Getting Real: A New Documentary Conference Aiming for Industry Action, Not Just Conversation

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Getting Real 2014

The International Documentary Association (IDA), in collaboration with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is hosting Getting Real, a new documentary film conference in Los Angeles that will bring together filmmakers and industry professionals to discuss issues in the industry with the hope of initiating tangible change.

Getting Real, which will be held from September 30 to October 2, 2014, features 20 sessions focusing on three topics — career, art and impact. The conference’s keynote speakers include Tabitha Jackson, director of Sundance Institute’s documentary film program; Cara Mertes, director of the Ford Foundation’s JustFilms initiative; Dawn Porter, director of Gideon’s Army and Spies of Mississippi; and Morgan Spurlock, a filmmaker and director of Super Size Me.

To get a better idea of how the organizers of Getting Real plan to distinguish the event from other documentary film conferences, I spoke with IDA Executive Director Michael Lumpkin about the most critical issues within the film industry and how Getting Real plans to tackle them.

POV: Why did IDA decide to create Getting Real? What sets it apart from other conferences for documentary filmmakers?

When I came to IDA about 5 1/2 years ago, I began immersing myself into the documentary community, going to documentary film festivals and conferences. Over a little bit of time, my observation was that a lot of those gatherings were mostly about filmmakers getting financial support for their projects. They’re pitching their projects and a whole theater of people is watching them – it’s like a Jeopardy show, trying to get the money. When that’s the primary motivation or goal for documentary filmmakers in a certain space, it’s also like they’re in some ways competing with each other.

Certainly funding and financial support is critically important for filmmakers, but what was not happening was a space where filmmakers can come together to talk about the critical issues that are facing the documentary field. Those have been discussed and brought up at a number of places, but you talk about it for an hour and half and then you go away. That was really for us how it started and then it evolved into us actually doing a conference that would be different from the other ones and discuss in-depth issues with a real emphasis on outcomes and follow-throughs post-conference.

POV: What would some of these concrete outcomes look like?

For instance, we’re giving funders and filmmakers the opportunity to be in a room together and discuss how documentaries are funded now and how they could be funded in a better way that would be more helpful for filmmakers. Our hope is that the concrete outcome would be funders do start funding in a way that is better for filmmakers. Staying within the funding world, that could be something along the lines of a common application process so that you don’t have to start from ground zero every time you submit a proposal to one of us, so that there’s more uniformity between funders in terms of what they’re asking for.

Other concrete outcomes are in the discussions around women in the film industry, and there’s work already being done by Sundance with USC and Women in Film in Los Angeles. They’ve done a ton of research about women primarily in the independent film industry. We’re going to have a look at that research that’s specific to documentary about how things can change in terms of disparity between women and men in documentary filmmaking. We need to push ourselves and push our part of the film industry to do better. It may have to start with education – educating the field so that that will eventually lead to change.

POV: What do you think about conversations about the current state of the film industry? Do you think filmmakers need to redirect their conversations toward a more practical route?

Alison Berg really brought this to the table for us when she started working with us. She’s like, filmmakers talk about this stuff, but they do it over dinner. They do it at a bar. What we’re trying to do is bring that sharing of information of how things work to a more public and accessible level, so that you don’t have to know a particular filmmaker and have a relationship with them that would allow you to be at a bar with them at some point and they will be telling you this. You can come to the conference and get that kind of information.

I think filmmakers are asking the right questions. A lot of the work we’ve been doing is trying to find out what filmmakers want to know. I think that it’s not redirecting the conversation, it’s having a deeper conversation. And I think more importantly, that outcome piece of it is important as well, because you can discuss a lot, but it’s not worth taking the time and effort to have the conversations if you’re not really going to go out and try to change something.

Filmmakers do quite a bit in our world for others. Their films, the stories they’re telling, the things they’re capturing about our world, are incredibly important and key to our survival as a planet. I think that filmmakers need to get some change for themselves. There’s too many filmmakers making such critically important work and not getting paid for it. We want to make sure that filmmakers are doing their work in the best way possible, meaning they’re getting paid. They can have a career doing this.

POV: How do you think filmmakers can increase the impact of their own films?

I think one thing we’re going to look at is just that very question. Why are filmmakers now in the position of the ones responsible for change actually happening? For filmmakers, what they do and what’s being asked of them has changed in terms of impact and measurement and data. Not saying that’s bad, this shouldn’t happen, or this is good it’s fine that this is happening, but understanding how it happened and why it happened. And looking at is this the most effective way for change to be happening? Is the system as it is set up the best way for this to all work?

POV: What do you think the future of independent film looks like, especially now that so many people are producing films?

I think the amount of films that are out there is a great thing, that a lot of people are doing this and are feeling compelled to actually tell stories and do that work. The distribution-exhibition piece of it is still being figured out in terms of what works, what doesn’t work. There needs to be more transparency about what goes on financially in that world with the documentary so that better decisions can be made both by filmmakers and then by those that are distributing their films. You need to know what’s going to happen before you start shooting and for a distributor before you pick up a film and send it out into the world.

The first “Getting Real” conference will take place in Los Angeles, September 30 to October 2, 2014. To find out more and to register, visit gettingreal2014.com.

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Emma Moley
Emma Moley
Emma is a summer 2014 intern with POV Digital.