March 23, 2020

Essential Doc Reads: Week of March 16

Photo: Dhaya Eddine Bentalab/Unsplash

As the updates on COVID-19 take on an uptick in urgency—we at IDA have been working from home for the past week and will continue to do so as long as the Safer at Home decree from California Governor Newsom remains in place (at least another month)—we have been tracking the latest impacts on our community. So this edition of Essential Doc Reads will be, for the most part, an amalgamation of announcements, industry responses, check-ins with filmmakers (see our interview with Todd Chandler and Danielle Vega) and more.

But first, we have all been beaming out positive mantras to Chicago, where the mighty Gordon Quinn—founder of Kartemquin Films; maker of scores of impactful, lasting works; mentor to hundreds of filmmakers; and prime mover on so many initiatives, ranging from ethics to fair use—is the most prominent member of our community to contract the coronavirus. Read the report in the Chicago Tribune , a letter from Kartemquin Executive Director Jolene Pinder and a Caring Bridge page for you all to leave your good wishes. 

Elsewhere in the documentary community, Deadline's Matthew Carey polled filmmakers both in the US and in Europe, about how they're coping and where they're going from here.

"We're in a slightly different position than many businesses in the sense that part of our mission is to observe," Gibney says. "Part of our job is to document. And so we have to be attentive to that and also the need to push forward."

The Guardian's Catherine Shoard reached out to all sectors of the film industry about the sudden and devastating impact of the coronavirus.

Freelance film-makers cannot access the stop-gap provided by unemployment benefits or the emergency funds provided by unions. We are many, and we are out of luck. Still, perhaps not so out of luck as the [World War II] veterans in my film. I’m worried for my livelihood; they for their lives.

IndieWire's Tom Brueggemann assesses the present and future states of movie theater chains and indie showcases.

Still, big steps need to be taken. Unlike sports teams, where players have a direct connection with workers in their arenas, the top creative people in the film industry often have no direct contact with individual theaters and their struggling employees. Now would be a great time for individuals or groups who say they want to preserve the theatrical experience to step up and contribute.

The Hollywood Reporter's Katie Kilkenny found some nonfiction production companies to be defying the "Safer at Home" directive.

"I think people are really scared to not work and what's going to happen is there's going to be an evaporation of work for three months," a third source who worked at Prometheus and wished to remain anonymous says. "I don't begrudge people for being fearful of their livelihood. What I can't stand is that there's someone who has a lack of regard for employees to put them in harm's way."

Kilkenny also monitors the status of below-the-line personnel. 

"These new difficulties add to an already trying past year amid the boom in scripted content for many freelance nonfiction producers, who have said typical rates for their work are decreasing. "I've already had a month of unemployment this year and it looks like another month will happen due to this COVID-19 crisis," Nonfiction showrunner and executive producer JohannaVanderspool says.

No Film School's Oakley Anderson-Moore has been monitoring the possibilities of recovering lost income.

"The U.S. Department of Labor today announced new guidance outlining flexibilities that states have in administering their unemployment insurance (UI) programs to assist Americans affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Under the guidance, federal law permits significant flexibility for states to amend their laws to provide UI benefits in multiple scenarios related to COVID-19. 

Cancellations and Other Updates:

Here’s IndieWire’s running list of cancellations due to the coronavirus:


Sunny Side of the Doc Rolls Out Digital Alternatives


SFFILM Unveils Online Festival Lineup


DOXA Postpones 2020 Festival




Netflix Creates $100M Coronavirus Relief Fund


Cinema Worker Solidarity Fund


NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund 


Relief Fund for Hollywood Support Staff




Writing in The Wrap, Seed & Spark's Clay Pruitt offers a solution to how to support the film festival ecosystem.

We owe our support to festival comrades who opt to put their festival online. It’s also important for filmmakers to see a groundswell of support so they can make informed decisions about whether or not to allow a festival to take their film online. And we can show that support by making a public pledge. By signing the 2020 Film Festival Survival Pledge, festivals and distributors can support the independent film community affected by the COVID-19 outbreak by agreeing to a six-point pledge.

Kino Lorber Launches Virtual Theater Exhibition Initiative


PBS Responds to Coronavirus Pandemic With Programming and Online Content 


A Message about FRONTLINE's Coronavirus Coverage


Awards Shows Eying Rule Changes