Resource Guide for Documentary Filmmakers

This is a constantly evolving list of resources for documentary filmmakers. If there’s a resource not listed here you think should be included, please contact me. This list has grown since I started it thanks to contributions from my readers. The list is somewhat slanted towards the New England region where I live and work, however, there are plenty of links of national interest. This page was last updated on September 29, 2013.

Table of Contents

Discussion Lists and Online Groups

  • The D-Word hosts discussions about the art, craft, business, and social impact of documentary film. Public Topics are open to all, professionals can become Members of The D-Word and access a wide range of ongoing discussions in the Business, Creative, Social, and Technical discussion sections of the site. The D-Word has become the leading online community for over 2,000 documentary professionals from around the world.
  • Doculink is a community of documentary filmmakers who share information, leads, ideas, and a commitment to support each other’s growth, consists of an active email list, a website with detailed information and resources, and meetings in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, BC and occasionally in New York.
  • DVinfo.net, is a good discussion board for technical information, the site was founded by Chris Hurd with a “real names, real information” philosophy.
  • The Documentarians Group on LinkedIn is relatively new, let’s see where this goes.

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Organizations providing fiscal sponsorship and other support services

  • The International Documentary Association (IDA) promotes documentary filmmakers, provides Fiscal Sponsorship, distributes the Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund, and publishes Documentary magazine. They also run Docs Rock, a two-semester program that introduces high school students to the world of documentary filmmaking, and Doc U, a series of hands-on educational seminars and workshops for aspiring and experienced documentary filmmakers.
  • Filmmakers Collaborative (FC) is a filmmaker/member run organization providing fiscal sponsorship and several professional development events for members and non-members alike including the annual Making Media Now conference. FC has expanded their fiscal-sponsorship services to include filmmakers all over the country.
  • Center for Independent Documentary was founded to collaborate with independent producers to create films and videos on issues of contemporary social and cultural concern.
  • Documentary Educational Resources (DER) provides fiscal-sponsorship and is also a respected distributor of documentary films, originally founded by John Kennedy Marshall and Timothy Asch.
  • Women Make Movies was founded to address the under representation and misrepresentation of women in the media, they are a non-profit media arts organization facilitating the production, promotion, distribution and exhibition of films by and about women.
  • The Independent Feature Project (IFP) provides fiscal sponsorship and runs a range of programs for emerging and established documentary makers, including Independent Film Week (connections to financing and exhibition) and Documentary Lab (mentorship support).

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Consultants

  • Morrie Warshawski provides fundraising consulting, workshops, and has written extensively on the topic of fundraising, his site includes an extensive fundraising bibliography
  • Documentary Educational Resources, provides documentary filmmakers with fundraising, production, and distribution consulting
  • Fernanda Rossi, the Documentary Doctor, provides excellent story structure consulting, she also conducts awesome workshops, don’t miss the opportunity to attend one when she’s in your area.
  • Engagement Strategists, a list compiled by POV of specialists who can help filmmakers with their engagement plans.

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Web Sites and Blogs

  • POV Documentary Blog provides conversation and debate around current documentaries, interviews with documentary filmmakers, sneak peaks of docs-in-progress, and articles related to documentary film.
  • Paul Harrill’s Self-Reliant Film site is a wonderful resource for documentary makers working on their own.
  • The Cinema Tech blog by Scott Kirsner focuses on how new technologies are changing cinema, the way movies get made, discovered, marketed, distributed, shown, and seen, with occasional forays into other parts of the entertainment economy), a good read.
  • Heather McIntosh has done a terrific job putting together the Documentary Site, an online resource for documentary, a nice balance of material of interest to academics, students, and fans of documentary film
  • Ian McCormick’s blog, Community Media – Interactive World deals with community development, digital engagement, and international community film
  • Morrie Warshawski’s site includes an extensive fundraising bibliography and links to his books and articles
  • Sandra Gaudenzi’s Interactive Documentary Blog covers documenting reality, digital media, and her Ph.D. work in interactive documentary, the core hypothesis of her research is that digital interactive media affords, and therefore pushes, towards documenting reality in an enactive and situated way, rather than in a representative way. A really interesting blog if you want to think beyond the boundaries of the linear documentary.
  • The Collab Docs blog reflects research into documentary and Web 2.0 by Mandy Rose, who is drawing inspiration and ideas for methodology from examples of collaborative creativity in documentary and beyond.
  • And, of course, Kino-Eye.com which you are currently visiting.

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Associations, Organizations, and Centers

  • The Center for Social Media showcases and analyzes media for public knowledge and action—media made by, for, and with publics to address the problems that they share. They are highly engaged in the evolution of documentary film and video in the contemporary internet/social media lanscape. As part of the School of Communication at American University, the Center offers research assistantships, screenings, master classes and volunteer opportunities to their students and also has fellows associated with funded projects, but has no stand-alone funding for fellows. They also convene Media That Matters, an annual conference.
  • International Documentary Association
  • The National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) is a national membership organization that addresses the professional needs of Latino/Latina independent producers.
  • The Center for Asian American Media(CAAM) is dedicated to presenting stories that convey the richness and diversity of Asian American experiences to the broadest audience possible.
  • Independent Feature Project
  • University Film & Video Association
  • Broadcast Education Association
  • The Bay Area Video Coalition is the premiere media arts organization that provides a broad range of programming and services to media makers in the San Francisco bay area and beyond
  • The San Francisco Film Society provides fiscal sponsorship and a wide rage of services to filmmakers in the San Francisco Bay Area including classes and workshops. In 2008 the society launched their filmmaker support programs after signing an agreement with Film Arts Foundation, assuming the stewardship of activities provided by Film Arts over its 32-year history.
  • Sundance Institute

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Publications

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Funding

  • Documentary Funding Resources, lists U.S. and international funders of documentary film, compiled by POV.
  • New Media Funding Resources, lists funding and other opportunities for U.S.-based web documentary or transmedia projects, compiled by POV.
  • Public Media Funding Resources, a list of the top public media funders of feature and short documentaries, compiled by POV
  • The Foundation Center provides a comprehensive directory of private philanthropic and grant making institutions
  • New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) provides an extensive directory of awards, services, and publications for artists, they also publish NYFA Quarterly (news for artists and all those who support them) and NYFA Current (the magazine for artists)
  • Independent Television Service (ITVS) supports a range of innovative projects.
  • LEF New England has a focus on New England documentary with their Moving Image Fund
  • Massachusetts Cultural Council, funding categories include Film & Video, for more information refer to the Discipline Definitions and the most recent program guidelines on their web site.
  • Creative Capital Foundation Film Video & Visual Arts Grant
  • The Fledgling Fund considers requests for creative media projects in two funding cycles each year.
  • Chicken & Egg Pictures is a hybrid film fund and non-profit production company dedicated to supporting women filmmakers who are passionate about social justice, environmental, and human rights issues and exploring them on film.
  • Catapult Film Fund provides early development funding to documentary filmmakers who have a compelling story to tell, they support a broad spectrum of issues and perspectives.
  • Latino Public Broadcasting supports the development, production, acquisition and distribution of public media content that is representative of Latino people, or addresses issues of interest to Latino Americans.
  • Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) offers a range of innovative funding and talent development initiatives in hopes of engaging a wider scope of creators and more diverse audience.
  • Guidestar gathers and publicizes information about nonprofit organizations.

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Online Fundraising and Social Media

  • Kickstarter has managed to help people raise over $14M for their projects and has proven to be effective for documentary filmmakers, examples include: My Reincarnation (Jennifer Fox), When the Drum is Beating (Whitnety Dow), RICKY on LEACOCK (Jane Weiner), The Winding Stream (Beth Harrington), and many others.
  • Indie GoGo is a popular funding platform for creative, cause-related, or entrepreneurial fundraising campaign which operates in a manner different from Kickstarter (Indie GoGo is an open platform open to anyone who meets straightforward criteria, Kickstarter, on the other hand, curates).
  • The Workbook Project is an open creative network that provides insight into the process of funding, creating, distributing and sustaining your creative endeavors.
  • Independent Filmmakers Working with New Technologies: Case Studies by Scott Kirsner, In an effort to keep up with the changing landscape of new technology, ITVS commissioned Scott Kirsner to explore what independent filmmakers are doing in the field, required reading!

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Copyright, Fair Use, and Licensing

  • Fair Use & Copyright Articles (Center for Social Media, includes links to “Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use” and “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video” as well as a variety of excellent articles dealing with copyright issues)
  • Creative Commons (a licensing scheme that makes it possible to share media without losing specific rights)

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Conferences

  • Making Media Now is an annual conference held in the Boston area, hosted by Filmmakers Collaborative
  • Making Your Media Matter is an annual conference held in the Washington, D.C. area hosted by the Center for Social Media at American University

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Markets

  • Sunny Side of the Docs, an annual documentary market organized around 350 buyers representing more than 130 television stations
  • Docs for Sale, parallels the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam
  • The Doc Shop, the documentary market running concurrently with the Hot Docs Festival
  • Independent Film Week, the IFP market, not exclusively documentary like the first three on the list

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Film Festivals

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Documentary Film Distributors

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Classes and Workshops

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Academic Programs

While it is possible to study documentary in many undergraduate or graduate programs, the following programs have a specific focus on documentary and stand out as exemplary programs given the quality of their faculty and the track record of their alumni:

  • Stanford’s program in Film and Media Studies situated in the Department of Art & Art History offers an MFA in documentary production. This is among the best academic programs in the country.
  • Hunter College runs an Integrated Media Arts MFA program that is focused on non-fiction storytelling.
  • Duke Univeristy, through The Center for Documentary Studies, offers an MFA in Experimental & Documentary Arts. The center also offers an interdisciplinary undergraduate program and continuing education workshops.
  • The Documentary Film Program at Wake Forest University offers an MA or MFA in documentary production.
  • The School of Film & Photography at Montana State University offers an MFA in Science and Natural History Filmmaking. This program approaches documentary film as an art form rather than as a form of journalism. Among their goals is to train filmmakers who will create accurate and interesting programs that advance the public understanding of science.
  • The Documentary Center situated within the Center for Innovative Media in the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University offers a 9-credit graduate Certificate in Documentary Filmmaking.
  • The New School’s Certificate in Documentary Media Studies is a one-year, full-time, graduate-level certificate program.
  • The Documentary Media Program in Ryerson University’s School of Image Arts offers an MFA degree in documentary media. 
  • The Graduate School of Journalism at U.C. Berkeley offers a Master of Journalism (M.J.) degree in which you can concentrate on documentary.
  • The Social Documentary Program at the School of Visual Arts offers an MFA in Social Documentary.

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Archival and Stock Footage Sources

  • The Internet Archive provides access to an extensive collection of historical footage in digital form, much of which is in the public domain or licensed via a Creative Commons license.
  • Getty Images was the first company to license footage online, they offer a wide range of stock footage and music along with an extensive collection of historical images and footage. While their footage fees are quite expensive, be aware the actual licensing fees you pay for your specific project are negotiable.
  • Research Video has an extensive footage library of music and comedy performances, celebrity interviews. The collection spans the 1940s through the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 1990s.
  • Documentary Educational Resources has an archive of ethnographic film covering cultures and societies around the world including the Smithsonian’s Human Studies Film Archive.
  • Video Blocks   is a subscription-based website that provides members with unlimited downloads of stock footage, music, and sound effects.  Instead of charging per download, they allow members to download as much as they want.
  • RevoStock offers an extensive collection of contemporary and historical footage, much of which is in the public domain or licensed via a Creative Commons license. They provide relatively generous terms to producers making footage available via RevoStock.

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Networking Events in the Boston Area

  • Connect The Docs is a monthly gathering of documentary filmmaking professionals in Boston
  • Boston Media Makers is a monthly gathering of people interested in social media, informal media, and new media.
  • Filmmakers Workshop events run by the Center for Independent Documentary offer Boston area independent media artists a non-competitive, supportive networking community, meetings vary, panel discussions, work-in-progress screenings or presentations, etc. Filmmaker’s Workshop has been on hiatus, however, I expect it will be back up and running late in 2013 or early in 2014. Stay tuned!

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Books

If you decide to purchase any of the books listed, please use the links on this page, they will take you to Amazon and a small commission will go to kino-eye.com to help defray the cost of hosting and updating this site.

  • Michael Rabiger’s Directing the Documentary (5th edition, Focal Press, 2009) provides a comprehensive introduction to documentary covering every step of the process in detail. This book has become the definitive textbook on the topic, suitable for a two semester course sequence. The 5th edition reflects a significant reorganization into part one covering fundamentals and part two covering advanced topics. Rabiger provides a good balance between aesthetics, ethics, practical, and technical issues.
  • The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide: A Down & Dirty DV Production by Anthony Q. Artis (Focal Press, 2007) is an accessible introduction to documentary production techniques. Artis goes beyond technical fundamentals of camera, lighting, and sound to share practical tips on a range of issues including how to behave yourself in surroundings in which you’re not a native, how to work with your crew, how to interact with interview subjects, keeping your budget under control, etc. The writing is clear and to the point and accompanied by lots of visuals. If you’re into no-frills production, much of what Artis talks about is also applicable to narrative filmmakers, however, the focus is clearly on documentary production. Highly recommended for all beginners as well as experienced documentary filmmakers who have not been involved in the technical side of the craft and are contemplating a move into “solo lobo” or “small-crew” production. The camera section is a tad dated, but the rest of the book is still a gem and it’s still the best non-nonesense introduction to the topic.
  • Sheila Bernard’s Documentary Storytelling (3rd edition, Focal Press, 2010) provides a comprehensive introduction to story and story structure. It is critical to master the fundamentals of fundraising, producing, directing, shooting, editing, distribution, and outreach, however, in the end it’s the story you tell, and how you tell it, that will engage your audience. Bernard discusses story research, planning, editing, narration, voiceover, etc. but what makes the book special is the case studies and interviews with filmmakers in which she talks about storytelling in the context of specific films, including Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan (Troublesome Creek), Ric Burns (New York: A Documentary Film), Susan Kim (Imaginary Witness), Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side), and more.
  • Archival Storytelling: A Filmmaker’s Guide to Finding, Using, and Licensing Third-Party Visuals and Music by Sheila Bernard and Kenn Rabin (Focal Press, 2008) provides a guide covering essential topics, regardless whether you’re making a film that relies exclusively on archival materials or simply incpororates some archival images in your documentary. The book presents important topics like researching archival materials, copyright, acquiring and clearing rights, etc. Bernard and Rabin present valuable insights on historical, creative, and ethical issues and helps you better understand the meaning of intellectual property, public domain, fair use, and orphan works. Also included are conversations with industry experts including Lawrence Lessig, Patricia Aufderheide, Rick Prelinger, and quite a few others.
  • Shaking the Money Tree: The Art of Getting Grants and Donations for Film and Video by Morrie Warshawski (3rd edition, Michael Wiese Productions, 2010) will demystify the fundraising process. This is a topic that changes just as rapidly as technology, so make sure you’re reading the latest edition of this book. Given that documentary filmmaking is 90% fundraising and 10% filmmaking, this is a valuable resource to make sure you find the funds to complete your documentary!
  • The Fundraising Houseparty: How to Party with a Purpose and Raise Money for Your Cause by Morrie Warshawski (2nd edition, Morrie Warshawski, 2007) provides a practical guide for organizing a fundraising house party, providing guidance on how to handle invitations, the ask, follow-ups, and more. With foundation funding more difficult than ever and practically impossible for first-time fimmakers, alternative funding techniques may be your best bet for raising funds and the house party is a proven approach for a wide range of causes and perhaps your film.
  • The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers, Second Edition: A Legal Toolkit for Independent Producers by Thomas Crowell (2nd edition, Focal Press, 2011) covers in plain language the wide range of legal topics that every filmmaker embarking on a serious project needs to be aware of including: contracts, releases, NDAs, copyright, trademarks, labor law, product placement, film tax credits, creating a production company, distribution, safeguarding your concept, and more. While some of the discussion is focused on the concerns independent narrative filmmakers, most of the topics overlaps with the concerns of documentary filmmakers. While this book should never be considered a substitute for seeking the guidance of an experienced entertainment attorney (every documentary is different and involves a unique set of circumstances), it will help you understand the legal issues related to filmmaking and make your conversations with your own attorney more productive. There are lots of legal problems you could encounter along the way making your film and it’s easier and cheaper to avoid most of them in the first place, which is why this books is essential.
  • Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright by Patricia Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi (University of Chicago Press, 2011) is an important book you need to read if you are incorporating copyrighted works in your film. Fair use is widely misunderstood and the interpretation of the law varies among professionals. Aufderheide and Jaszi offer guidance based on sound practices related to fair use of materials.
  • Clearance & Copyright: Everything You Need to Know for Film and Television by Michael Donaldson (3rd Edition, Silman-James Press, 2008) is a very readable guide providing essential advice on almost every conceivable rights issue you may encounter: from the initial acquisition of material through the rights situations that arise in pre-production, production, post-production, release, and distribution.
  • Dealmaking in the Film & Television Industry: From Negotiations Through Final Contracts by Mark Litwak (3rd edition, Silman-James Press, 2009) is a valuable resource for producers covering most of the business agreements you will need along with advice to avoid many common pitfalls. Like the previous book, this is not a substitute for the guidance of an experienced entertainment attorney who can help you navigate the specific circumstances of your project. Keep in mind that the industry is in rapid transition and this book is already daed, but it offers a sold starting point as you investigate this topic.

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If there’s a resource not listed here you think should be included, please contact me. This list has grown since I started it thanks to contributions from my readers.