Indie Lens Pop-Up: Partnering with Communities, Making Real Impact

ITVS filmmakers want more than a big audience. They work with local public media stations and other champions to spark conversations.

An audience member at an Indie Lens Pop-Up event asks a question during a Q&A session following a screening of The Black Panthers.

ITVS filmmakers don't just want lots of eyeballs on their films; they want to make a positive difference in the world. That's why Indie Lens Pop-Up goes beyond the screen, bringing free screenings of Independent Lens documentaries to more than 75 cities across the U.S., and building connections and conversations that lead to lasting change.

Since 2005, this national screening series has reached 350,000 new viewers for Independent Lens, while generating awareness and action on a range of topics. And even though we’re working with a different slate of films and issues every season, we’re often working in the same communities year after year, film after film. This allows us to work with the same local partners – a public television station or cultural institution, for example – to build upon previous events to advance a more inclusive and engaged society.

How We Do It:

  1. We work with a stable network of community partners. ITVS’s Engagement and Impact team collaborates closely with partners on the ground to listen for what issues matter most, and together, we strategize films, partnerships, speakers, and activities that can build greater inclusion and civic engagement in their communities. And with every screening, we’re sparking new connections while strengthening those already in place.

  2. We connect the dots between films. For example, using Byron Hurt’s 2006 film Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, we engaged young people in conversations about how hip-hop’s portrayal of gender stereotypes influences their understanding of gender roles. Our local partners went on to use the film to promote cross-generational dialogues on gender, and we created lesson plans and discussion resources that were eventually incorporated into thousands of classrooms and youth programs around the country. This softened the ground for future gender-based work with films like Half the Sky, and also opened doors for sustained collaboration between public television stations and youth-serving organizations.

  3. We inspire our partners to “walk the walk.” Indie Lens Pop-Up is also making a tangible difference in how our local partners approach their own efforts to inclusion and diversity. For example, as a result of our screenings of films that challenge stereotypes about people with disabilities, more than 25% of our Pop-Up partners now actively screen captioned films at their events.

  4. We promote collaboration around related social issues. Indie Lens Pop-Up has ignited a national network of community-based organizations and individuals poised to work together to advance community-led change on issues like homelessness, the high school dropout crisis, and racial justice. In a recent survey with Indie Lens Pop-Up’s community partners, 74% reported heightened collaboration with local groups.

  5. We focus on skill-building for on-the-ground partners. 84% of our participating partners say they’ve increased their capacity to use film as a conversation and engagement tool, and over two-thirds report an expanded audience reach that’s gone beyond their usual constituency. Others have even gained new funders and major donors for their work.

  6. We provide stations with a low-risk, high-reward community engagement program that can serve as a proof of concept, making it easier to get broad station buy-in for increased community engagement. In providing stations with event discussion guides, customized coaching, webinars, and other resources, ITVS makes it easy for stations to participate in the ILPOP program, even if they lack a dedicated staff person or community engagement specialist.

Case Study: KCPT’s Trust in Football

The stirring story In Football We Trust, by Tony Vainuku and Erika Cohn, follows Polynesian and Pacific Islander high school football players in Utah as they strive to earn the all-important college scholarships that will put them on the path to fame, fortune, and the ability to provide for their tight-knit families.

KCPT Community Engagement Producer Lindsay Foat wondered whether the story would be relevant Kansas City. As she researched the broader metro area, she found a Polynesian and Pacific Islander community in a suburb very active in high school football. “There was a whole segment of the community we didn't know about,” Foat says, “and it was a really ‘wow’ moment about a connection we never would have ever made otherwise.”

For the film screening, KCPT invited local high school football players and their coach and to participate in a panel conversation. She noted that those students said that they'd never seen their culture portrayed on screen like that. “In a mostly white station,” Foat says, “it’s good to be reminded how powerful it is to see your own experience reflected in media. It challenges us to make new connections and find parts of the community we might not have known were there.”

Case Study: Basin PBS partnering with ITVS

Basin PBS, located in Midland, Texas, serves a large geographic area with some viewers located as far as a four-hour drive away. Carla Holeva, the station’s general manager, sees Indie Lens Pop-Up--a partner of four years--as a community bridge builder. To help operationalize the ILPOP series, part-time staff member Alyson Trevino relies on resources such as discussion guides and one-on-one coaching provided by the Independent Lens team at ITVS. She then partners with local public libraries, colleges and universities to host the annual screening series, and taps local organizations to participate as panelists for post-screening discussions.

“It’s great to have someone to bounce things off of and brainstorm with when I’m in a vacuum here,” Trevino said of the coaching. She also stressed the importance of independent documentary films in surfacing timely, relevant issues. Indie Lens Pop-Up provides a space for learning and conversation. Last year, the Independent Lens film Real Boy truly proved the value of Indie Lens Pop-Up.

“People either think it doesn’t happen or they don’t want to talk about it, and Indie Lens Pop-Up creates a nice, safe, welcoming environment, even for those who think they’re going to oppose it. Instead, they come in and hear the story told the way it should be and they can have their eyes opened.”

Impact for Filmmakers

Because of this close collaboration with our partners, ITVS filmmakers who participate in Indie Lens Pop-up are both extending the reach of their films to new audiences and also amplifying their vision for social impact.

Indie Lens Pop-Up is part of ITVS’s ongoing commitment to promote greater engagement, inclusion, and positive change worldwide. 

For the complete report written by Lindsay Green-Barber, Ph.D. in partnership with Impact Architects, please download it here: Indie Lens Pop Up: Strengthening Stations, Strengthening Communities.