Welcoming Remarks: Documentary Inspiration Awards 2015

Docs In Progress held our first ever Documentary Inspiration Awards on September 29, 2015. The awards took place at the GALA Hispanic Theatre in Washington DC and honored Academy Award-nominated collaborators Marshall Curry and Matthew Hamachek. Read the full transcript of the welcoming remarks given by Docs In Progress Board Chair Kiley Kraskoukas and by Board Member Sarah Katz

Kiley Kraskouskas Welcoming Remarks

Good Evening Everyone.

I am the Board Chair of Docs In Progress and am honored to be here tonight to open the first annual Documentary Inspiration Awards! Sarah Katz, our event chair, will introduce our honored guests tonight, but I wanted to take a few minutes to welcome you this evening and to tell you a little about the intention behind it.

But first, I want to start by thanking all of you who are here tonight. You are what might be referred to as our “core constituents” but you are more than that, you are true friends to each other, you have created a family out of this organization, and, you are why Docs In Progress exists.  You are the community that we aim to enable through documentary filmmaking.  I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to be here tonight in what has seemed to me like the busiest September on record. Most importantly, I want to thank you all for making a financial contribution to Docs In Progress by purchasing a ticket for tonight.

The Board of Directors conceived of this event for three main reasons. First of all, we as a Board wanted to create an award that would highlight the values that we hold dear. A belief in independent filmmaking, the power of doing it yourself, the social benefit of non-fiction storytelling, and, I want to add media literacy to this list. Learning how to make a film teaches us how to deconstruct all forms of media, and, in this day and age, we need this skill more than ever.

Secondly, we want this to become an annual event that allows our community to come together and celebrate each other and our field.  Many of us work in solititude, sometimes that’s a panicked solitude when puzzling over a scene to edit when the camera work just wasn’t right, or, wondering how we are going to raise finishing funds for a film that was already largely paid for on our Mastercard. It is when we come together in moments like this, when we share our struggles and swap stories like we will tonight, we can be reminded of why we do what we do and most importantly we remember that we are not alone.

Lastly, here comes the dirty word, this event is a fundraiser. As hard as it is for anyone to ask for money, Docs In Progress is a non-profit that offers low-cost workshops, as well as free or near-free screenings and filmmaker meetups. Therefore we rely on the donations of people like you to keep the cameras rolling, the microphone batteries charged and the edit systems  updated so that our students are learning on the same equipment that filmmakers like Marshall and Matthew are also using.

We’ve come a long way in 11 years. Docs In Progress started as an idea mapped out on a napkin that resonated with emerging filmmakers, myself included, hungry for a community. Getting off the ground required bootstrapping and donated time by founders and volunteers for years…just like most documentary projects.

Now, 11 years in we can call some incredible funders part of our family, including the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, regional and local funders including the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County, the Maryland State Arts Council, and DC Humanities, as well as family foundations such as The William and Karen Tell Foundation and the Alice Shaver Foundation. Organizations including Women in Film & Video, The Documentary Center at the George Washington University, the American University 's School of Communications, the City of Takoma Park as well as local and national business including Word Wizards, Gura & Possessky, Meridian Hill Pictures, Indiegogo and Go Pro have worked collaboratively with us over the years to fulfill our mission.

In the last few years, we have seen our community generously contribute through our annual crowdfunding campaigns. This year alone, over 200 individuals have already helped us raise $20,000.  This is nearly 10% of our annual budget and, to give you some perspective, this amount almost entirely covers a year of rent at our beloved Doc House.  I want to take a moment to applaud all of you.

Your support also sustains our incredible staff and I want to thank Executive Director Erica Ginsberg for all she does for the DC film community and beyond. Erica works tirelessly to balance big visions for the future while working with the constraints of our budget.  She is your biggest advocate and will fight to keep every program going that has an audience even if it means staying late and working yet another weekend.  I want to take a minute to thank Erica for all she does.

Last but not least, I want to give a warm welcome to tonight’s organizer, Sarah Katz. It is not an understatement to say that none of this would have happened without Sarah.  She is a talented documentary filmmaker in her own right, putting the finishing touches on her film Moosehead’s Wicked Good Plan which tackles just a tiny environmental issue of land conservation vs economic development in a financially challenged community in rural Maine. Like many documentary filmmakers and many of us in this room, Sarah has been shooting, producing and editing this film at night and on weekends while working as a full time freelance producer at the likes of the State Department and National Geographic. It was Sarah’s vision to honor Marshall Curry and Matthew Hamachek in this event and a year’s worth of volunteer work to make it happen.  So, without further ado, please give a very warm welcome to Sarah Katz.


Sarah Katz Introductory Remarks

I want to thank everyone for coming. Two of the reasons Docs In Progress established this event are to celebrate documentary filmmakers who we admire and who produce work that aligns with our mission, and to bring together and recognize the amazing talent that we have the DC area.

I first saw Marshall Curry’s most recent film Point and Shoot which Matt Hamachek worked on and the film Matt edited, Cartel Land, at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival about the same time Hillary Clinton announced her presidential campaign. Around that time I had just read a New York Times article about how Hillary had recruited First Lady Michelle Obama’s communications chief to help her reshape her image.

I bring up Hillary not because I want to talk about politics but because of how public personalities and most of the media shape our perspective and discourse today - the irony with Hillary’s campaign and what struck me at Full Frame is that a woman in the public eye for 30 years strives to mold a new persona while films that Marshall and Matt create are extraordinarily touching because they paint raw, honest, unscripted and often vulnerable portraits of their characters.

In my mind, there is a sharp contrast between what we are presented when we follow “mainstream media” and what we see when we watch documentary films. Documentaries like Point and Shoot, Racing DreamsIf A Tree Falls, and Street Fight are refreshing for providing open windows into the lives of everyday people with extraordinary life trajectories whereas so many other media products are highly scripted and scream of  a PR angle.

In our culture, public figures  go out of their way to hide vulnerabilities from the media but characters in documentaries courageously put their true selves front and center. Documentaries are the antithesis to so much of what we are exposed to today from news to reality television, to magazines, online aggregators,  and sensational newspaper headlines begging us to click.

Marshall and Matt’s films inspire us to do more than just click they inspire us to learn and grow. We learn about our social constructs and expectations in Point and Shoot when Matt VanDyke describes growing up emotionally sheltered in Baltimore, how he has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and decided to get a “crash course in manhood” by riding his motorcycle across north Africa and the Middle East. We see how far he came as we watch home movies of a lanky blond haired local neighborhood kid. In If A Tree Falls, Daniel McGowan sees his acts of arson covered in the news and  questions the consequences of what he has done.

Marshall and Matt’s work present characters who we can relate to. They may be someone we knew in school, from our home town, or a local politician like Cory Booker in Street Fight - all who through their ambitions - whether  to change local politics, to become national go-cart champions, or to protect the environment -  want to make their worlds’ better places.

Through Marshall’s direction and Marshall and Matt’s  collaborative storytelling we see the human motivation behind these characters, how they grew up, how they have relatable goals that are within grasp of all of us, and how they make mistakes. We closely see how these goals and characters are integrated into the fabric of American life. Finally we see that each character is an integral part of his or her community and each character influences, inspires, and affects those people around them.

We are presenting Marshall and Matt with these awards tonight because these two filmmakers represent the best of Docs In Progress’ mission to give individuals the tools to tell stories through documentary film, to educate, inspire, and transform the way people view their world. Marshall and Matt excel at using their highly refined craft of cinematography, editing, and storytelling to engage and move us through their films. I have learned through my work in production that no two filmmakers take the same road through their career. We are also celebrating Marshall and Matt because similar to members of the Docs In Progress community they did not take a conventional filmmaking path to get where they are now.

We are also very excited to screen their Oscar nominated film If a Tree Falls. I grew up in central Maine, a state defined by the paper and timber industry for hundreds of years. I am also an avid outdoor person and have known people through the course of my life drawn to vocal activism. For these reasons, this film particularly resonates with me and as soon as I saw it it became one of my favorite documentaries of all time. We are excited to screen it for you tonight.

The schedule for the evening is to present awards, then hold a discussion about the documentary craft. We will then screen If A Tree Falls and follow up with an audience Q&A.  Please join us up here for your Documentary Inspiration Awards, Marshall and Matt.


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