June 12, 2018

Thoughts from the Road: Geographic Diversity Matters

Naomi Walker. Executive Director, Southern Documentary Fund

Following the 2016 presidential election, there was a lot of hand-wringing across several industries about “what we missed.” Journalists in particular were among the guiltiest of parties (at least in our own minds). How, we wondered, did we miss what is clearly the biggest story of our time, a surge of disillusionment and discontent across the country? I was immediately of the opinion that we didn’t overlook the stories, we overlooked the storytellers.

That’s why when we talk about diversity at IDA, we’re not only talking about ethnicity, but also about geography (among other demographics). That’s also why we make a concerted effort, like many doc organizations, to hit the road and meet filmmakers across the country as much as possible. In 2018 alone, IDA staff has participated in events at the Austin Film Society, the True/False Film Fest in Missouri, the Ashland Independent Film Festival, the Illuminate Film Festival in Sedona, the Big Sky Film Festival in Montana, the Freep Film Festival in Detroit, the Media at Risk symposium in Philadelphia, and Full Frame and most recently, the Southern Documentary Fund (SDF) Artist Convening in Durham, among others.

These convenings are essential spaces to introduce the industry to the makers and vice versa; to be transparent about our processes; to answer questions and share best practices; to attach projects to their artists; and to build new partnerships. I’m always thrilled to learn the amazing breadth of stories filmmakers are telling in states that don’t get enough national attention, many of which, you could only access (or even know about) if you call a particular place home.

But, as so many of us have railed against what Pamela Yates termed “extractive storytelling,” in today’s political climate, there may be a similar phenomenon at play. At the SDF Artists Convening, a colleague told me that film-arts organizations around the country are experiencing something that might be coined “extractive partnerships.” That is, larger, more-resourced organizations in the documentary hubs leaning on smaller organizations to help round out their own bigger picture. In my own quest to support filmmakers across the US, I’m guilty as charged as we tap organizations to get the word out about IDA’s offerings. I left the convening glad to have heard this, and feeling excited and energized to think of ways we can be even more of an ally to all of the artists and organizations we work with outside of California.

So, while we gear up for Getting Real ‘18, we’re also planning ways to take even more of our offerings on the road. If you want to know when IDA is hitting your town, make sure to sign up for our newsletter where we list all the places you can find our staff. Next up, Dana Merwin, IDA’s newly minted program officer, will be at AFI Docs. Look forward to seeing you!

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