About Kartemquin

Sparking democracy through documentary since 1966, Kartemquin is a collaborative community that empowers documentary makers who create stories that foster a more engaged and just society.

Kartemquin's films have received four Academy Award® nominations, and won six Emmys® and three Peabody Awards, among several more major prizes. In 2019, Kartemquin was honored with an Institutional Peabody Award for "its commitment to unflinching documentary filmmaking and telling an American history rooted in social justice and the stories of the marginalized." Recognized as a leading advocate for independent public media, Kartemquin has helped hundreds of artists via its filmmaker development programs and championing of documentary.

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

Read our mission statement

Media Advocacy

To ensure a vibrant and diverse independent public media, Kartemquin regularly takes a lead position on policy issues affecting our field, such as issues of ethics and “fair use” rights for documentary filmmakers.

As representatives of the independent media arts community, we have also led or been part of coalitions in support of public access TV, the successful renewal and extension of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) exemptions for both documentary and fictional filmmakers, and the PBSNeedsIndies campaign and launching the Indie Caucus.

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Our History

"There are few film production companies in the United States as admirable as Kartemquin Films, the nonprofit documentary house founded in Chicago in 1966 that was subsequently responsible for such outstanding, illuminating works as “Hoop Dreams” (1994), “The Interrupters” (2011), and “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” (2016)." - The New York Times

Since 1966, Kartemquin has served as a home for filmmakers to develop their craft and produce films that promote dialogue and democracy. Kartemquin makes documentaries that examine and critique society through the stories of real people. A community of socially-responsible filmmakers, we nurture emerging talent through a commitment to a collaborative, mentorship-based model of filmmaking practice. Our model places an emphasis on high ethical standards, particularly with regards to filmmaker-subject relationships, and in grassroots distribution through community partnerships.

Initially motivated by the philosophies of John Dewey that "artists are the real purveyors of the news," Kartemquin was formed with a manifesto of "Cinematic Social Inquiry." 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 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 retained a political edge while mentoring a new generation of young documentary makers. Kartemquin has now formalized many filmmaker development 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 award-winning films in a variety of styles.

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 and retrospective screenings from several venues and festivals, including: Hot Docs; Museum of Moving Image NYC; UCLA Film & Television Archive; St. Louis International Film Festival; Ashland International Film Festival; Dallas Videofest; Chicago International Music and Movies Festival (CIMMfest); Peace on Earth Film Festival; Chicago Latino Film Festival; Columbia College Chicago; University of Chicago Doc Films; University of Chicago Center for Human Rights; Northwestern’s Block Cinema; Getting Real 2016; DePaul University; Chicago Filmmakers; Black Cinema House; and on Chicago's PBS Station WTTW and Turner Classic Movies; and with a unique art and equipment exhibition at the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events' Expo 72 gallery. Kartemquin also marked the achievement by offering free streaming of their entire back catalog at http://watch.kartemquin.com, by hosting a party for over 1,000 alumni and fans in Chicago, and by hosting a Fall Festival in partnership with ArcLight Cinemas that showcased entirely new work, particularly from emerging filmmakers graduating from our filmmaker development programs.

Learn more about the history of Kartemquin