ITVS at 20: Grateful and Hopeful for Independent Filmmakers

Posted on July 25, 2011

In celebration of ITVS’s 20th anniversary, President & CEO Sally Jo Fifer introduces the ITVS Indies Showcase. The online festival, which runs from July 25 through September 23, will stream 20 groundbreaking documentaries by award-winning independent filmmakers.


Independent filmmakers, compelled to reckon with meaning and truth, often surface opposition to the general order of things, hoping to make our democracy better. At ITVS, we are proud and grateful to work with some of society's most vital storytellers, and very proud to celebrate their legacy with an online showcase of films spanning our 20-year history. Each of these works — culled from the more than 1,000 that ITVS has supported over the last two decades — represents a personal vision in service of the public good. The artistry and innovation of independent filmmakers drive ITVS — thanks to them, our audiences, and our partners in public broadcasting, we have become the most productive funder and presenter of independently produced public interest documentaries in the country. 

Mandated by Congress and incorporated in 1991, ITVS took up its mission after a decade-long effort by independents and their supporters to ensure that Americans would experience diverse stories otherwise unseen and unheard on commercial and public television broadcasting. Independent documentary producers emerged en force in the 1960s from a resolute determination to set the record straight on the new, all-powerful medium of television — a medium suddenly made approachable by a new technology: the Sony Portapak camera. Without the ballast of studio cameras or sponsoring advertisers, independents swarmed the streets to find their stories — not unlike the 19th century Realism painters who dispensed with royal portraits to capture farmers in the fields. Public television provided the distribution strategy that encouraged foundations to invest in these storytellers as agents to invigorate and inform our democracy.

Connected by a passion that inspires them to shoot thousands of hours of footage, independents often spend years fundraising to create a finished film.  From Errol Morris and Marlon Riggs to the legions of lesser known, they view the opportunity to tell untold stories as a currency more valuable than money or fame. They are artists devoted to the art of filmmaking and public intellectuals with a visual bent. They operate outside the structure and support of institutions — clear of organized agendas. The personality of the independent might be indistinguishable from that of rest of us except for its stubborn persistence, strength of heart, patience, and thrift. But above all independents are storytellers of the first rank who can sustain the attention of today’s scattered audiences and attentions because they choose the authentic and unpredictable subject. 

Now, in 2011, we live in the digital era of millions of small, overlapping bands of media consumers — a space that some lament as humankind re-entering the Dark Ages and others celebrate as a boundless frontier. And while some filmmakers are thrilled to experiment with telling stories for new devices and platforms, and others are committed to unalloyed, uninterruptable long-form filmmaking — they all want the experience of engaging a viewers’ mind and holding it until it is transformed — made more empathetic, more just, more wise. 

At 20 years, ITVS is grateful to the more than 1,000 filmmakers who have had the courage and stamina to pursue those kinds of stories. It has never been easy. And it may never be — not in a media economy that gets more ferocious by the minute, either managed by a few gatekeepers or curated by a billion algorithms. But we will always need to turn the ever-elusive audience into a public if we are to have democracy. The partnership between independent filmmakers and public television is powerful and resilient because together they hold strong the idea that, in the end, authentic stories must be told and heard.  As we start our third decade, ITVS is proud to be part of that effort. And we hope you enjoy the Showcase! 

Visit the ITVS Indies Showcase



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