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Testimonial

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.