December 7, 2023

The Documentary System is Broken. Now What? | Beyond Resilience

Firelight Media hosted a Beyond Resilience event via YouTube Live on Thursday, December 7, from 4-5pm ET that brought together documentary veterans from across the industry to encourage gatekeepers at every level to take collective action in support of the independent documentary ecosystem.

Moderator Marcia Smith (Co-Founder & President, Firelight Media) was joined by Brian Newman (Founder, Sub-Genre) and Geralyn Dreyfous (Co-Founder, Impact Partners) to discuss the market shifts that explain the current state of the documentary industry. The panel also highlighted encouraging developments, ideas for modernizing the documentary ecosystem, and provide the audience with a clear directive of how they can advocate for a better future for documentary.

Accessibility Notice: This event includes live ASL interpretation.

As we explored at our September Beyond Resilience event, Let’s Talk Money, the traditional pipeline through which documentary filmmakers receive support for research, development, production, and distribution of their films is largely broken. Funders, festivals, and other organizations who have historically supported independent filmmakers are struggling to find sustainable ways forward. While it’s easy to point a finger at the opaque and unsustainable business model of streamers, the reasons for the instability of the documentary industry are manifold: foundation funding directives are fickle, equity financing models make returns for filmmakers difficult, and festivals – once an essential marketplace for independent films – now often function as showcases for projects that have already been acquired.

So, what’s next? How can we band together to (re)build a system that will ensure independent filmmakers can thrive, distribution channels are broadened and more accessible, and films that reflect our communities get seen?


The Beyond Resilience Series is sponsored by Open Society Foundations. Beyond Resilience is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Field of Vision.


Participant Bios:

A dark skinned women with short brown hair, smiling with her arms straight at her side.

Marcia Smith is president and co-founder of Firelight Media, which produces documentary films, provides artistic and financial support to emerging filmmakers of color, and builds impact campaigns to connect documentaries to audiences and social justice advocates. Under her leadership, Firelight Media was honored with a MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. Firelight Media’s flagship Documentary Lab program has supported more than 80 emerging filmmakers over the past decade, who have premiered at festivals such as Sundance, and gone on to earn numerous festival, Peabody, and Emmy awards.

Brian Newman, founder of Sub-Genre, consults on content strategy, distribution and marketing for some of the top brands in the world. Current and former clients include: The Climate Pledge (Amazon), GoDaddy, John Deere, Oatly, Patagonia, Publicis Sapient, Purina, REI, Stripe, Sundance, Tazo, Unilever, and Yeti Coolers. Brian has served as CEO of the Tribeca Film Institute, produces independent films, and writes a popular weekly newsletter on film.

Geralyn White Dreyfous is an Academy Award-winning producer with a wide, distinguished background in the arts. Geralyn's independent executive producing and producing credits include the Academy Award winning NAVALNY (2022); Academy Award winning BORN INTO BROTHELS (2004); Academy Award nominated and Peabody Award winning THE INVISIBLE WAR (2012), Academy Award nominated and Emmy Award winning THE SQUARE (2013), and Emmy Award winning 16 SHOTS (2019) as well as multiple festival winners and nominees such as MISS REPRESENTATION (2011), MEET THE PATELS (2014), ALIVE INSIDE (2014), THE HUNTING GROUND (2015), BENDING THE ARC (2017), THE JUDGE (2017), STEP (2017), BE NATURAL (2018), WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? (2018), ALWAYS IN SEASON (2019), THE GREAT HACK (2019), US KIDS (2020), and THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS (2020). Geralyn stands as Founder and Board Chair of Utah Film Center, Co-Founder of Impact Partners, and a founding member of Gamechanger Films. She has been recognized by Variety and the International Documentary Association for her significant contribution to documentary filmmaking.

May 10, 2024

Filming with Family | Beyond Resilience x CAAMFest Filmmaker Summit 2024

Join Firelight Media's Beyond Resilience series at CAAMFest Filmmaker Summit in San Francisco.

March 7, 2024

Interrogating the Festival to Awards Pipeline | Beyond Resilience

Firelight Media and Distribution Advocates hosted a conversation about navigating the festival to awards pipeline for documentary filmmakers.

January 25, 2024

The Optics of Islam | Beyond Resilience

A conversation with filmmakers and scholars about Muslim and MENASA representation.

December 7, 2023

The Documentary System is Broken. Now What? | Beyond Resilience

How can we band together to (re)build a system that will ensure independent filmmakers can thrive?

November 1, 2023

Palestinian Voices | Beyond Resilience

Beyond Resilience, with support from Field of Vision, is proud to be a community partner for the Arab Film & Media Institute's 'Palestinian Voices' program.

November 15, 2023

Navigating the Ethical and Business Landscape of Artificial Intelligence | Beyond Resilience

A conversation about the evolution of artificial intelligence and its impact on documentary filmmaking, presented with DOC NYC PRO.

September 21, 2023

Let's Talk Money | Beyond Resilience

Join Firelight Media for a conversation about creating work, profiting from that work, and creating a sustainable career in nonfiction film.

August 6, 2023

Disability Justice: Spotlight on unseen | Beyond Resilience

Firelight Media co-presents a panel on disability justice at BlackStar Film Festival 2023, featuring Documentary Lab Fellow Set Hernandez Rongkilyo.


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