Cage Match: Filmmaking or Activism? at Independent Film Week

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Sarah Tabet is currently interning in the community engagement department at POV. She is also working at Chicken & Egg Pictures as an assistant to the fund. Earlier this week, she attended various panels at Independent Film Week. Here’s her report from one of the most talked about panels.

Independent Filmmaker Conference

“Have filmmakers taken off their story-telling hats and stepped up on the soapbox?… Do you think teachers have bad taste in documentaries?… What is your role in life?”

There were some tough questions asked at Independent Film Week on Tuesday. The afternoon’s panel, “Cage Match: Filmmaking or Activism?“, addressed the contentious relationship between filmmaking, funding and activism. Panelists Deborah Zimmerman (Women Make Movies), Julie Goldman (Motto Pictures), and Nick Fraser (BBC Storyville) offered their opinions and concerns to a room full of filmmakers (there were also a handful of funders in attendance). POV’s series producer Yance Ford moderated the discussion.

Most panels at Independent Film Week and elsewhere only allow audience questions after the speakers have spoken. But at yesterday’s cage match, audience members were encouraged to ask questions throughout the discussion. One filmmaker in the audience pointed out that artists need to start setting boundaries for compromising their stories. She explained that filmmakers often express feeling a push to appeal to outreach organizations for distribution of their films and, as a result, often have to compromise their vision to appease funders. She said, “We have to know when the price is right, I won’t sell my soul for a $5,000 grant, but give me $100,000 and things are different.” Another filmmaker used the opportunity to express her pent-up frustration at having to restrain her art and tame her own image to try to gain trust from funders. She said that is was something she “never gets to say.”

While the role of film in activism was concluded to be an essential branch of the industry, the recurring issue throughout the discussion was the lack of funding for films that don’t necessarily have an easy outreach “hook.” In other words, there are not enough funders for non-social issue documentaries, and obscure subjects have trouble getting seen. So where does this leave us? According to panelist Nick Fraser, filmmakers should be focusing on new subjects (instead of retreads of the same familiar subjects), and more concerned with the overall lack of social change. “Make a film about Bill Gates or George Soros, instead of getting funding from them,” Fraser said. Perhaps it is only when filmmakers go beyond the expected and explore new territory that they can encourage real social change.

POV Guest Blogger
POV Guest Blogger
POV (a cinema term for "point of view") is television's longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. POV premieres 14-16 of the best, boldest and most innovative programs every year on PBS. Since 1988, POV has presented over 300 films to public television audiences across the country. POV films are known for their intimacy, their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues.