Documentary stakeholders convene at PBS to mull future of indie productions

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PBS is hosting its first Independent Film Summit at its headquarters Thursday, gathering public television’s top documentary supporters for a wide-ranging discussion about the future of the genre in pubmedia.



“The goal of the meeting is to come together to think through how we can raise the profile of our collective work in independent film,” PBS chief programmer Beth Hoppe told Current, “making it clear to the industry and public that PBS is the television home of independent film.”

Participants include top execs from both documentary showcases: Simon Kilmurry, e.p. of POV, and Jim Sommers, content s.v.p. for Independent Lens from the Independent Television Service. Also attending are Stephen Gong, current chair of the National Minority Consortia producing organization; CPB’s Jennifer Lawson, s.v.p. for television and digital video content; and 10 PBS representatives including Hoppe and Donald Thoms, v.p. of general audience programming. Kent Steele, broadcasting e.d. at New York’s WNET, and Mike Seymour of the Programming Service for Public Television in Tampa, Fla., which serves 22 PBS client stations, are among the programmer contingent.

The meeting takes place as cable networks push further into the genre, which PBS once dominated on the air. “Often it is the case that other channels get the credit for their independent documentaries,” Hoppe said, “in spite of the fact that PBS presents many more hours of independent film.”

In 2012 CNN launched its CNN Films documentary unit to produce and finance films and now has an active doc acquisition unit as well, feeding its CNN Films Presents showcase. At last month’s Sundance festival, CNN grabbed U.S. broadcast rights to the Kartemquin Films doc Life Itself, a biopic about critic Roger Ebert. Ebert began his TV career on Chicago’s WTTW.

The summit will include discussions about what’s working well and what needs improvement to assist independent producers, how to better communicate how independently produced documentaries advance under-represented stories, maximizing audiences across platforms, and strategies to build brand awareness.

The meeting is closed to press and the public “as it is an internal strategy discussion,” said a PBS spokesperson.

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