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.

In 2019, Kartemquin received an Institutional Peabody Award for "for its commitment to unflinching documentary filmmaking and telling an American history rooted in social justice and the stories of the marginalized." The organization's work has been recognized by almost every major critical and journalistic prize, including six Emmys®, four Peabodys, duPont-Columbia and Robert F. Kennedy journalism awards, Independent Spirit, IDA, PGA and DGA awards. Kartemquin films have received four Oscar® nominations.

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 institutional 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. Additional awards and retrospectives of Kartemquin's films have been held at some of the world's leading documentary film festivals and institutions, including Hot Docs, Full Frame, Hot Springs, the Gene Siskel Film Center, the UCLA Film and Television Archive at the Billy Wilder Theater in Los Angeles, and the Museum of Moving Image in New York. In 2015, Kartemquin Films co-founder Gordon Quinn was honored with the International Documentary Association's Career Achievement Award.

In 2019, Kartemquin received its fourth Academy Award nomination and fourth Peabody Award for Minding the Gap. These recognition capped a year in which the film went from winning a Special Jury Prize for Breakthrough Filmmaking at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival to collecting over fifty festival awards around the world, along with three awards from the International Documentary Association, three Cinema Eye Honors, an Independent Spirit Award, a Critics Choice Award, and prizes from the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and Chicago Film Critics Association.

In 2014 Life Itself, world premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and then screened at Cannes, before going on to be warded Best Documentary by The Critic’s Choice Awards, The National Board of Review, and The Producers Guild of America, among others, and be named the best documentary of the year by over a dozen critics associations, and receive the Golden Tomato Award from RottenTomatoes.com as the best reviewed documentary of the year. 2014 also saw the release of American Arab, which world premiered at IDFA and first screened in the US at Big Sky Documentary Festival, before being broadcast on America ReFramed on PBS WORLD; The Homestretch, which world premiered at Hot Docs, and received an Emmy following its broadcast on PBS Independent Lens in 2015; and Almost There, which won several festival awards and was distributed in theaters following its premiere at DOC NYC, and On Beauty, which world premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival and won several more festival awards.

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. 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.

Please view our In-Progress section for more information on films currently in production.

Camera #1 from Kartemquin Films on Vimeo.