POV & Firelight Media Summit: A Docmaker’s Survival Guide from the Legendary Filmmakers of Blackside

by |

POV was honored to partner with Firelight Media on Friday, February 17th, for a one-day career development seminar, Sustaining a Career as a Public Media Maker: Models, Best Practices, & Strategies to Help Media Makers Stay in the Game.

Filmmaker, journalist and former POV intern Alva French was one of the emerging filmmakers in attendance. She shared her observations on the first panel, “Still Here.”

Sam Pollard, Louis Massiah, Orlando Bagwell, Ellis Cose, Ann Bennett, and June Cross speaking at the first panel session of the POV & Firelight Media Summit. Photo by Christine Turner.

Sam Pollard, Louis Massiah, Orlando Bagwell, Ellis Cose, Ann Bennett, and June Cross speaking at the first panel session of the POV & Firelight Media Summit. Photo by Christine Turner.

Emerging docmakers joined a who’s who of established filmmakers last Friday to learn how to make a sustainable career out of documentary filmmaking. Sponsored by POV and the Firelight Media Producers’ Lab, the day long summit offered tips, models and strategies to new filmmakers aspiring to be lifelong independent media professionals.

Ellis Cose moderates the first panel, "Still Here." Photo by Lindy Leong.

Veteran journalist Ellis Cose (Senior Advisor, Center for Talent Innovation) led the morning’s discussion, with members of the first wave of successful black documentary producer/directors, including Orlando Bagwell (Media Arts & Culture Program Officer, Ford Foundation), Ann Bennett (Producer, Through a Lens Darkly), Louis Massiah (Executive Director, Scribe Video Center), Sam Pollard (Director, Slavery by Another Name) and June Cross (Professor of Journalism, Columbia University).

All of the panelists shared their unique connection to Blackside Inc., one of America’s most respected documentary production companies, founded by Henry Hampton in 1968, and well known for producing the documentary series “Eyes on the Prize.”

Many of the filmmakers agreed that a solid sense of community facilitated the filmmaking process from the company’s inception. Orlando Bagwell offered this advice to the next generation of filmmakers: “You’re not just making a film, you’re building a community.” He went on to say that even though the odds are against you, as filmmakers, you must remain proactive.

Bagwell even questioned whether trailers were useful for filmmakers looking for funding. “I would never recommend making a trailer,” he said. “Make short scene segments instead.”

Sharese Bullock-Bailey (Off and Running, POV 2010) joins the discussion in the Q&A. Photo by Lindy Leong.

The panelists seemed to agree that the next generation of documentary makers should band together the way they did in the 1970s and 1980s. They believe that having a clear sense of story and being true to your own voice will help get your film completed and funded.

Looking to the future, June Cross, professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and a filmmaker in her own right, said there are more places than ever for documentaries to live across different media, and filmmakers shouldn’t be afraid to use social media as a force multiplier.

Cross then offered a dose of reality when she said, “You have to have a J-O-B to support the D-O-C.”

Lunch was punctuated by a keynote speech from filmmaker Judith Helfand (Chicken & Egg Pictures).

The second panel, “Charting the Course to Your Next Media Project” was moderated by Maria Agui Carter, (President, Iguana Films) and included Robert Bahar and Almudena Carracedo (Made in L.A., POV 2007), Shola Lynch (Producer/Director, Free Angela) and Stanley Nelson (Executive Director, Firelight Media).

Yvonne Welbon, Marco Williams, Eric Easter, Jim Colgan, and Brian Storm speaking at the final panel, "Looking Forward." Photo by Lindy Leong.

Eric Easter (Founding Partner, Rock the Content) moderated the final session, “Looking Forward,” with panelists Jim Colgan (Head of Media, Mobile Commons), Yvonne Welbon (Our Film Works / Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Studies, Bennett College), Brian Storm (Executive Producer, MediaStorm), and Marco Williams (Producer/Director, The Undocumented).

Alva French is a journalist and filmmaker based in New York City. You can follow her adventures on Twitter @supernana.

Get more documentary film news and features: Subscribe to POV’s documentary blog, like POV on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @povdocs.

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.
  • Cb

    I just saw the hbo documentary and was riveted at the story that unfolded. Wasn’t expecting to watch it and couldn’t turn away from it. He captured his brilliance of his career, his sadness of childhood loss of his brother ( even through the veil of dementia he couldn’t forget) and the failure as a parent. Very touching-as he said -just remember to forget-meaningful on many levels.