Doc Blog

Cara Mertes moved from the indie-doc PBS series P.O.V. to Sundance last
year to run the Sundance Documentary Film Program, a resource for contemporary- issue filmmakers worldwide. Since then, she has revamped the granting categories, increased the amounts available to artists, added year-round support initiatives and laid the groundwork for a new web site and new partnerships to aid funded artists in their work. Five Sundance DFP films will be premiering at TIFF, including Please Vote for Me, Dinner with the President, Iron Ladies of Liberia, A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman, and A Jihad for Love. Here she offers her perspective on Doc Blog's industry survey:

1) What changes do you see in the documentary marketplace?

By far the most remarkable change I see is the increased appetite people have for documentary storytelling that combines art and issues. Having worked with this kind of independent, socially engaged documentary for years, it is fascinating to see the genre move from marginalized to a more mainstream acceptance. That is attracting a new level of industry, private financing, foundation interest and cable and broadcast interest. None of it, however, is predictable, which is why there are so many people trying to experiment, and so many that are unsure of their next move. I think we are seeing the results of seeds planted many years ago in this new, pretty chaotic and exciting moment, but with the convergence of the digital age, the current political and social climate, and accessible technology, the contours of the field remain unpredictable in many ways. What I am certain of is that more passionate, highly crafted documentary storytelling is being made than ever before -- it is a global phenomenon, because I believe this kind of visual storytelling is a global language -- something people hunger for in a world full of challenges. This is what the DFP is focusing on.

2) What advice can you give doc makers on navigating distribution?

Truly understand the strengths and weaknesses of your film in the marketplace and with audiences, research other films that have already gone out, talk to other filmmakers about their experiences, decide your priorities in terms of making change, making money, making a career (critical acclaim, etc.) or all three, and be willing to rethink the old model of theatrical first, based on your above-mentioned priorities.

3) What do you hope to get out of Real to Reel this year?

TIFF is always bubbling with new filmmaking ideas and trends, and I am very interested to see how the docs are received his year, particularly around the question of how art -- in this case documentary art -- impacts society.

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