At one time, the door to documentary filmmaking was very heavy. You had to go to film school and then apprentice under someone for a long time. Cameras, editing systems, film, and film processing were out of the price range for most individuals. Even if you made a film, you had to break through the few tightly-curated outlets for documentary in order to get it seen.
Those days are over. The expansion of community media centers and school media literacy programs has given hundreds of thousands of individuals the opportunity to try their hand at telling stories through video. The rise of “pro-sumer” video cameras and nonlinear editing software which can play on your Mac or PC at home or on-the- go made the technology more affordable. The increase of non-fiction storytelling in the mainstream, fueled by everyone from Michael Moore to reality television has made documentary viewed as entertaining as well as educational. And the proliferation of different outlets for documentary -- from hundreds of cable and public television stations to film festivals, movie theaters, microcinemas, cafes, libraries, backyards, and the Internet has created a space where truly everyone could make a documentary and get it seen by someone.
However, just having increased access to the means of production and distribution does not mean that everyone is out there making great documentaries.
That is where Docs In Progress steps in. Our goal is to develop new voices in documentary film and this goes far beyond teaching the basics of how to use a camera or push some buttons on an editing system. It is about creating an incubator for documentary storytelling.
Whether we are teaching a 14-year-old in our youth summer camp or a 64-year old in one of our documentary production classes, we use a similar approach. We give the production teams the raw materials for making a film. Not only do we teach them how to shoot and edit, but also provide them a lead on the subject of their film by connecting them to a person, issue, nonprofit, or small business in Silver Spring, Maryland. What they do with these tools is where the magic of storytelling happens.
For example, this past summer, one of the teams in our summer camp was given a local comic book store, Alliance Comics, as its subject.
They created this piece within the limitations of a two-week camp, a three-person team, a single day of filming, only 30 minutes allowed of original footage, and an end piece which could not exceed seven minutes. Yet what they created was not merely about a specialized store in downtown Silver Spring, but about how that store reflects larger societal trends. They developed their skills working in a team and expressing complex ideas. They learned about how interviews, narration, original footage, text, archival materials, Fair Use guidelines, and music all contribute to creating a documentary.
This was an experience that helped develop them not only in terms of their creativity and artistry, but with many other skills which they will take forward with them as they continue to develop towards adulthood -- whether they eventually decide to pursue filmmaking as a career or not.
It’s an experience we’d like to make available to everyone...which is why Docs In Progress is raising funds to launch our first scholarship program. This will make it possible for kids whose families can’t even afford the relatively modest cost of our summer camp to be able to find a space where they can express themselves through the power of documentary filmmaking. Whether you can give $5 or $500, every little bit will help us get closer to our goal of raising $5,000 by January 6. Together, let’s make it possible for Everyone to have a documentary opportunity. Click here to Donate.