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Notes from the Reel World, Fall 2016

By Simon Kilmurry

Dear IDA Community,

As we have been working these past few months to prepare for the biennial Getting Real ’16 documentary conference, I’ve been struck by the broad range of challenges that the documentary community is facing. The themes of Getting Real—career sustainability, diversity and the evolving craft of documentary storytelling—came from a series of meetings with filmmakers around the country. They are big, all-encompassing themes that can sometimes feel overwhelming. Can you really build a life-supporting career in this odd business where filmmakers are often driven not by financial gain, but by the desire to explore the world and to tell a story? How can we lower the barriers of access to documentary funding and support to communities that have been inconsistently supported, at best, but whose stories are urgent and whose artistry is inspiring? How can the documentary form continue to evolve and embrace new ways of nonfiction storytelling? How can we keep pushing the boundaries and experiment with form?

But rather than overwhelming, the conversations I have had with friends and colleagues throughout the field have been inspiring and galvanizing. While there are no easy answers to the challenges we face, I’ve been struck by people’s passion to come together to debate, engage and hash out solutions. These conversations are not just being had by the filmmaking community; they are also happening with funders and financiers who recognize that change is needed. Getting Real won’t provide all the solutions, but I am hopeful that this gathering will provide a venue to explore, hear each other and be creative in our approaches to the challenges. And I hope that just the act of coming together as a community will help us remember that there is a strength and vibrancy to this field—something we can often forget when off working in our own corners on our own projects.

Recently, I saw just how quickly this community can be galvanized and how our voice can garner attention. Led by David Felix Sutcliffe’s call to action, we undertook the #RightToRecord campaign to shine a light on the harassment of citizen journalists recording police brutality. Within just a few days of launching the campaign, along with David’s passionate open letter to the field, over 700 filmmakers had signed onto the statement of support, and outlets as varied as The Guardian, Boing Boing and Buzzfeed had covered it, bringing it to millions more. Of course, this does not change the situation, and much work remains to be done. A petition is not a solution. But it shows that we do have a voice—we can have an impact and we can take steps to shine a light on issues that concern us.

Progress can sometimes feel frustratingly slow and incremental, but I am hopeful that Getting Real ‘16 will spark fresh thinking and new connections. And when we gather again for Getting Real ’18, we will be able to look back and see that progress has been made.


Simon Kilmurry

IDA Executive Director