March 19, 2012 2:12 pm
On Friday, a small coalition of Kartemquin producers and independent documentary filmmakers led by Gordon Quinn and Carlos Sandoval wrote an open letter to PBS expressing our dismay at their decision to move the nation's two biggest program strands for independent, award-winning documentary — Independent Lens and POV — away from Tuesday nights, their previous timeslot. This decision caused a significant decline in viewers for the programs, and seemed indicative of a potential jeopardization of PBS' mission to support independent democratic voices.
The response to the open letter was immediate and intense. The International Documentary Association pledged their support, inspiring a who's who of documentary to come out against the move. As of Noon on Monday, over 200 filmmakers, distributors, academics, journalists, and public media advocates had signed our open letter, and over 60 had left comments detailing the impact a PBS broadcast had made on their work, or their concern over PBS's scheduling decision. Famous names such as Alex Gibney, Steve James, Liz Garbus, Rebecca Cammisa, Marshall Curry, Laura Poitras, Yoav Potash, Judith Helfand, Jessica Yu, Jennifer Fox, Chris Hegedus, D.A. PenneBaker, Barbara Kopple, Michael Moore and even PBS legend Bill Moyers were among the signatories.
The films this group of signatories have produced are some of the greatest hits of Independent Lens and POV, and some of the best American documentaries of the past decade: A Lion in the House; King Corn; Where Soldiers Come From; Power Trip; Have You Heard from Johannesburg?; My Perestroika; The English Surgeon; Freedom Riders; Hip-hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes; Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room; Enemies of the People; The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court, and many many more. A number of producers with works due to air on PBS in 2012 - 2013 have, of course, also signed on expressing their concern.
The media has also begun paying attention, with The New York Times covering the campaign today, and positive support from About.Com Documentaries and Alt. Film Guide. Kartemquin Board member Patricia Aufderheide also wrote at the Center for Social Media "Why it Matters Where PBS Puts Independent Lens and POV." And today, we were honored to have the Writers Guild of America, East advocate that their membership also sign the letter. For his IndieWIRE article "The PBS Debacle: Why a New Time Slot Spells Disaster For Indie Docs", Anthony Kaufman's spoke to filmmakers who had signed the open letter, as well as Gordon Quinn, and representatives from ITVS, POV and PBS.
We encourage anyone who supports independent documentary films to continue to sign and share the petition.
Edit: We also encourage anyone interested in the #PBSNeedsIndies issue to follow the conversation on Twitter, and to read this report by Peter Hart at Fair.org. Over 300 names are now on the open letter, and they have left over 100 comments. Also read Anthony Kaufman's follow-up article: Documentary Filmmakers Turn Up the Heat on PBS; More from the Trenches.