ITVS Announces CEO Departure of Sally Jo Fifer

Posted on January 12, 2023

After 22 years of growth and success, ITVS begins a search for future CEO.

Headshot of Sally Jo Fifer

ITVS President and CEO Sally Jo Fifer

ITVS announced today that it will launch a search for its next chief executive officer to succeed Sally Jo Fifer. 

She will remain in her role until the board hires and onboards a new President and CEO.

“What a gift it has been these past 22 years to serve film artists who engage and transform our hearts and minds — make us more empathetic, more just, more wise,” Fifer said. “They give us hope for a better future.”

ITVS funds and co-produces documentary films that empower Americans, via public media, to make informed democratic choices. Fifer was named its third CEO, in 2001, after spending nine years as executive director of the Bay Area Video Coalition. Her early focus on building trust with filmmakers and public media partners through open and transparent funding initiatives set the tone and foundation for ITVS’ growth into the leading funder of public television productions in the U.S.

ITVS tripled its operating budget, from $7.7 to $23 million, over the 22-year span of Fifer’s leadership. She recently signed a three-year agreement with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to further secure and protect independent artists’ voices, editorial control and copyright.  

In her role, Fifer has executive produced more than 1,000 films and docuseries in association with partners like the National Multicultural Alliance, Firelight Media, Kartemquin Films, WNET, WETA, and WGBH. Her credit appears on 16 Oscar nominees, 37 Primetime Emmy winners, 35 Peabody Award recipients. These critically acclaimed films and docuseries include titles such as I Am Not Your Negro by Raoul Peck, Minding the Gap by Bing Liu, One Child Nation by Nanfu Wang, and Philly D.A. by Yoni Brook, Ted Passon and Nicole Salazar.

In 2017, Fifer accepted the Peabody Institutional Award from filmmaker Ava Duvernay, who introduced ITVS as “a foundational place in the flourishing of documentary film [and public discourse] over the past generation.” A few months later, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences honored ITVS with the Governors Award in recognition of its early and unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusion in front of and behind the camera.

Over the years, Fifer has raised millions in public and philanthropic funding to magnify the impact of documentary films around the world. Amid the spike in post-9/11 stereotyping and disinformation, ITVS launched the Global Perspectives Project–a multi-year initiative to connect citizens to citizens, helping people in the United States and other countries see and better understand each other. Audiences in 76 countries watched nuanced regional storytelling like Okie Noodling and Heart of the Sea: Kapolioka’ehukai by U.S. filmmakers. Americans in turn viewed international titles like Iron Ladies of Liberia and Oscar nominee Waltz With Bashir via PBS and commercial broadcasters.

When a swell of new documentaries about gender equality presaged the #MeToo movement, ITVS responded with Women & Girls Lead. Through a strategic partnership with CPB, the initiative attracted 100+ million viewers across 60 films, including Oscar nominee The Invisible War. Hundreds of community events were led by public television stations and series like FRONTLINE and the Emmy Award-winning Independent Lens, which ITVS co-produces with PBS. The strategy inspired an international partner, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), to invest in ITVS to study how documentary films contributed to social change around gender issues in the Global South.

Now, ITVS is partnering with PBS to build audiences and community solutions to reduce the harms of the criminal legal system through its multi-year Stories for Justice initiative. This work incorporates DocSCALE, an interactive tool that ITVS developed in collaboration with the CITRIS Invention Lab at the University of California, Berkeley, to break new ground in engaging audiences while measuring film impact.

ITVS Board Chair Garry Denny described Fifer’s imprint as transformative. “Sally’s combination of integrity, strategic acuity, fierce commitment to supporting media makers, and kindness will be simply impossible to replace,” he said. “I know the documentary field deeply appreciates her for driving ITVS’ programmatic expansion grounded in diversity and inclusion and its innovation mindset. The board looks forward to building on everything we have accomplished under Sally's visionary leadership and vows to ensure ITVS' continuity of service to filmmakers," he added. "I am incredibly energized by the opportunities ahead.”

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