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A Year in Review: IDA Getting Real ’22 Fellowship

By Gabriella Ortega Ricketts

A group of Getting Real Fellows watches a panel at Getting Real 22. Image credit: Urbanite Media

A group of Getting Real Fellows watches a panel at Getting Real ’22. Image credit: Urbanite Media

In the fall of 2022, IDA launched our inaugural Getting Real Fellowship program, which sought to connect emerging and mid-career documentary professionals who displayed generosity, creative thinking, a desire to build community, and passion for the field. In addition to gathering the fellows in Los Angeles for Getting Real ’22, the fellows co-designed ten workshops, panels, and discussions inspired by their time at the conference. Some of the events were open to the public, while others were designed for fellows only. They covered everything from mental health and sustainability in the documentary field, the pressure for non-Western filmmakers to appeal to Western gatekeepers, and experiential programming exercises. If you come to IDA events often, you may have attended some of their public events, which included “Crossing Time Zones,” “Here’s What Really Happened: El Silencio del Topo,” and “Developing Engaging Stories.”

As we come to the end of our first cohort’s fellowship experience and open applications for the next round of fellows, we decided to do a roundup of all their events. If any of these inspire you, or make you feel like you’d want to organize something similar, we encourage you to apply to be part of our 2024 Getting Real Fellowship cohort. Applications close on November 20, 2023, at 5PM PT.

Read more about Getting Real, and the fellowship, here.

Xiaolu Wang & Valentin Noujaïm

Film and Narrative Therapy Workshop with Poh Lin Lee

In the beginning of January 2023, Xiaolu Wang and Valentin Noujaïm invited Poh Lin Lee, a narrative therapy practitioner, to facilitate a private workshop for the fellows. Narrative therapy, per Lee, is a “collection of anti-oppressive, social justice practices. Narrative therapy seeks to invite through collaborative inquiry an understanding of people’s lives which offers multi-storied accounts and often shines light on the alternative, neglected stories that have been overshadowed by one particular dominant story.” The workshop sought to delve into that, and served as an “offering to spend time with your practice (or project) within an anti-oppressive body of practice that values metaphorical deconstruction and non linear movement. “

Over the 3 hours of the workshop, fellows explored:

  • Permission, consent and participation in an experience-centered exercise
  • Current relationship with project/practice through metaphorical deconstruction 
  • What might currently stand between them and their practices

It was a powerful, challenging, and fun way for us to kick off the fellowship!

Daniel Chein & Milton Guillén 

Demystifying Pipeline for Creative Non-fiction

In February, Dan Chein and Milton Guillen visited the Berlinale International Film Festival to engage with the programme via conversations with multiple guests following a ‘curiosity thread’ that unpacked questions of curation in and around top tier festivals, as well as a structural reflection on power that film festivals hold. After crowdsourcing thoughts and ideas from the fellows, they recorded interviews with several people at the festival, which they then turned into a podcast. Some key questions that motivated their queries were about pipeline, and the different shapes that allow for some works to find their homes, as well as the ways prior relationships condition some of these possibilities. 

In the end, they interviewed sales agent Wouter Jansen; mentor and producer Jia Zhao; editor Daniel Garber; and writer, programmer, and Getting Real Fellow Victor Guimarães; each of whom represented a different constituency at the Berlinale. 

After the festival ended and the interviews were edited into a podcast, they held a listening session and discussion with the fellows on Zoom. 

Julie McElmurry & Arthur Pratt 

Workshop: Developing Engaging Stories 

In March, for our first public event, Julie and Arthur brought in story consultant and BBC filmmaker Geoffrey Smith to discuss story archetypes in documentary film. In Smith’s view, archetypes give filmmakers “a basic roadmap of the key emotional and psychological tentpoles.” 

In a 90-minute lecture and Q&A session, he covered the breakdown of archetypes, their history in the storytelling realm,  and examples of archetypes and their function in existing documentary films all as a way of guiding filmmakers through potential paths of working through indecision about their projects. The Q&A was followed by community-building breakout sessions, including ones hosted by Freetown Media in Sierra Leone and the Charlotte Unconventional Film School. The breakout rooms were scheduled for 30 minutes, but the event was such a hit that many attendees stayed for longer.

You can watch the recording here

Farid Ahmad & Pei-hua Chung

Crossing Time Zones: Negotiating International Expectations So I Can Finish My Documentary

In May, Bangladeshi filmmaker Farid Ahmad and Taiwanese programmer Pei-Hua Chung, in partnership with TFAI & Taiwan Docs and Dhaka DocLab, conducted a panel about the pressures and expectations that indigenous non-Western filmmakers face when producing and distributing their films. 

In this 90-minute event, Farid and Pei-hua were joined by filmmaker Huang Yin-yu, who along with Faris, discussed their shared concerns about the pressures to appeal to Western gatekeepers, touching on topics from international co-productions, the assumptions behind ideas of universality in narrative structures, and the unsaid challenges of being platformed. Farid even screened a series of interviews with several Bangladeshi filmmakers, who also had similar concerns. In the two weeks leadup to their conversation, registrants were able to watch Yin-yu’s film After Spring, the Tamaki Family… and Bangladeshi filmmaker Mehedi Mostafa’s film fantasy in a concrete jungle, for a week before and after the event. With participants in Bangladesh, Taiwan, and Japan – replete with simultaneous English to Mandarin translation – this event truly was crossing time zones! 

You can watch the recording and read the full event description here.

Laura Bermúdez & Malia Bruker

Here’s What Really Happened: El Silencio del Topo

In June, Laura Bermúdez and Malia Bruker held an amazing conversation with filmmaker Anaïs Taracena, director and producer of El Silencio del Topo (The Silence of the Mole, 2021), the award-winning documentary about a journalist who infiltrated the brutal and repressive government of Guatemala in the 1970s. Taracena, a self-trained filmmaker who studied political science, spent 6 years making the film. Despite a lack of sales agent and festival consultant interest, Taracena constructed her own documentary A-list film festival run (Sheffield, IDFA, Hot Docs) and specifically targeted audiences in countries with recent civil wars (Dokufest, Jeonju).

In this closed session held only for filmmakers (and no press!), Taracena opened up about the challenges she encountered making the film, ranging from a lack of archive due to the destruction of journalistic films, the challenges of building trust with participants within a culture of silence, the issues that arose in dealing with institutions who did not understand unique Guatemalan political context.

Due to the nature of the event, this session was not recorded. You can read the full event description here, and take our word for it that it was a great talk!

Rodrigo Dorfman & Mostafa Youssef

Conversations On Community Centered Cinema 

In August, Rodrigo Dorfman and Mostafa Youssef organized a closed workshop session with IDA Fellows, where they collectively brainstormed around and discussed community organizations, whether or not audiences matter, issues of extractive and non-extractive practices, as well as community-centered sustainability and resilience. During the session, fellows were assigned breakout rooms, where they could discuss each question amongst themselves before bringing their ideas to the larger group.

Their intention was to continue the present work done to reform the Documentary Core application by institutions like Sundance by expanding the field of the documentary ecosystem beyond the current “project based” funding frameworks in place and dig into the complexities of what “sustainability” means when you factor in community-centered/non-extractive practices. In advance of the workshop, Fellows were asked to fill out a survey on what it means to engage in community centered/non extractive practices from a local/personal experience, with the goal of turning it into a report to be shared with funders and gatekeepers in the documentary field. 

Emily Abi-Kheirs & María Josefina Parra Acuña

Here’s What Really Happened: The Eternal Memory

In early September, Emily Abi-Kheirs and María Josefina Parra Acuña invited Chilean director Maite Alberdi and producer Rocio Juade, who are currently on a worldwide theatrical tour with Alberdi's latest film, The Eternal Memory (2023), to talk about the film and its distribution. Moderated by Abi-Kheirs, the conversation was thoughtful and poignant as they discussed various issues they encountered in the making and release of the film. This session was closed for Fellows only, and was not recorded for publication. 

Winnie Wang & Victor Guimarães

Spans on a Bridge

From August 7–28, 2023, Victor Guimarães and Winnie Wang took turns exchanging short films over email and receiving responses from each other about their experience watching the film. While the first film would be sent without context, the subsequent films and responses would address previous films and comments, creating a dialogue and a film program. They agreed ahead of time on a total of 4 short films, which would all be documentaries under 15 minutes long, ideally directed by people who are reachable for screening rights, and from a context the sender knows about and identifies with. 

Victor and Winnie explain: “This exercise was envisioned as a game inspired by Victor’s interest in translation and our mutual love of writing and programming. We hope this brings out playfulness, experimentation, and curiosity, and encourages thought about programming and engaging with objects with/without context.”

In their fellowship event, Victor and Winnie read their emails to the fellows, which opened up a beautiful dialogue about programming, and about who should hold responsibility for considering the role of context and audience reception. An event centered around programming and manifested exclusively by programmers, this conversation offered a unique perspective for all present, filmmakers, and filmworkers alike.

If you’re curious about the exchange, the emails are published by Documentary magazine, along with an opportunity to view the program they created together.

Koval Bhatia & Taneisha Berg

Workshop: Big Kid Energy

In early October, Koval and Taneisha brought back Poh Lin Lee to host a workshop for the fellows, which was focused on reconnecting with ourselves outside of labels and the constraints of ‘practice.’ The workshop was structured to ask questions about unhindered self-expression and an invitation to show up as our most uninhibited selves. Over a period of two hours, the workshop was made up of two exercises: the first one involved remembering and introspecting on creative expression outside of ‘productive work’ and the second exercise was a roleplaying session to dive deeper into one’s relationship with ideas of joy, pleasure and ease. There was, of course, silly music and some dancing involved!

Jenny Shi & Katelyn Liu

Workshop: Working Sustainably in Documentary  

For our final fellowship event, Jenny Shi and Katelyn Liu invited Malikkah Rollins of DocuMentality to lead a private workshop for fellows on sustainability in documentary field work. Rollins shared resources with fellows, and also gave them the opportunity to discuss issues privately in small breakout rooms. Read the full description below:

Whether you’re a freelance filmmaker or a salaried festival staff member, working in documentary is fraught with instability. Often we’re working in isolation or under organizations that do not match our personal values. Documentary relies on the good will of makers, participants, and organizers that lead to burnout and poor work-life balance. How do we continue this work and build a career sustainably? For our final Getting Real 2022 Fellows Workshop, we hope to learn structures and models of living/working to maintain personal longevity and sustainability in documentary. This workshop will be led by Malikkah Rollins of Documentality, an experienced psychotherapist and counselor who is also a freelance producer and documentary community builder.