Good Pitch Chicago forum will connect documentary filmmakers with supporters
Chicago civic and business leaders come together to highlight the city's best unfinished documentaries
Justine Nagan, executive director of Kartemquin Films, and lawyer Steve Cohen are involved in starting Good Pitch Chicago, a forum to connect filmmakers and financial backers. (Abel Uribe, Chicago Tribune / March 20, 2013
Melissa Harris' Chicago Confidential
March 21, 2013
Chicago's documentary film industry is getting its own high-profile Demo Day.
Running concurrently with the Chicago International Film Festival, a group of corporate and nonprofit executives will showcase up to eight unfinished documentary films at a new event called Good Pitch Chicago.
Each director will have seven minutes to pitch their film to eight to 10 influencers who organizers know are already interested in the film's premise — and may want to help finance or otherwise support it. Watching the daylong event will be an invite-only audience of 300 to 400 guests.
The idea is that after hearing the pitch those influencers — who will be seated around a table onstage — will announce some sort of commitment to support the film. Money to finish the film would be helpful. A distribution deal with, say, PBS or CNN might be even better. But organizers say money isn't all they're seeking.
There are other ways to support a documentary. For example, someone at the table could offer to get a film about sexual assault in the military into the hands of the U.S. defense secretary. Or the executive director of a large social services organization could agree to show a film about violence prevention at its clubs nationwide.
Adding to the drama will be the fact that once people on stage have a chance to offer help, audience members can spontaneously step up to a microphone and make a commitment to the film as well.
"The group around the table has never been around the same table before, and as an audience member, you witness literally this groundswell around the film," said Paula Froehle, executive vice president of academic affairs at the Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, which will host the Oct. 22 event. "It's as if you're witnessing the behind-the-scenes networking that is necessary, if the film is going to make an impact on society. Even for the sort of non-philanthropic, non-connected audience member, and I was in that position twice, it was thrilling to see. I could visualize the impact any one of these projects was going to have on communities across the country."
Leading the local effort to bring Good Pitch to Chicago is lawyer Steve Cohen, who also finances documentaries; Justine Nagan, executive director of Kartemquin Films, which released its first documentary in 1966; Froehle and John Murray from Tribeca; Daniel Alpert, a documentary-maker and executive director of The Kindling Group; and Erin Sorenson of Third Stage Consulting, who previously was the first executive director of the Chicago Children's Advocacy Center.
Tribeca will be the lead sponsor. The MacArthur Foundation also has awarded a $50,000 grant toward start-up costs. And Cohen is supplying a $20,000 matching grant for new sponsors who sign on after April 1, which is when the event begins accepting submissions.
Good Pitch events take place annually in New York, San Francisco and London, where the event was founded. Washington has hosted one as well. The brand is a joint project of the U.K.-based BRITDOC Foundation, which supports international filmmakers, and the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program.
"Chicago has been untapped in terms of foundation money, organizational collaboration and advertising industry engagement," Cohen said, later adding, "We hope and expect there will be a Good Pitch in Chicago every year like there is in New York and San Francisco."
The selection committee is looking for a very specific kind of film to showcase at this event. The films must be in production and of high-quality. Of the five documentary features nominated for an Oscar this year, two — "How to Survive a Plague" and "The Invisible War" — had been featured at a Good Pitch, Cohen said.
The subject matter must be about social change, but the event isn't set up like a reality TV competition.
"We fully expect every film in the pitch will walk away with some kind of help, whether it be financial or a partnership with another organization," Cohen said. "Every film gets something by being in the pitch."
"The Interrupters," which shows how former gang members on Chicago's South Side are being tapped to quell violence, would be ideal for a Good Pitch. And the film, from Chicagoan and veteran filmmaker Steve James, was presented at a Good Pitch in Washington. James said the selection process was "very competitive."
"Good Pitch connected us directly to a foundation, The Fledgling Fund, and they gave us some initial money to help develop an outreach plan for 'The Interrupters' and then came back and gave us more money down the road to support the outreach effort," James said. "The first money is often the most important money, even if it's not big bucks."
Many social-impact documentaries are shot on a budget of less than $1 million. Pulling more funders and partners into the documentary industry is perhaps the last piece of a growing renaissance.
An art film house is no longer a necessary middleman. Technology, such as Netflix and iTunes, is delivering them to people's living rooms. And crowd-funding sites, such as Kickstarter, are making it easier for directors to finance their projects.
"(Director) Errol Morris, (Steve James') 'Hoop Dreams,' Michael Moore, 'An Inconvenient Truth,' there's been this momentum building around the power of documentaries," Nagan said. "Driving that is what's happening with journalism. Long-term journalism and investigative reporting are getting cut. And the audience for news is very siloed. ... The news they get is tailored to them. Documentaries, I think people are feeling right now, really do have the ability to bring people together and think about an issue in a broader way."
For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or go to britdoc.org/goodpitchchicago.
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