Black Filmmakers organize for a place at the table!

In collaboration with the Black Documentary Collective, the National Black Programming Consortium, and Firelight Producers’ Lab, the Black X-Change was an ITVS sponsored weekend in NYC for Black filmmakers who are seeking funding from ITVS. ITVS has hosted similar workshops with other groups. For this event, eight out of forty filmmakers who were invited to submit a proposal were selected to participate in this weekend workshop. Those who were not selected, were able to attend as observers. Over the two days, the filmmakers presented their films to a panel of experts who provided feedback and advice. The panelists were Leslie Fields-Cruz (NBPC), Chi-hui Yang (former Director of the SF Asian American Film Festival), Sharon La Cruise (filmmaker), Mable Haddock (former founding President and CEO of NBPC and now Director of Firelight Media’s Producer’s Lab), Emir Lewis (documentary editor) and Richard Saiz and Allison Davis (ITVS).

One of the goals of the workshop was to assist filmmakers in moving to the next level of ITVS funding. Most of these filmmakers had already made it to either the 2nd or 3rd phase of the application process or had received development funding, therefore the feedback they received could assist in submitting a better proposal and work in progress.

With each presenting filmmaker, a consistent theme came up regarding their treatment. Many panelists felt most treatments lacked a clear story clarifying the themes to be addressed in the film. All of the panelists felt the works-in-progress were better representations of the projects submitted. One panelist, felt she needed to see and hear the voice of the filmmaker in their treatments. Some filmmakers were criticized for being too academic in writing their treatment: “You have to tell the story in an active voice”. Leslie Fields-Cruz talked about the need for filmmakers to create public media projects that use outreach and engagement strategies to reach youth and people of color who are not watching and using public television.

On the 2nd day, Sharon La Cruise, also a consultant for the Ford Foundation, used her upcoming film on Daisy Bates as a case study. She applied to ITVS several times over a five-year period before she finally received funding. She began the process of making the documentary in 1997, when she first met Ms. Bates and approached her about it. She eventually received funding from NBPC (development), the NEH (research), and the Arkansas Council of the Humanities, along with other funding sources. She talked about being strategic about who she applied to, since many foundations/funders don’t support historical documentaries. As part of her development stage, she did a lot of research, reading and met various historians. One of the most important revelations about Daisy Bates was that even as a flawed person she still did amazing and courageous things during a very turbulent period in American History.

Her comments provided a great deal of insight into the process of creating a historical documentary.

One of the filmmakers who presented their film was Carol Bash. She is the producer and director of the upcoming documentary, “Mary Lou Williams: The Lady Who Swings The Band” about the incredible composer, musician and pianist Mary Lou Williams. Carol has applied to ITVS six times. Her film was further along than most of the filmmakers who presented over the weekend. The clip she presented provided a fresh perspective on the amazing Mary Lou Williams, who stood out among the musicians during that period of “Bee Bop” and “Swing”, a male-dominated era of Jazz music.

In addition to Carol, several filmmakers presented films in various states of production, many in the early stages. Even as an observer, listening to the criticism was often difficult but extremely insightful and necessary. The weekend not only provided these filmmakers with an opportunity to get feedback and suggestions from a panel of experts but also an opportunity to network and socialize with filmmakers in similar stages of production and fundraising. As an artist, it’s easy to feel that you are suffering alone but to know that others share the same frustration and challenges, as well as possible successes, is priceless. The challenges and funding limitations of filmmakers overall are tripled for filmmakers of color. Therefore, this X-Change, even if briefly, provided a light at the end of the tunnel. Creating a forum for the next generation of documentarians of color ensures the voices of the unknown heroes and the rarely heard stories are told.

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