SilverDocs, for producers desperately seeking advice

Now in its tenth year, the SilverDocs Film Festival, held June 18-24 in Silver Springs, Maryland attracts 27,000 cinefiles who come to catch the world’s buzziest documentaries before they hit the air or theaters. Variety calls it “a non-fiction nirvana.”

Here are some of those buzziest films: Dian Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel; Detropia, about the ruin that is Detroit, and Trash Dance about a choreographer who works with the Austin, Texas sanitation department. Shorts I heard about include I Kill, from New Zealand, CatCam and American Juggalo.

My pal Rachel, a Washington, D.C. political consultant and cine-tourist, spent her staycation screening 25 films and 11 shorts. I participated in something far less entertaining but no less engaging, the concurrently running International Documentary Conference, the largest professional documentary conference in the U.S.

Established by Discovery Channel and AFI, I found out that the conference sessions can turn a nascent idea into a going concern in a matter of days.  On hand to give the straight story were national PBS documentary programming directors from POV, Independent Lens and American Masters, the Documentary Channel, HBO, A&E with its newly launched documentary strand, and all of Discovery Channel’s many networks.

In this day of easily accessible cameras and editing, the competition for distribution, funding and even ideas is fierce. This festival both demystifies and educates the nascent filmmaker on what they need to know to get their film done.

One of many SilverDocs panelsIt also screens Silverdocs selection of the top 114 films, from more than 2,000 submissions.

And if you think getting into a film fest is hard, funding is more scarce. Tribeca Films and the National Endowment for the Humanities heard pitches to steer grant seekers toward potential funding.

Many programmers also hosted speed-pitching sessions. I heard a man from a conservation organization tell fantastic stories of people who communicate with animals on almost mystical levels. It sounded like it would make amazing programming.

My strategy was to soak up info so I could fine-tune my pitches, network with the programmers and pitch three different projects — two historical documentaries and one reality show — to Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet, Science, PBS, and the funders from the NEH and Tribeca.

But if you complete a film, and that’s a gargantuan task to begin with, the “Navigating the Film Festival Circuit” panel told us that once your film is finished, you’re about halfway through your project. A show of hands revealed that most of the room’s attendees were completing their first film and were, like me, desperately seeking advice. 

Finally, once the film has made its way through the festival circuit, there are community engagement and transmedia elements that can extend the influence of your documentary.  The party, it seems, never stops.

To find out how the projects I pitched are going, friend me on facebook.

Carey Lundin develops programming for documentaries and documentary style TV shows.