Docs

radarscreen: Current TV and Slamdance

In this time of Web supremacy, user generated content is nearly king. Current TV, a San Fran-based news and entertainment channel, has taken that idea and run with it. Encouraging submissions from indies and first-time filmmakers, Current's agenda is to acquire factual and news programming aimed at, and mostly created by, a young market. Many of the submissions they receive become daily content for their website, but they take the idea of UGC beyond the Web and onto their cable and satellite TV network. They seek out stories told by people who are affected by the events or are part of the community they are reporting on, and then airs them as quick, few minute-long segments they call 'Pods.'
December 1, 2007

In this time of Web supremacy, user generated content is nearly king. Current TV, a San Fran-based news and entertainment channel, has taken that idea and run with it. Encouraging submissions from indies and first-time filmmakers, Current’s agenda is to acquire factual and news programming aimed at, and mostly created by, a young market. Many of the submissions they receive become daily content for their website, but they take the idea of UGC beyond the Web and onto their cable and satellite TV network. They seek out stories told by people who are affected by the events or are part of the community they are reporting on, and then airs them as quick, few minute-long segments they call ‘Pods.’

In keeping with their short documentary programming mandate, Current recently teamed up with the Slamdance Film Festival and created a competition for independent filmmakers to submit a short film about current events or new trends. From the submissions, the two groups will put their heads together and pick the top five to be screened at Slamdance and aired on Current TV. Current TV’s Saskia Wilson-Brown, manager of Outreach VC2 – the UGC wing that represents 30% of the network’s content – and Slamdance’s director of programming, Sarah Diamond, worked together on the creation of this competition.

Saskia Wilson-Brown
Manager, Outreach VC2, Current TV

How did this competition come about?
We wanted to support Slamdance because we really believe in the festival and it’s very much along the same lines of what we’re interested in, which is young, indie filmmakers getting out there and making their content.

How are the submissions so far?
I think people pretty much understand what they’re submitting for. It’s not Sundance, it’s Slamdance, so it’s gotta be a little bit rock and roll on some levels. But having said that, there is some really high production value stuff that’s been submitted so far. The cool thing about Current is that it’s not really about the production values, although that matters, but it’s more about the story. We’re trying to program content that does reflect the range of ability, as well as experience, as well as, of course, stories.

Sarah Diamond
Director of programming,
Slamdance Film Festival

How much of Slamdance is devoted to docs?
About half of our festival is documentary. Shorts, on the other hand… any festival programmer will tell you it’s hard to get the right kind of documentary shorts that will play well with features because they tend to be so long. There’s always been an absence of a good number of shorts, that’s why I think it’s such a great idea to have two initiatives going after the same type of film.

Why has the presence of documentaries continued to increase at Slamdance?
Our submissions are up, there are a lot more people making documentaries. People are recognizing the formula to a certain extent. Not all the films can make it to the very top of the festival circuit. We acknowledge that Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and Toronto are the big festivals. We work our way into the hierarchy as we can. There are so many festivals out there and there are so many good documentaries and I think they’re going to be doing even better than narrative features on the smaller circuits.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.

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