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Testimonial

An Open Letter From Filmmakers, Funders and NGOs

Tim Horsburgh

We, the undersigned producers, directors, funders, community organizations, and professionals working with documentary filmmakers in the United States, express our support for Indie Caucus' demand that PBS and WNET secure national prime time broadcast of Independent Lens and POV on primary channels ideally on Monday or Tuesday nights.

We want to share our encouragement and appreciation for Indie Caucus and the filmmakers they represent for their great contributions to our industry, our culture, and especially to Public Television's critical mission to bring diversity and important subject matter to the public.

In late 2014, WNET, the flagship PBS station in New York, announced plans to move POV and Independent Lens from their premier prime-time slot on WNET to secondary channel, WLIW.  They planned on rerunning the series on WNET late on Sunday nights.  Such a move would have drastically marginalized work about and by underrepresented communities, and set a dangerous precedent. Indie Caucus organized a protest, and 1,200 people signed a petition. WNET and PBS agreed to postpone their decision for four months, and agreed to a participate in a listening tour to learn about the value of independent film and the POV and Independent Lens series.

Indie Caucus is now organizing across the country, raising its voice so that Independent Lens and POV are secure in their prime time broadcast on public television beyond this precarious four-month reprieve.

We stand in solidarity with Indie Caucus and offer our support. Independent storytelling helps us see who we are as a nation and as individuals. Programs by and about underrepresented voices in American media are a core part of public television. Sharing diverse perspectives isn’t just what sets public media apart, it’s what PBS stations are mandated to do as part of their commitment to serve communities. Broadcast is still overwhelmingly how Americans get their TV, and it’s the most diverse audience as well.

We do hereby agree to support Indie Caucus in it's efforts to strengthen POV and Independent Lens, and all of the filmmakers, audiences, subjects, funders and NGO and government partners that are associated with these films.

Thank you for your time and your consideration,

Laura Poitras
Lucy Walker
Carlos Sandoval
Stanley Nelson
Liz Garbus
Rory Kennedy
Caroline Libresco
Renee Tajima-Pena
Chris Hedges
DA Pennebaker
Andy Davis
Alex Gibney
Gini Reticker
Abigail Disney
Frazer Pennebaker
Ross Kauffman
Scott Burns
Bill Siegel
Maro Chermayeff
Marshall Curry
Steve James
R.J. Cutler
Rachel Grady

Harmony Institute

Tim Horsburgh

I work at Harmony Institute, a non-profit organization in New York that studies the impact of media on society. We currently focus a lot of our attention on the impact of social issue documentaries on the most difficult issues facing the US and the world. We also help filmmakers, funders, and other organizations have a greater impact through their media and campaigns. One of the things we know for sure is that impact starts with viewership. Social media mentions, mass media mentions, changes in policy, and every way that hearts and minds may be changed by a documentary start with people seeing the documentary. Organizations like POV creates curricula around films, and organizes community screenings, but the demand and interest start with viewership. PBS has always been a voice for those who are under-represented in the larger media landscape, and also a voice that reaches those that cable and internet video may not reach. I grew up in rural upstate New York, too remote for cable to reach, even if we could afford it. We had no TV at all until my dad put an antenna up on our roof that could get the signal from Syracuse, and then we got PBS, ABC, CBS and NBC--nothing else. I grew up on Nova and Nature, and looked forward to being old enough to see Frontline and the documentaries that PBS aired, which dealt with more adult subjects than my science programs. When my parents let me watch these, they were my window into the world's tough problems, and the lives of people unlike those that surrounded me. There are still populations that can't afford to access documentaries on cable or the internet, who trust PBS to bring them true and educational stories. PBS needs to renew its commitment to airing documentaries when people are watching. It was important for me growing up in a small town to be exposed to those voices, and it will be important to a new generation of kids and their parents, to be exposed to a wider world through documentary film. Linnea Hartsuyker Product Manager, Harmony Institute

I work at Harmony Institute, a non-profit organization in New York that studies the impact of media on society. We currently focus a lot of our attention on the impact of social issue documentaries on the most difficult issues facing the US and the world. We also help filmmakers, funders, and other organizations have a greater impact through their media and campaigns.

One of the things we know for sure is that impact starts with viewership. Social media mentions, mass media mentions, changes in policy, and every way that hearts and minds may be changed by a documentary start with people seeing the documentary. Organizations like POV creates curricula around films, and organizes community screenings, but the demand and interest start with viewership.

PBS has always been a voice for those who are under-represented in the larger media landscape, and also a voice that reaches those that cable and internet video may not reach. I grew up in rural upstate New York, too remote for cable to reach, even if we could afford it. We had no TV at all until my dad put an antenna up on our roof that could get the signal from Syracuse, and then we got PBS, ABC, CBS and NBC--nothing else.

I grew up on Nova and Nature, and looked forward to being old enough to see Frontline and the documentaries that PBS aired, which dealt with more adult subjects than my science programs. When my parents let me watch these, they were my window into the world's tough problems, and the lives of people unlike those that surrounded me. There are still populations that can't afford to access documentaries on cable or the internet, who trust PBS to bring them true and educational stories.

PBS needs to renew its commitment to airing documentaries when people are watching. It was important for me growing up in a small town to be exposed to those voices, and it will be important to a new generation of kids and their parents, to be exposed to a wider world through documentary film.

Linnea Hartsuyker
Product Manager, Harmony Institute

Leading Age

Tim Horsburgh

We are honored to have a voice at the Media that Matters conference to lend our support for the PBS series, Independent Lens. Films like Almost Home and Penelope: The Documentary raise awareness about important issues in our field like culture change in nursing homes and the value of creative engagement in the lives of older Americans. Unfortunately, these issues – as well as others in the aging realm – rarely hit the prime time. But increasingly, we know that these issues will become a bigger part of our discourse at both the national and the community level. If we sanction the removal of important discussions now, we are setting ourselves up for failure later. We need to listen to the stories of the generations that come before us. From them, we can learn from their mistakes and build on their successes.

At LeadingAge, we are focused on helping older Americans thrive as they age. We represent thousands of dedicated organizations that provide aging services at the community level. From nursing homes to hospice to adult day services, LeadingAge and its member organizations believe that giving older Americans and their caregivers the right tools to age gracefully and respectfully is what they are entitled to and what they deserve. LeadingAge believes that aging has a fulfilling purpose in life, and yet is not appreciated. Furthermore, caregiving is an essential community, family, business, and government responsibility, and yet is undervalued.

We advocate a national TV broadcast on public television that is integral for independent documentaries to guarantee funding for production and community engagement programs that bring these films to organizations like LeadingAge. Without a home on PBS in primetime, many films that have the power to sway public debate, that enlighten the general public, and enact positive change will not get made. Instead, stereotypes of older people, which are too often trivialized through humor, misunderstandings about personal development in late life, denial of the aging process, and the assumption that life has less value to society the older we get, will continue to be the norm.

LeadingAge supports a future for Independent Lens & POV on primetime to protect PBS’s mandate to give a voice to those underrepresented in for-profit media. Older adults are often underrepresented in mainstream, for-profit media, and we are committed to seeing that change. Media that Matters is a key and often lone voice to challenge these misperceptions through films and documentaries like Independent Lens and movies like “I’ll Be Me” – the Glen Campbell film about his farewell tour and the importance of caregiving.

Join me in recognizing PBS’ important contribution to conversations we want to continue to have, as our grandparents, parents, peers, and children age. Perception is the reality until we change it, and PBS is essential to the change.

Kirsten Jacobs
Leading Age
 

Protect Our Defenders

Tim Horsburgh

Military sexual assault is an issue that has plagued our services for decades, but until recently victims were silenced and the issue was swept under the rug. That changed when survivors began to speak out and create a movement for accountability and change. The Invisible War captured those stories and elevated their voices to a national stage. The public national broadcast of this film magnified the survivors’ impact in a way that cannot be overstated. The film brought the voices of survivors into the homes of ordinary Americans across the country, spreading outrage over the treatment of our service members, who had suffered not only sexual assault at the hands of their brothers-in-arms, but the professional, legal, mental, and physical fallout of those attacks in a system that failed to support them.

Protect Our Defenders worked with the filmmakers as an outreach partner. Critically, the film helped inspire thousands of citizens, veterans and active duty service members to join the movement and fight for change. The widespread viewing helped to turn Invisible War into more than a film. Invisible War quickly became a powerful advocacy tool to help make real and lasting change. On Capitol Hill, the Invisible War helped motivate lawmakers to take this issue seriously. On a grassroots level, we worked with survivors and advocates across the country to plan local screenings and spread the word.

By ensuring that a diverse American audience was able to view the Invisible War and respond to its call to action, the film helped to galvanize support among the public. Public broadcast reaches a broad audience that includes underserved veterans and minorities, in a way that smaller market broadcasts never could. A recent Washington Post poll found that 6 in 10 Americans now support fundamental reform.

Had the film been shown on premium channels, its viewership would have been limited and the impact of the film would have been greatly reduced. This film tackled an issue that for so long was kept buried and hidden from the American public—an issue that affects countless American veterans and service members to this day. By helping to shed a light on this scourge within our Armed Forces, the broadcast of this film has helped to ensure that victims of military sexual assault will no longer be silenced, and that they might eventually be afforded the justice they so deeply deserve.

Jenny Wells
Protect Our Defenders

Sasha Bruce Youth Work

Tim Horsburgh

My name is James Beck. I'm the development director of Sasha Bruce Youth Work. It is our mission is to improve the lives of the runaway homeless, abused and neglected youth in the DC area, and their families. We're probably best known for our emergency shelter which is actually the only emergency shelter for unaccompanied youth in the district, which is an incredible thing to think about, given that 4000 young people identify as homeless in the DC Metro area.

For this specific crowd, I actually don't feel the need to explain how independent documentary films on Public TV give a voice to underserved communities or how it effectively raises awareness in this country about the needs of underrepresented people. But, what I will say is, as a development director – I spend most of my time trying to get buzz through social media trying to raise funds and trying to deliver services. We frankly, don't have any money to do the kind of awareness building these independent documentary provide. Films like Homestretch on public television in primetime are reaching the audiences that they do in a non-commercial way and so it's crucial to our mission. It's crucial to raising awareness, but also it's really crucial for the young people themselves. The young people that we're organizing come to the screenings and watch film like Homestretch on POV and ITVS, to see their peers. They're getting a voice and this is exactly what they don't have currently. So, by promoting independent films, it is actually allowing our young people to have a voice. And so its impact is immeasurable. So I would encourage everyone to really consider not only the benefit to this country as a whole, but to the people themselves that are featured and able to organize themselves and feel proud about what they're able to do.

Sunlight Foundation

Tim Horsburgh

I'm Gabriella Schneider. I'm the communications director at a non-partisan non-profit called the Sunlight Foundation. We advocate for open government civic technology to engage citizens in our democracy. And keeping ‘Independent Lens’ and ‘POV’, two series that represent diverse groups their primetime slots on primetime channels and working with stations to ensure they're carried is core to PBS's mandate as a public service. As Goes Janesville, a film by 371 Productions, is a really good example of this kind of work. Here's why. The film alerted viewers to a situation where by the local government in that Wisconsin town, underhandedly excluded residents to what should have been open meetings to decide the tax incentive to lure medical start-up business after the GM factory closed in that town, leaving it quite depressed. Even though those residents would have to foot the bill as taxpayers, they were left out of the process. As Goes Janesville went beyond telling just that story, it educated PBS viewers about the importance of an open and accountable government and our right to participate in public hearings about important decisions. This documentary film took storytelling to the next level and built a civic tech mobile app called BizVis that not only keeps the story alive from the film, but also engages concerned citizens in a new ways to create corporate accountability. It informs them of their consumer choices and how whatever they buy could support companies that for example, might also be avoiding paying their taxes like the company profiled in As Goes Janesville. Or how employees of such companies also wield political influence on Capitol Hill through campaign contributions. We were really pleased to see this because it was data complied by the Sunlight Foundation. Through our research, I want to show you that public media makers are helping to put the power back into our hands, of “we the people.” They're inspiring us to contribute to the common good. I think that's a win for democracy. And another win for democracy would be for PBS to continue to air these series in their primetime slots and their primary channels. Thank you.

I'm Gabriella Schneider. I'm the communications director at a non-partisan non-profit called the Sunlight Foundation. We advocate for open government civic technology to engage citizens in our democracy. And keeping ‘Independent Lens’ and ‘POV’, two series that represent diverse groups their primetime slots on primetime channels and working with stations to ensure they're carried is core to PBS's mandate as a public service.

As Goes Janesville, a film by 371 Productions, is a really good example of this kind of work. Here's why. The film alerted viewers to a situation where by the local government in that Wisconsin town, underhandedly excluded residents to what should have been open meetings to decide the tax incentive to lure medical start-up business after the GM factory closed in that town, leaving it quite depressed. Even though those residents would have to foot the bill as taxpayers, they were left out of the process. As Goes Janesville went beyond telling just that story, it educated PBS viewers about the importance of an open and accountable government and our right to participate in public hearings about important decisions.

This documentary film took storytelling to the next level and built a civic tech mobile app called BizVis that not only keeps the story alive from the film, but also engages concerned citizens in a new ways to create corporate accountability. It informs them of their consumer choices and how whatever they buy could support companies that for example, might also be avoiding paying their taxes like the company profiled in As Goes Janesville. Or how employees of such companies also wield political influence on Capitol Hill through campaign contributions. We were really pleased to see this because it was data complied by the Sunlight Foundation.

Through our research, I want to show you that public media makers are helping to put the power back into our hands, of “we the people.” They're inspiring us to contribute to the common good. I think that's a win for democracy. And another win for democracy would be for PBS to continue to air these series in their primetime slots and their primary channels. Thank you.

Docs in Progress

Tim Horsburgh

I'm Erica Ginsberg, the Executive Director of Docs In Progress, a nonprofit organization here in the DC Metro area which is dedicated to incubating and supporting documentary filmmakers, particularly emerging filmmakers.  Alumni of our programs have been funded by ITVS and have screened on all three of the local PBS affiliates, on Independent Lens, on NETA and APT, and on America Reframed.

But I actually don't want to focus on independent filmmakers today. There are many others here who I are representing filmmakers very eloquently Instead I want to focus on the importance of documentary to audiences. One of the programs we run is a bimonthly work-in-progress screening where filmmakers show unfinished works to general audiences. Except audiences in Washington DC are not really "general."  Very often we get people who are the top experts in their field coming to these screenings and offering feedback in a very different way that filmmakers might. Others who come are just big documentary film lovers. This is a film-loving town which has the capacity to support more than 100 film festivals. And people here LOVE public television.

Yet there seemed for a while to be a disconnect. Until very recently, two of the major public television programs for documentaries POV and Independent Lens seemed to be hiding from these local audiences who love documentaries. We are blessed here to have not one but three local affiliates -- two in Washington and one in Baltimore. Yet, for several years, these incredible documentary programs never played on the national carriage schedule on any of them. Often when I saw social media promotion of the premiere of a new program on these shows, I wanted to share with friends and family, but didn't because there what was showing up in the social media had no relationship to the reality of when people could see these films. Sometimes the programs might show up a few days later, sometimes a few weeks later, sometimes on a Saturday at 3 am. It was very frustrating. I want to thank WETA for bringing back Independent Lens on the national carriage schedule and I certainly hope that WNET will also ensure that these programs stay on the national carriage schedule for our documentary-loving friends in New York. Instead of seeing this as a competition with Downton Abbey or Antiques Roadshow for viewers, isn't there room enough for everybody?

What I do know is that documentaries have made a tremendous difference by carrying content about and aimed at audiences that might not be taken seriously by other commercially-minded broadcasters. As one of our alums Dean Hamer recently said to me half-jokingly but actually quite seriously, " Who else but PBS would broadcast in primetime a film about a transgender native Pacific Islander?"

That film Kumu Hina will be broadcast on Independent Lens in May and I do hope I can tell people exactly when they can tune in to watch it.

Where Soldiers Come From

Tim Horsburgh

Hello, my name is Dominic Fredneli. I'm an art student at George Washington University. I'm here not as a filmmaker but as one of the subjects of the Emmy Award winning POV film, Where Soldiers Come From. The film follows me and my friends for 4 years from teenagers to soldiers in Afghanistan, to 23 year-old-veterans adjusting to life in our small town. When I came back from Afghanistan I didn't want to admit that I had changed, even though I was having problems reintegrating back to civilian life. About a year after we came back the director showed us the rough cut and after seeing that I realized the amount of change I had gone through. From then on I used the film as a tool to deal with problems of adjustment and the inability to reach out to others. Once the film was screened publicly and broadcast nationally on POV it opened opportunities for me to do art with other veterans including a combat paper project and a mural at the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago. The film’s momentum eventually bringing me here to DC to pursue an artistic career with a scholarship to George Washington University arts program, formerly the Corcoran School of Art. Not only did the film help me, I saw it helped other veterans as well. I have received and continued to receive countless emails and Facebook messages on how the film has made it easier for veterans and their loved ones to understand the effects that war has on soldiers and the difficulties they have adjusting to normal life. By programming these types of personal films, POV has not only had an effect on me and everyone involved with the film. But it has also helped countless others.

Hello, my name is Dominic Fredneli. I'm an art student at George Washington University. I'm here not as a filmmaker but as one of the subjects of the Emmy Award winning POV film, Where Soldiers Come From. The film follows me and my friends for 4 years from teenagers to soldiers in Afghanistan, to 23 year-old-veterans adjusting to life in our small town. When I came back from Afghanistan I didn't want to admit that I had changed, even though I was having problems reintegrating back to civilian life.

About a year after we came back the director showed us the rough cut and after seeing that I realized the amount of change I had gone through. From then on I used the film as a tool to deal with problems of adjustment and the inability to reach out to others. Once the film was screened publicly and broadcast nationally on POV it opened opportunities for me to do art with other veterans including a combat paper project and a mural at the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago. The film’s momentum eventually bringing me here to DC to pursue an artistic career with a scholarship to George Washington University arts program, formerly the Corcoran School of Art. Not only did the film help me, I saw it helped other veterans as well. I have received and continued to receive countless emails and Facebook messages on how the film has made it easier for veterans and their loved ones to understand the effects that war has on soldiers and the difficulties they have adjusting to normal life. By programming these types of personal films, POV has not only had an effect on me and everyone involved with the film. But it has also helped countless others.

Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital

Tim Horsburgh

My name is Diana Ingraham, and I am the Executive Director of Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital – a multi-purpose arts and cultural organization housed in a newly renovated Civil War-Era hospital, located on Capitol Hill.

We are new – we started operations in October 2011, but over that period of time we have screened hundreds of hours of documentaries – mostly sourced from public broadcasting -- to robust, diverse and interested audiences.  As community screening partners with ITVS and POV, we’ve screened a good quotient of social issue documentaries.  

Over the years, public broadcasting/media has squeezed the distribution options for independent filmmakers largely into the two, curated award-winning series – Independent Lens and POV.   When PBS schedules these strands in prime-time – it sends a message/a statement that diverse and independent voices are critical to public media’s mandate as a valued part of our country’s civic engagement.

We do value our partnerships with ITVS and POV and hope that they will continue to be a source of high quality offerings.  I worry that if the strands are marginalized, funding for independent social issue documentaries will become even more difficult than it currently is.

I’ll close with an anecdote about a small community screening we did of MAKERS: Women in Space.  Our audience of 31 consisted largely of girls age 8 - 15 a melting pot of backgrounds – following the film they participated in conversation with two women scientists from NASA -- these tweens were able to pepper them with questions about favorite subjects in school, they learned that STEM fields are not just for men, about different programs that encourage young women to study science -- a few of the participants exchanged contact information with the scientists…overall a great program that was completely sparked by the quality and storytelling of the documentary.

DC Labor FilmFest

Tim Horsburgh

"Last Train Home, Made in L.A., Waging a Living, Life and Debt, The Uprising of '34, Roger and Me. These are just a few of the reasons Independent Lens and POV must be kept in their primetime slot on primary channels, and PBS must work with stations to ensure that they are carried in this slot. Public broadcasting continues to be a much-needed resource for America's underrepresented groups, enabling the general public to know about underrepresented issues. At the DC Labor FilmFest and other labor films festivals across the United States, we have shown many of the work and work-related films that Independent Lens and POV have broadcast. These are great films and we’re proud to be able to screen them but no matter how successful our film festivals are we can only reach a fraction of the audience PBS reaches on a regular basis. These are critical issues, important and well-told stories and they are absolutely core to PBS' mandate as a service for public broadcasting."

- Chris Garlock
Director, DC Labor FilmFest

OUT IN THE NIGHT

Tim Horsburgh

"My name is Blair Dorshwalter. I'm the director of the documentary Out In The Night. That is going to kick off POV's new season on June 22nd. It's a documentary about a group of African-American lesbians who were attacked in the West Village in 2006 in New York. They defended themselves and consequently went to prison for three-and-a-half to 11 years. We screened a very short version of this film at Bedford Hills Maximum Security Prison for women there a few years ago. There was not a woman in that room who couldn’t identify with the issues in this film. I started pen paling with a few of them. One woman told me that she had never seen a documentary before she went to prison because the only station they get in prison is PBS. Now she writes every time she watches a documentary in prison. We chose ‘POV’ because our audience doesn't get Netflix and they can't afford HBO. ‘POV’ is the only home for Out In The Night, for this audience, for our communities. Every major television station is trying to figure out a way to bring independent documentary films to their regular schedule programming. Why is WNET trying to push us out? We chose ‘POV’ because it’s the only way our audience and our community will see the film. For these black lesbians, ‘POV’ is going to be their megaphone to their communities. Please don't push out. We should be having this conversation expand, not constrict. Thank you."

- Blair Dorshwalter
Filmmaker