Inside season 14 of ‘Independent Lens’

'Independent Lens' executive producer Lois Vossen previews the 14th season of the PBS doc strand, which will include added promotion around Stanley Nelson's Black Panthers doc (pictured) and two films about U.S. gun violence.
November 9, 2015

Stanley Nelson’s Black Panthers doc and two films about U.S. gun violence will benefit from PBS’s revamped strategy to promote indie film during the 14th season of ‘Independent Lens.’

The U.S. pubcaster will promote Nelson’s The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (pictured) through the ITVS-run doc strand’s rebranded cinema screening series, Indie Lens Pop-Up, ahead of its broadcast in February, as well as through advertising. PBS Distribution is handling the theatrical roll-out.

The network will also air the docs Peace Officer and The Armor of Light on successive nights in May, with each film followed by a televised, hour-long town hall conversation about the issues around gun violence in America  an ongoing programming theme this season and next.

In April, PBS unveiled a multi-platform plan that will see increased resources devoted to event-based broadcasts of documentaries, theatrical distribution, VOD, social media and educational programming for post-secondary film students as a way to give indie docs a higher profile throughout the public TV network.

lois vossen. photo: rahoul ghose/pbs

Lois Vossen

“We’re happy to see there is traction in terms of PBS wanting to elevate independent work,” said Lois Vossen, who was promoted to ‘Independent Lens’ executive producer in August. “We’re really encouraged they’re doing an additional push around a limited number of programs. It’s a step in the right direction.”

By rebranding Indie Lens Pop-Up, the strand is hoping to reach young, diverse viewers who do not attend festivals or tune in to linear television. Screenings will take place at unexpected venues, such as food truck parks, cafes and galleries, and feature live music, photo booths and other activities.

“After every screening there will be a discussion featuring people from that community who are engaged in an issue,” says Vossen. “At a time when race, policing, gun violence and the history of the Panthers are all coming together in a heightened discussion, we have Stanley’s film to engage people in a conversation about policing and racial harassment. We’re hoping those screenings will galvanize more viewers to the broadcast.”

Nine films per season will screen through the Indie Lens series.

Meanwhile, the latest season of ‘Independent Lens’ begins airing on traditional TV on Monday (November 9) with Debra Granik’s Stray Dog. Other docs set to air this year and next include Autism In Love, Meet the Patels and In Football We Trust. The series will run through June with a special planned for August.

To further increase awareness, PBS is also producing a 25-minute teaser program about six films screening this season that it will send out to local stations. Similar programs for Ken Burns‘ miniseries The Roosevelts and scripted series Downton Abbey received a high rate of broadcast among stations, Vossen said.

She added that ‘Independent Lens’ is gearing up to launch a new digital initiative and is working with an array of stakeholders – including festivals, broadcasters, VOD platforms and theatrical distributors –  on research to determine whether or not a set model for rights windows can be established.

“Digital rights have complicated the traditional broadcast timeline immensely,” says Vossen. “Does one platform cannibalize another? Does it help it? Is there a way to cross-promote? Different people have very strong feelings about it so we’re trying to get to the bottom of it with some real data.”

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