IDA, NEA spotlight challenges in doc industry: report

While more documentaries are being created and viewed than ever before, the sector’s viability is being threatened by shifting cultural and business environments, says a new report. Issued by the National ...
August 2, 2017

While more documentaries are being created and viewed than ever before, the sector’s viability is being threatened by shifting cultural and business environments, says a new report.

Issued by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), in partnership with the International Documentary Association (IDA), theĀ State of the Field: A Report from the Documentary Sustainability Summit, released today (Aug. 2) seeks to chart a course towards a sustainable future for the doc industry.

The report urges more cross-sector partnerships, especially with tech companies, to access resources, expand peer networks and boost resiliency. It also recommends that the doc field look to adapt or create new business models that offer better compensation for filmmakers, as well as engaging with public officials on a deeper level to foster a better understanding of the industry.

According to the report, documentary film professionals see making a living as the most pressing issue facing the industry. Only about 22% of documentary professionals say they are able to make their primary living from documentary film making, and 66% of docmakers reported making either no salary or less than 50% of their salary from their most recent documentaries.

Finally, the report advises the sector to recognize the importance of research in effective communication. It outlines the need for a “Documentary Data Project” that would detail what data can tell filmmakers, organizations and funders about the industry. Research topics could include context and landscape mapping, economic research, documentary filmmaking as an economic engine, artist revenue models, diversity and access to opportunity and issue impact.

“Everyone is a stakeholder, regardless if you are a content producer, consumer, funder, public sector representative, or involved with an organization,” reads the report, adding that now is the time to take full ownership of the conversation and move the work forward.

“There are good things that are happening that can help making a living more sustainable and attainable if certain things were addressed,” NEA director of Media Arts Jax Deluca told realscreen.

The report highlighted actions that could be taken now to help those working in the doc sector including ensuring artists are paid fair wages and helping first-time and independent filmmakers access early phase funding so they don’t have to go into debt to finance their projects.

Deluca said this issue of economic fairness is especially problematic during a time when platforms – especially digital platforms – are making profit from those who make this content.

“There are some inequality issues that need to be addressed that will continue to escalate if the conversation is not being heard,” she said.

By sharing the findings of the report, Deluca said wants to encourage conversations and partnerships across various sectors, from tech to distributors, while looking to improve policies and systems that impact the livelihoods of those operating in the doc ecosystem.

State of the Field emerged from a one-day summit held on Feb. 10 by the NEA and IDA which brought together the documentary community and leaders from the government and the arts. Among the 80 summit participants were documentary filmmakers, producers, distributors, film festival representatives and funders.

The summit and report are part of NEA’s effort to strengthen the doc ecosystem.



About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.