The Kartemquin Story

"Since its founding a half century ago, the name Kartemquin Films has become synonymous with the best in documentary filmmaking." – The Criterion Collection

For over 50 years, Kartemquin Films has been making documentaries that examine and critique society through the stories of real people.

Kartemquin's first film in 1966, Home For Life - a powerful chronicle of two elderly people entering a home for the aged - established the direction the organization would take over the next five decades.

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.

2013's The Trials of Muhammad Ali world premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, was released in theaters, and aired on PBS Independent Lens. The film won the ABCNews Video Source Award for its use of archival footage from the International Documentary Association (IDA), Best Use of Sports Footage at the FOCAL International Awards, and was nominated for Outstanding Independent Motion Picture by the NAACP Image Awards.

Our 2012 documentary As Goes Janesville aired on PBS Independent Lens and was nominated for an Emmy Award.

In 2011 Kartemquin released A Good Man, a PBS American Masters profile of Bill T. Jones that premiered at the Full Frame Documentary Festival, and The Interrupters, which was voted by several critics as the best documentary of 2011, won multiple festival prizes, was broadcast on PBS FRONTLINE, and won the 2012 Independent Spirit Award and 2012 Cinema Eye Honor for Best Documentary, a 2013 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, and an Emmy for "Outstanding Informational Programming—Long-Form" in 2013.

In 2010 Kartemquin released No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson, part of ESPN Films’ award-winning ‘30 for 30’ documentary series and an official selection of the 2010 SXSW Film Festival; and Prisoner of Her Past – the first film to investigate Late-Onset Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorders – which premiered at the 2010 Big Sky Film Festival and was broadcast nationally on PBS in 2011. Typeface, winner of the Best Documentary Award at the 2009 Flyway Film Festival, went on to air on PBS and on Sky Arts in the UK. In 2008 Milking the Rhino premiered at IDFA and was broadcast nationally on PBS’ Independent Lens, and In the Family premiered at SILVERDOCS, was broadcast nationally on PBS’ P.O.V. and was also nominated for a 2009 Emmy award. Other recent films include At the Death House Door which premiered at the 2008 SXSW film festival, had a national broadcast on the Independent Film Channel and was Oscar short-listed, and Mapping Stem Cell Research: Terra Incognita which won a 2008 Peabody Award and was broadcast internationally on PBS, the CBC, and SBS Australia. 

In 2004, PBS aired the groundbreaking seven-hour miniseries The New Americans, which captures the complexities of contemporary immigration by taking viewers intimately inside the lives of immigrant families from five different countries.  The New Americans follows this diverse group of immigrants and refugees for four years, from before they leave their homelands through their first tumultuous years in America. Also in 2004, Kartemquin revisited American artist Leon Golub 13 years after their initial film on his work (Golub, 1988) for Golub: Late Works are the Catastrophes, which was broadcast nationally on P.O.V.’s True Lives.

2002 marked the release of two important Kartemquin films. The feature documentary Stevie, which won the Cinematography Award at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and played at theaters nationwide, considers the story of a troubled young man and the director’s multifaceted relationship with him. The untold stories of an entire generation of women who raised autistic children under the dehumanizing shadow of mother blame were explored in Refrigerator Mothers, which made its television premiere on PBS’s P.O.V. series.  In 2001, Kartemquin also premiered 5 Girls on P.O.V. The film follows two years in the lives of five resilient teenage girls who, in spite of the many challenges and stresses in their lives, figure out how to thrive and triumph over adversity.

In 1998 Kartemquin released Vietnam, Long Time ComingThe film follows a bicycle trip organized by World Team Sports to bring disabled and able-bodied Vietnamese and American veterans together on a journey of reconciliation, athletic achievement and emotional discovery.  Broadcast on NBC, the film won a National Emmy and the Best Documentary award from the Director's Guild of America.

Kartemquin's best known film, Hoop Dreams, won every major critics prize and journalism award in 1995 and was named on over 150 “ten best” lists.  The film examines the complex role basketball plays in the lives of two inner-city high school players.  After garnering the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, Hoop Dreams was released theatrically by Fine Line Features and became the highest grossing documentary at that time and one of highest-rated documentaries broadcast on PBS.

Our films have been broadcast nationally, continue to be distributed both nationally and internationally, and include ambitious outreach and education campaigns. By engaging the larger public and policy-makers in the process of genuine learning and understanding, Kartemquin continues to make films that can lead to real social change.  In addition to its extensive film production work, Kartemquin runs innovative media arts community programs, including an acclaimed internship program, the Diverse Voices in Docs mentorship program, and KTQ Labs, and continues to act as a resource for the local and national media communities.

New releases for 2014 included Life Itself, which world premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and then screened at Cannes, before going on to be named the best documentary of the year by over a dozen critics associations, and receive the Golden Tomato Award from as the best reviewed documentary of 2014. It also was awarded Best Documentary by The Critic’s Choice Awards, The National Board of Review, and The Producers Guild of America, among others. 2014 also saw the release of American Arab, which world premiered at IDFA and first screened in the US at Big Sky Documentary Festival; The Homestretch, which world premiered at Hot Docs; and Almost There and On Beauty. Please view our In-Progress section for more information on films currently in production.

Camera #1 from Kartemquin Films on Vimeo.