About Kartemquin

Kartemquin is a collaborative center for documentary media makers who seek to foster a more engaged and empowered society. In 2016 Kartemquin will celebrate 50 years of sparking democracy through documentary.

A revered resource within the film community on issues of fair use, ethics, story and civic discourse, Kartemquin is internationally recognized for crafting quality documentaries backed by audience and community engagement strategies, and for its innovative media arts community programs. The organization has won every major critical and journalistic prize, including multiple Emmy, Peabody, duPont-Columbia and Robert F. Kennedy journalism awards, Independent Spirit, IDA, PGA and DGA awards, and an Oscar nomination.

Kartemquin is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization based in Chicago.

Read our mission statement

Our History

In 1966, Kartemquin Films began making documentaries that examine and critique society through the stories of real people. For the next 50 years, Kartemquin tackled the most pressing and toughest issues, probing social power-structures through intimate stories of compelling emotion. They have built a community of socially-responsible filmmakers and nurtured new and emerging talent through a commitment to a collaborative, mentorship-based model of filmmaking practice. Their model places an emphasis on high ethical standards, particularly with regards to filmmaker-subject relationships, and in grassroots distribution through community partnerships.

Kartemquin's first film, Home For Life - a powerful chronicle of two elderly people entering a home for the aged that was called "extraordinarily moving" by Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times - established the direction the organization would take over the next four decades.

Initially motivated by the philosophies of Dewey that "artists are the real purveyors of the news," Kartemquin was formed amid the 1960s Chicago social issue film scene. Eschewing auterism, Kartemquin quickly evolved into a left-wing collective, sharing credits as they produced agit-prop works about labor struggles that were meant for immediate distribution, directly affecting the live issues. After the dissolution of the collective in the late 1970s, co-founders Gordon Quinn and Jerry Blumenthal (who sadly passed away in late 2014) pushed the organization to its current model, producing high quality works that still had a political edge and mentoring a new generation of young documentary makers. This model remains, but Kartemquin has now formalized many programs to train young documentary makers in the midwest, while acting as a leading advocacy organization for the entire field on issues such as fair use and defending public funding and broadcasts of documentary, while releasing a steady and rising amount of award-winning films in a variety of styles.

The organization has won every major critical and journalistic prize, including Emmys, Peabodys, duPont-Columbia and Robert F. Kennedy journalism awards, Independent Spirit, IDA, PGA and DGA awards, and an Oscar nomination. A proud recipient of one of eight international 2007 MacArthur Awards for Creative and Effective Institutions, Kartemquin has been described by the Chicago Reader as a “documentary powerhouse.” In 1997 The Chicago Film Critics Association gave Kartemquin their Big Shoulders Award for outstanding service to the film community and the world, and in 2010 Kartemquin was honored with the Altgeld Freedom of Speech Award for “unflinchingly holding up a mirror to American society.” Additional awards include the 2009 Ron Sable Award for Activism from the Crossroads Fund, a 2013 Media Pioneer Award from the Benton Foundation, and Community Media Workshop's 2014 Studs Terkel Award. In 2014, the Riverrun film festival gave Kartemquin their "Master of Cinema" Award, and Kartemquin's Gordon Quinn and Steve James were honored with career achievement awards by Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival and Full Frame, respectively. In 2015, Gordon Quinn was named the 2015 International Documentary Association Career Achievement Award recipient, and also honored by the Houston Cinema Arts Festival. In 2016, Kartemquin's 50th Anniversary was recognized with awards from Ashland International Film Festival; Chicago International Music and Movies Festival (CIMMfest); the Peace on Earth Film Festival; and the Chicago Latino Film Festival, and with retrospectives at Hot Docs; UCLA Film and Television Archives; the University of Chicago's Doc Films; and on Chicago's PBS Station WTTW, and with a unique art and equipment exhibition at the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events' Expo 72 gallery.

Learn more about the history of Kartemquin