes clarifying what sorts of content the station wants and needs from independent producers, revamping the pitch process, exploring ways to fundraise collaboratively, and creating a new series, much like Truly CA, that will showcase Southern documentaries, and hopefully air on stations across our region.

Down here in North Carolina we can’t wait to see what comes of the Indie Caucus’ campaign, and
hope to contribute to its worthy efforts. We hear the PBS Listening Tour might make a stop right here in Durham, and we’ll show up in force to contribute to the conversation. In the meantime – SDF and our ‘local’ producers are going to continue pressing for changes at the station in our own backyard, aiming to build fruitful partnerships and create impactful content, programs that resonate locally and nationally.
 
- - - - - - - -
Rachel Raney is Executive Director of the Southern Documentary Fund. SDF cultivates documentary projects made in or about the American South, providing filmmakers and artists with professional support, fiscal sponsorship, filmmaking grants, and creative community. Since its founding in 2002, SDF has sponsored over a hundred projects which have screened all over the world, won critical acclaim and awards, and inspired audiences with authentic stories that matter.

LISTENING TOUR EVENT: WASHINGTON, D.C. FEB. 19

Tim Horsburgh

Does public TV need independent and underrepresented voices? Do independent and underrepresented voices need public TV? When WNET contemplated moving Independent Lens and POV off the prime-time schedule in December, it triggered a nation-wide protest. WNET and PBS restored the series to the schedule until May, and promised to hold a listening tour. At this public hearing, viewers, organization heads, and filmmakers testify to public TV executives. Join them!

Why Are Quality Films Becoming the 'White Rhinos' of TV?

Tim Horsburgh

What if there was a place for movies where nothing was impossible? A place where veteran auteurs shared the spotlight with first-time directors? Where diversity of voices was of the highest importance, rather than the lowest? Where budget size didn’t matter, and every topic, big or small, was covered with the same attention to detail? Where films could actually change the world?

This place already exists, and it has for decades. It isn’t Tomorrowland. It’s the PBS documentary showcase made up of the nonfiction anthology series POV and Independent Lens. And it’s slowly dying.

Indie Caucus update: #PBSListeningTour and Sundance

Tim Horsburgh

Dear Filmmakers,

The stakes couldn't be higher. Independent Lens and POV could be dropped from their primetime slot on PBS...and soon. And that could let them languish in obscurity. That's why we need you to come to the PBS/WNET panel  on Saturday, 1/24 at 4 PM at Sundance in the filmmaker lodge.

Filmmakers like you and we at the Indie Caucus helped to reverse WNET's unilateral and secret decision to move the two series from their primetime slot on a primary channel right before Christmas. But now PBS is saying publicly that they don't know where in the primetime schedule they'd like the series to be. The series that have supported us and their mission to bring diverse voices and audiences to television are in serious jeopardy.

We know Sundance is busy for all of us. And we know, too, that you might have other things on your mind if you are in front of PBS and WNET, like funding, distribution and contracts. But all of those things won't mean a thing if PBS and/or major stations kick POV and Independent Lens into obscurity.

So, if you care about independent documentary, about telling stories America needs to hear, about making an impact with your work, then join us at the PBS/WNET panel. Make some noise at the panel. Read about the first #PBSListeningTour event. And please, SIGN THE RESOLUTION on our Website adding your name to the over 1,200 people that have joined our cause. #keepPBSpublic, #indiecaucus

Thank you,

Indie Caucus

WEB: indiecaucus.org    FACEBOOK: /indiecaucus   TWITTER: @IndieCaucus

Resolution: PBS NEEDS TO SUPPORT INDEPENDENT, POINT OF VIEW PROGRAMS

Tim Horsburgh

The Indie Caucus seeks supporters of its resolution about public broadcasting's support for diverse, independent, point of view programs. Join us HERE and make your voice heard about the issues at events on the PBS Listening Tour.

 

PBS NEEDS TO SUPPORT INDEPENDENT, POINT OF VIEW PROGRAMS

 

PBS needs to support Independent Lens and POV,  two award-winning series that showcase the best, most compelling stories of and for underserved voices, with prime-time placement, common carriage, and investment in promotion and engagement.

Independent, point-of-view documentary films anchor public television’s promise to provide diverse perspectives from and for underrepresented and underserved voices in American media. Both series have also been leaders in digital innovation and viewer engagement. But for too long, these series have been orphans of public broadcasting.

A December 2014 WNET decision to move them off prime-time, with PBS approval, was only revoked after loud protest by viewers and filmmakers. PBS and WNET, with the Independent TV Service and POV, is now holding a national listening tour. 

Here is our input to that listening tour. We want public television to be a home and destination for Americans whose faces and voices are rarely seen or heard in other, commercial media. We want PBS to commit to:

  • Scheduling this work in prime-time, on primary stations;

  • Working with stations to stations to run it at the scheduled time;  

  • Publicity and promotion of these series;

  • Provide stations with resources to engage their communities.

Only with this investment will PBS be able to fulfill public television’s promise to provide the diverse perspectives so poorly represented today in broadcast programming. 

Only with these efforts will public broadcasters establish much-needed relationships with underserved and underrepresented viewers around the country. 

And only with these commitments will public broadcasting benefit from the enormous potential of this creative pool’s talent and insights.

We are calling on PBS to adopt the four-part program of renewal we have outlined and make a new clear and public commitment to independent, point of view programming at the PBS annual meeting in MayIn this way independent filmmakers can be allies and continue to offer and leverage additional resources and social capital to public broadcasting. 

- The Indie Caucus

A letter sent to Representatives of ITVS, IL, POV, WNET, and PBS regarding the "Listening Tour"

Tim Horsburgh

 

Dec. 31, 2014


TO: Representatives of ITVS, IL, POV, WNET, and PBS;

The Indie Caucus and the many independent filmmakers who joined us in voicing our concern about the change in the IL/POV schedule are glad WNET has reinstated the programs. We expect to be involved in the proposed listening tour, so that you can hear and learn from filmmakers, the viewers and the diverse communities we serve. 

Since receiving the news about the reinstatement and the listening tour, independent filmmakers and other colleagues from all over the country have contacted us, and some have suggested places to have meetings on the tour, including at already-scheduled events. We imagine you too are being barraged by good suggestions, and we would love to talk them over at your earliest opportunity. Just to let you know the venues that keep coming up, here is our current list of received suggestions: 

Opportunities filmmakers have suggested to leverage already planned events:

Jan. 17: International Documentary Association meeting, San Francisco

Jan. 23-30: Sundance Festival, Park City, UT

Feb. 19: Media That Matters conference, American University, Washington, DC  

March 13-16: SXSW, Austin TX

April 9-12: Full Frame Documentary Festival, Durham, NC

April 16-26: Tribeca Film Festival, NYC

Some cities where we have heard that filmmakers want to meet, and in some cases are already reaching out to local stations:

Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Tucson, Chicago, Atlanta, Madison, Kansas City…and others.

We believe the listening tour can be a critical step toward building the visibility and significance nationally of these series. As filmmakers who depend on building relationships in order to tell our stories, we understand and value the importance of building relationships at the institutional level as well. We realize that independent voices need to connect to constituencies wherever the series are shown, and that publicity and promotion need to go hand in hand with partnership. We believe the listening tour can identify partners who can also become valued promoters of both the series and of public broadcasting in their communities, both local and virtual.

We look forward to working with you on the listening tour. We hope to hear from you by no later than Jan. 5, to begin the work with dispatch. 

Thank you for your attention,

The Indie Caucus

Katie Chevigny / Johanna Hamilton / Tim Horsburgh / Byron Hurt / Brad Lichtenstein / Paco de Onis / Dawn Porter / Gordon Quinn / Julia Reichert / Bernardo Ruiz / Tracy Droz Tragos / Pamela Yates

Statement on WNET’s decision to return Independent Lens and POV to the schedule on Monday nights

Tim Horsburgh

The Indie Caucus released the following statement this evening:

WNET’s decision to return Independent Lens and POV to the schedule on Monday nights, after hearing from 1,195 viewers, donors and filmmakers in the few days since December 19, is good news for all viewers. But it is particularly good news for those whose voices are underrepresented in American media. Independent, point of view documentary anchors public television’s promise to provide diverse perspectives from and for underrepresented voices in American media. These series curate the highest-quality, most compelling stories showcased in international festivals and forums each year. Public television should treasure them. That is why we are pleased that WNET and PBS will be working in partnership with the Independent Television Service, Independent Lens and POV to raise the visibility of independent work. We expect these partners to consult us and other filmmakers, and also members and representatives of underrepresented communities, as they do the listening tour that they promise over the next four months.

For the Indie Caucus:
Katie Chevigny
Johanna Hamilton
Byron Hurt
Bryce Kirchoff
Brad Lichtenstein
Marilyn Ness
Paco de Onis
Dawn Porter
Gordon Quinn
Julia Reichert
Bernardo Ruiz
Carlos Sandoval
Beckie Stocchetti
Tracy Droz Tragos
Pamela Yates

Press contact:
Adam J. Segal, The 2050 Group - Publicity
(202) 422-4673 or adam@the2050group.com