Tag: Jennifer MacArthur

Five Reasons Why “Whose Streets” is Essential Viewing

Posted on by admin

While at the Sundance Film Festival this past week I had the fortune to to see the premiere of “Whose Streets” by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis – produced by Jennifer MacArthur.   It was even more fortunate because I was able to view this powerful film on inauguration day and it provided wonderful counterprogramming. I was struck by a number of things in the film that still resonate with me almost a week later.

1. The film shows how far we still have to go as a nation to confront a legacy of slavery that is still with us.  The film wisely starts with a reference to the Dred Scott decision in 1846 and compares it to contemporary St. Louis and Ferguson. (In the Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court in one of its most notorious decisions, declared that since Dred Scott was a slave he was not a citizen. As such he did not have a right to sue for his freedom even though he lived in a non-slave state.)  This initial juxtaposition, along with the quotes from prominent black leaders that served as chapter breaks, was all the contextualization the audience needs.   Very soon we see the largely white police using overwhelming force to intimidate and control the primarily black citizens of Ferguson.  The dogs used for “crowd control” is enough to throw you back to the 60s and beyond.

2. The film does an incredible job of constructing the story of people living through the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death focusing on four activists:  Brittany Farrel, David Whitt, Tef Poe and Kayla Reed. Weaving a narrative from a wide range of filmed and archival/cell phone material the filmmakers provide a visceral experience where you feel that you are there on the streets with the mourners and protesters. You live the events with them, and see how truth unfolds through their eyes.  

3. I believe it might have been the LAPD under Daryl Gates that spearheaded the militarization of local police with armored battering rams being used in the early 1980s. (http://www.laweekly.com/news/the-militarization-of-police-started-in-los-angeles-5010287). The film Do Not Resist (http://www.donotresistfilm.com/) which came out last year, uses Ferguson as a backdrop to examine the increase in militarization of police forces across the country. But Whose Streets is the first film that I have seen that gives a sense of what it is like for American citizens conducting peaceful protests to come face to face with police in full combat gear flanked by armored personnel carriers.  Our founding fathers would be aghast.

4. I like to feel that I am a savvy media viewer – but the contrast presented by this film between the stories of the people on the ground and traditional news media was stunning.  As shown in Do Not Resist, the events of Ferguson have been used as a justification to increase the militarization of police forces in the US.  But Whose Streets deftly shows the distortion of the mainstream by constructing the reality of events as witnessed by those on the receiving end of force.  There is much talk about media bias these days and real stories not being told.  Somehow my bet is that most of the untold stories and media bias is of and against the marginalized.

  5. On the bus after the screening a white women commented on how she felt that there should have been many more interviews with white people to broaden the appeal of the film. But why does a film about black experience in America need to be mediated by white people?   I think she perhaps missed one of the key points of the film:  having a lived experience of how racism in American society has stayed embedded in our society.

I was inspired by the bravery of the activists in the film and their families in the face of such intense opposition. The film shows through the lives of Brittany Farrel, David Whitt, Tef Poe and Kayla Reed how difficult the struggle for human rights can be.   Coming at a time when our country is facing an attempt to push back gains made across the board in civil rights, women’s rights, environmental protection, etc., the film is a much needed inspiration for activism and the need for continued struggle.



10 Key Points on How to Move Forward With Outreach and Impact for Documentary Film

A Report from the IFP Filmmaker Lab

by Jon Reiss

With all the trauma of this past week, I at least had the good fortune of spending it at the IFP Filmmaker Lab in NYC.   We all showed up Wednesday morning stunned/tired from watching returns all night/depressed.   Some stayed home but by the middle of the morning nearly all the filmmaking teams had turned up. I say that I was fortunate because one of the things that I love about the labs is that we become a community of support for each other. Even though my morning presentation was on something as banal (for last week) as budgeting and timing a release – we were all reminded about how important stories and art can be to inspire, motivate, create community and express our humanity.  (Though, helping artists get their work out to an audience will never stop being relevant – especially now.)

For the second session the documentary filmmakers were scheduled to have a panel about “Impact” while the narrative filmmakers were to go to a session about agents and managers. Not surprisingly most of the narrative filmmakers stayed to discuss impact.

Joining me was my dear friend Jennifer MacArthur from Borderline Media and Emma Alpert from Just Vision.   Jennifer is one of the most profound thought leaders in this field.   Emma and Just Vision do incredible work focused on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Here are ten key points for films seeking to have impact on the world that came out of that session.

1. Films seeking to have impact need to have a strong story that moves people and should not just be a PowerPoints of facts.

Think about how are you going to connect beyond the core audience – through story. Everyone making a film for impact wants to get beyond the choir (although now it is also important to charge up the choir). What many filmmakers forget is that this takes an emotionally engaging story that can keep an audience involved for ninety minutes. Often filmmakers get so caught up in the message of the film that they lose site of the fact is that people respond to emotions. We unfortunately keep relearning this in politics as well.

1B: Don’t underestimate the power of humor in your film to help connect with audiences.

2. Do test screenings with your film with people you want to reach outside of your choir. What are their feelings about the film? Is it moving them?   Consider focus groups of specific target audiences.

3. Since many (if not most) times documentaries are made in the editing room – it might be best to wait to start engaging outreach until you have a rough cut so that you know what your film actually is going to be and what audiences it will appeal to.  Sometimes though, you may want to engage with stakeholders earlier if you want to interview their principals, which might increase their motivation to help the film’s release.

4. Research what you are trying to change in the world. Is that possible for your film? Will it have that affect?

4A: Brainstorm what is the big idea that you are trying to accomplish – and then create a specific action item that will work toward that larger goal.

5.Identify stakeholders in your space. Determine their reach. But more importantly understand how your film can help them! Convey this to them. It needs to be a win win relationship

6. Don’t overstate what impact can you make to funders and stakeholders. What can you do and measure realistically?

7. It is a conventional wisdom to go after stakeholders that have the greatest reach. Makes sense. But perhaps consider trying a specific goal or action plan with that stakeholder – and if the relationship works – great – if not consider pivoting to another perhaps smaller stakeholder.

8.Embrace modeling. Try one tactic or goal first and see how that is working – if it isn’t working, pivot to another.

9.Because of the political earthquake last week, it will be nearly impossible to effect legislative change on the national level in the United States for the next few years. Think locally. The US Council on Mayors is a much more liberal group and one where you can meet politicians who are excited about change and want to engage in programs for their communities.

10. Funding for outreach had been difficult to come by before last Tuesday – and probably now will be more difficult to obtain. However there are people of means who support social causes – but will that money now go into grassroots community building or into media? How might those two work hand in hand? Are feature films the best platform for impact – or are there other forms of media (shorter/serialized) that might have more success?

I would love your thoughts on this. Agree – disagree? What would you add?   How can film and story affect change as we approach the age of Trump?





What the F is a PMD and Why Do We Need One?

Posted on by admin

Jon Reiss - Edinburgh

Back in 2010, two weeks before I went to print on Think Outside the Box Office, I coined a new crew position: the Producer ofMarketing and Distribution.   This concept/position has taken off in varying fits and starts over the last five years – with people calling themselves and being credited as PMDs in the United States, Europe and Australia.  A Producer of Marketing and Distribution is the person on a filmmaking team who takes charge of and directs the distribution and marketing process for that film to achieve the filmmaking team’s goals.   It is preferable for a PMD to start as early as possible in the filmmaking process.

The PMD seems to be catching on again.  Why?   Because it is an essential crew position for independent films – in my mind as important as a director of photography.   You can make a film without a DP or a PMD (I have shot some of my films and been my own PMD).   But I think many, if not nearly all films, would be served by having both.

In Think Outside the Box Office I also coined another concept: The New 50/50, in which independent filmmakers need to spend 50% of their time and resources making their film and 50 % of their time and resources connecting their film with an audience, aka distribution and marketing. (To be honest this is not so new – but it was new to independent filmmakers.)

It disturbed me that I was relegating my fellow filmmakers to the physically, emotionally and monetarily draining process of releasing a film after they had already gone through the same while making their film – without help.  (Before the book I had written an article about my experience releasing my film Bomb It and it was subtitled “How I Spent Six Months Wanting to Kill Myself Everyday”)

So I created the PMD.  Five years since writing the book it’s worth taking a look again at why independent filmmakers need a PMD.  Here are my thoughts:

1. Upwards of 98% of independent films do not get traditional all rights distribution deals.  Even with a robust sales market like this year– if the estimates are true that 35,000-50,000 films are produced every year – there is no way that traditional (and non traditional) distributors can handle that volume.  Sundance Artist Services was created in part to help the numerous Sundance films that still had not received distribution after the festival.

2. Some filmmakers do not want to give away or sell all of the rights of their film to one company for a long period of time.  Many companies are doing amazing jobs releasing films – but there are many filmmakers who have become unhappy with how their previous films have been released.

3. Much more common is a split rights scenario where you run the show, you control your film’s destiny.  You can choose the best and most cost effective ways to release and market your film.   But you need to do the work.   Ahhh – But who is the “You”?  Someone needs to coordinate how the rights will work together and make sure that all rights that can be exercised are, in the proper way to achieve the filmmaking team’s goals.

4. There is greater competition for audiences than ever before.  You are competing against nearly every piece of entertainment, writing, art ever created by humankind.   The amount of video uploaded to YouTube every minute is increasing  exponentially.  Three years ago 48 hours of video was uploaded every minute – for a total of 236 YEARS per month.  At last report more than 400 hours is now uploaded every minute, multiplying to 2000 YEARS of content every month!

5. Filmmakers either don’t have the skills to promote and distribute their films or don’t want to.  Granted there are many intrepid filmmakers who are engaging with this process – but even the most notable of these such as Jeanie Finlay has a PMD by her side.

6. Filmmakers don’t have the time to do this work.  Many filmmakers know they need to engage audiences before they have finished their films – or at least start the process – but most say they don’t have time.  On tight budgets most producers are too busy to do this work.  When a film is finished – many of the team either need to, or want to move onto other projects.  Sound familiar?

In working with hundreds of filmmakers over the last couple of years – I have found that very few have the desire, skills, or time to take on the task of being in charge of distributing and marketing their own films – even when they have split rights distribution partners involved.

So this creates a pain point in our world in which there are a lot of films created every year that don’t have anyone to help get it out into the world.  Hence the need.

But things are looking up.  This blog post and the one that follows is taken from a keynote that I gave at the Scottish Documentary Institute’s Make Your Market program in which four films are being paired with two PMDs in training.   I gave a similar presentation at IDFA in November that was packed with Europeans curious as to how this concept can help them as broadcast funding and other forms of traditional distribution drops.   This Sunday I will be on a panel at SXSW with Nick Gonda from Tugg, Jennifer MacArthur from Borderline Media and UK PMD Sally Hodgson.  If you are in Austin come by – and if not and you are interested in becoming a PMD or generally interested in the concept email me at jon@hybridcinema.com


The second post of this series will cover what a PMD is in charge of on a film.