The Indie Caucus received funding in 2015 to organize and consolidate outcomes from a listening tour on the importance of independent, point-of-view documentary to the mission of public television, and the need for local stations and PBS to support it by showcasing Independent Lens and POV on the prime-time schedule.
Since January, Indie Caucus has worked to do just that, inviting filmmakers and general audiences to take part in a public discussion surrounding the POV and Independent Lens (IL) presence on public television. This resulted in the rescue of both series on the PBS schedule--a reversal of the initial scheduling change. Public and filmmaker testimonials received broad coverage in industry news outlets and laid the foundation for a moment to advocate for independent voices in public television on an ongoing basis.
The IC first engaged in three major listening tour events (San Francisco, New York City and Chicago), one public forum (Washington, DC), and several panel discussions at the major film festivals and conferences. The National Listening Tour Events were produced with co-hosts PBS, ITVS, WNET, Kartemquin Films, Independent Lens and POV, and drew from a wide range of community and film organizations and associations as sponsors.
In addition to events, the essential work of the IC has been and continues in building constituency and leadership to carry on the messages, presence and effort of the vitality of independent voices, accessible public media, and inclusivity and diversity in the media landscape. The above events along with individual efforts of committee members and allies have led to the growth of the IC from a small committee to growth in leadership, content and membership contacts:
Indie Caucus garnered “An Open Letter From Filmmakers, Funders and NGOs” with signatories from luminaries in the documentary field.
The IC website hosts powerful testimonies from community members and organizations. Testimonies published from the Harmony Institute, Leading Age, Protect our Defenders, Sasha Bruce Youth Network, Sunlight Foundation, Docs in Progress, Dominic Fredianelli—subject of documentary “Where Soldiers Come from,” the Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital, and the DC Labor Film Festival.
The Center for Media & Social Impact published “Diversity in Documentary TV Programming in the United States: Comparing Public TV and Cable Networks,” showing that Independent Lens and POV feature more shows with at least one female or minority director and speaking role than commercial cable documentary series, and are generally more diverse than public TV documentary series that do not feature independent work. Next season, data will be especially helpful in monitoring the results of PBS’ new plan.
As filmmakers, we recognize that IL and POV have been leaders in breaking new ground with documentary film. Throughout the grant period, Indie Caucus celebrated that legacy and put pressure on PBS to recognize the same while remaining committed to working with PBS as partners with the shared goal of developing new audiences and new filmmakers for these programs.
We are pleased to report that our conversations with PBS have been productive. On April 23, 2015, PBS committed to keeping POV and IL in their Monday night broadcast schedule for one year.
“The independent documentary series — IL and POV — speak to the core of what public television is all about and like others I am encouraged by this new agreement. I think we have all learned that there is a large, diverse and active set of audiences for these films and it’s now time to think about further growing these audiences — in particular, younger and more diverse viewers."
Bernardo Ruiz, Indie Caucus Steering Committee Member
“The statement from PBS leaves us cautiously optimistic that we are on the road to having a strong and stable home for indies on PBS. One of the benefits of this process over the last several months is that the creative community has been energized about this issue.”
Katy Chevigny, Indie Caucus Steering Committee Member
We are watching closely to see what comes next and plan to continue to hold PBS and its member stations accountable to their mission. Public television was born with the dream of providing rich content, to use in better conversations for a stronger democracy. That dream is alive in the independent filmmaking community.
2015 LIVE EVENTS
San Francisco National Listening Tour
Testimonials from more than more than 225 Bay Area filmmakers, local and national independent film organizations, public media advocates, educators, and community leaders provided to a panel of listeners: PBS programming leaders Beth Hoppe and Marie Nelson, WNET‘s Lesley Norman, ITVS’s Sally Jo Fifer, KQED’s Kevin Martin, Independent Lens‘ Lois Vossen, POV‘s Simon Kilmurry, filmmakers Orlando Bagwell and Tracy Droz Tragos, and community leaders Esta Soler of Futures Without Violence and Kin Folkz of Spectrum Queer Media.
Sundance Film Festival
IC members attended Sundance-sponsored panel discussion on PBS, participated in audience discussion directing questions to Stephen Segaller on the scheduling changes. Adam Segal’s The 2050 Group and IC representatives distributed a press release, FAQ, and buttons in Filmmaker Lodge at panel discussions and additional events throughout the festival. Director/Producer Stanley Nelson, MacArthur Fellow and Founder of Firelight Media, spoke out openly while participating on panel with Stephen Segaller."The decision to move Independent Lens and POV to channel 21 was devastating."
Washington, D.C. Public Forum: “Public TV and Independent, Point of View Documentary,” an event of the 2015 Media That Matters Conference
Over 100 participants showed up to contribute and hear testimonials at a forum hosted by the Center for Media & Social Impact at American University, to a panel of discussants moderated by Melissa Houghton, director at Women in Film & Video of Washington, D.C. Testimonials came from journalists including Chuck Lewis, director of the Investigative Reporting Workshop; local D.C. nonprofits; producers representing the consortia of minority filmmakers, and via Skype: executive director of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers; funders such as Joy Moore of the Annie E. Casey Foundation; representatives from the labor movement; and as one of the most moving statements, Dominic Fredianelli, subject of the Emmy award-winning, POV broadcast documentary, Where Soldiers Come From.” A war veteran who was deployed in Afghanistan, Fredianelli said, “I received and continue to receive countless emails and Facebook messages on how the film has made it easier for veterans and their loved ones to understand the effect that war has on soldiers, and the difficulties they have adjusting to normal life.”
New York City National Listening Tour
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. Listeners included: 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.
Chicago National Listening Tour
Over 200 participants joined the final stop on the Listening Tour with conversation led prominent leadership in the Chicago film community including Steve James of Kartemquin Films, Floyd Webb, director of Chicago’s Black World Cinema Series, and award-winning Director/Producer/Screenwriter Yvonne Weldon. PBS Senior Vice President of Station Services, Juan Sepulveda was tapped to host and lead a meeting format used internally at PBS. The Native American “kiva” format asked participants to gather at round tables; six discussants were invited on stage for 60-second remarks and responses, followed by discussion at individual tables collected on record. Three topics were introduced this way, and PBS collected the notes and documentation.
SXSW Film Festival
IC representatives both spoke on and attended PBS panels, engaging in discussion on whether PBS will consider common carriage for Independent Lens and POV. Panels included: March 16 Doc Distribution: Get Up To Speed with PBS Indies Panel: Marshall Curry, Yance Ford, Byron Hurt, Donald Thoms, and Moderator Liz Cheng; and March 17 Indie Caucus Roundtable Panel: Bernardo Ruiz (Director, Reportero), PJ Raval (Director, Before You Know It), Jessica Edwards (Director, Mavis!) and Marie Nelson (VP of News and Public Affairs for PBS).
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
Leaders from the Indie Caucus headlined one of the festival’s signature Speakeasy panels to report back on the Listening Tour. Panelists included: Bernardo Ruiz (Kingdom of Shadows), Cynthia Hill (Private Violence), Byron Hurt (Soul Food Junkies), Julia Reichert (The Last Truck) and Heather Courtney (Where Soldiers Come From).
AFI DOCS Filmmaker Conference: Expanding the Reach and Visibility of Indie Film on PBS
A panel discussion was inspired by PBS announcement that POV and Independent Lens will stay in primetime for the foreseeable future, and renewed commitment to expanding the reach and visibility of independent. Key players in this process explained how these decisions will be implemented, what changes they expect, and discussed how filmmakers might be able to take advantage of opportunities. Panelists included: Dawn Porter, Director/Producer, Moderator; Marie Nelson, Vice President, News & Public Affairs, PBS; Tamara Gould, SVP of National Production and Strategic Partnerships, ITVS, Bernardo Ruiz, Director/Producer.
University Film & Video Association Annual Conference
The Center for Media & Social Impact’s Pat Aufderheide hosted a session at UFVA annual conference to discuss relationships between public TV and indie filmmakers. Aufderheide presented findings from CMSI study showing that Independent Lens and POV feature more shows with at least one female or minority director and speaking role than commercial cable documentary series. Panelists included: Bernardo Ruiz, Indie Caucus; Joseph Tovares, senior VP for diversity and innovation at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; Pamela Aguilar, PBS director of programming and development; and Jennifer Maytorena Taylor, filmmaker.