This year marks the 30th anniversary of the celebrated documentary institution American Documentary | POV. In commemoration of this milestone, the first ever AmDoc Annual Benefit was held on Tuesday evening at Liberty Hall at Ace Hotel New York.
With over 200 filmmakers, public and nonprofit media collaborators and funding partners in attendance, the event was an opportunity for American Documentary supporters to honor the award-winning work produced over the past thirty years, and also celebrate the anticipated projects of the seasons beyond. The event featured remarks by POV founder Marc Weiss and critically acclaimed filmmakers Ramona Diaz (Motherland), Kirsten Johnson (Cameraperson), Cecilia Aldarondo (Memories of a Penitent Heart) and Kahane Cooperman (Joe’s Violin), whose films are featured on this season of POV. Attendees also heard from Marie Nelson, the vice president of news and public affairs at PBS, as well as Kathy Im, director for journalism and media at the MacArthur Foundation.
The keynote address was given by Justine Nagan, the executive producer and executive director of American Documentary | POV, who spoke passionately about the founding mission of AmDoc.
Nagan first addressed the room by recalling one of the core tenets of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, that “it is in the public interest to encourage the development of programming that involves creative risks and that addresses the needs of unserved and underserved audiences.”
Following three decades of groundbreaking work in broadcast, engagement and digital innovation, Nagan previewed American Documentary’s newest initiatives, including an emergency fund for filmmakers and a second round of its embedded mediamaker journalism program. All these projects, Nagan added, furthered AmDoc’s mission of making documentaries free and accessible: “We feel it is crucial that all Americans, regardless of their ability to pay for cable or high-speed internet, should have access to rich, riveting documentaries, thereby helping to nurture an informed engaged democracy.”
Justine added emphatically that this is “just the beginning” of what is instore for AmDoc in the coming months, and concluded her address by thanking all those who have made this acclaimed work possible.
Nelson followed Nagan’s remarks. “POV is a series that was born in struggle, led by pioneers like Marc Weiss who believed in the power and relevance of independent documentary film. And today, that fighting spirit continues to guide, provoke and inspire.”
The evening concluded with a call for donations and the announcement of a matching grant from the Sage Foundation. The organization pledged to match donations of up to $15,000 with the goal of raising $30,000 that night in celebration of American Documentary’s 30th anniversary.
For Nagan’s and Nelson’s full remarks, see below.
Justine Nagan, Executive Producer/Executive Director, POV/American Documentary
“Fifty years ago, when the Public Broadcasting Act was put into place in 1967, one of its core tenets read:
‘It is in the public interest to encourage the development of programming that involves creative risks and that addresses the needs of unserved and underserved audiences.’
This is what we do every day, and have done for three decades, with the help of a dedicated staff and board, filmmakers, funders, partners and all of you.
When American Documentary was created, and POV first debuted on national television, the idea of bringing independent documentaries to the mainstream was revolutionary. Now, 30 years later, the world has caught up and commercial networks and platforms have realized what PBS knew so long ago: there are large audiences for engaging, challenging, media with memorable characters and meaningful points of view.
The work we do is now even more important. We cut through the clutter with dedicated curation and present a slate of powerful films that are worth your time and will leave you changed. In these days of on-air shouting and narrowcast newsfeeds, these works of art and craft beautifully show the complexity and diversity of the human experience.
We feel it is crucial that all Americans, regardless of their ability to pay for cable or high-speed internet, should have access to rich, riveting documentaries, thereby helping to nurture an informed and engaged democracy. We are so proud of our legacy, and excited about our future, of proudly presenting, collaborating with and serving passionate, talented filmmakers with something to say. Many of the filmmakers from our 30-year history are here tonight.
AmDoc is a little organization that does a lot. We work with PBS for POV broadcast and streaming. We work with the New York Times and Storycorps. We work with Snapchat and Instagram. We are collaborating with filmmakers everyday to push the nonfiction form and to make the work accessible for American audiences wherever they are and however they consume content. We work with libraries, community colleges, churches, municipal offices, jails and prisons to help them use documentary to serve their communities. We work with the World Channel to co-present America ReFramed, presenting 26 new films each year. This is what we’ll be building on heading into 2018.
In the coming months, stay tuned for some exciting announcements. We’ll be launching a filmmaker emergency fund to provide working documentarians one-time grants for personal calamities. We will be starting round two of our embedded mediamaker journalism program. We will diving into the shorts arena and rebooting our streaming platform. We’ll be doing a POV marathon on the World Channel on January 1. And that’s just the beginning.
We can’t do any of it without our community of support. Thank you! Special thanks to our longtime partners, PBS and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Thanks to the foundations and individuals who support us year in and year out. Thanks to tonight’s sponsors and host committee and to our board. Lastly, a huge thanks to our staff and interns who have worked tirelessly for months to put this night together. Fundraising events are always big endeavors for nonprofits, but this being our first, has been especially arduous. Special thanks to the amazing [POV program and development manager] Theresa Navarro for leading our gala ship to this wondrous conclusion tonight. It’s so special to be here with all of you to celebrate POV’s 30th anniversary.
I’d like to now introduce my friend and colleague, Marie Nelson, the Vice President of News and Public Affairs at PBS.”
Marie Nelson, Vice President of News and Public Affairs, PBS
“Door to door bible salesmen, female political prisoners in the United States, cowboy poets, jeopardy champions, Chinese dissident artists and women rights’ activists, funeral directors, a Texas smuggler, African American teen boys striving to become first-generation college graduates, pornographers, transgender dads, a sudden pop princess, Holocaust survivors, people living and dying with aids, autistic teens, child sex offenders, a 93 year-old style icon, Marlon Riggs… each with their own story and unique pov.
For the past 30 seasons, POV has created a home for these powerful films and for public audiences to connect with them. Nearly 400 films and counting reminding us of our mission to bring forth the stories of diverse and underserved communities, and to provide universal access to those stories. POV is a series that was something in struggle, led by pioneers like Mark Weiss who believed in the power and relevance of independent documentary film. And today that fighting spirit continues to guide, provoke and inspire. You see it in the bold choice to open the thirtieth season with a series of films devoted to the Syrian conflict and its tragic consequences, including Dalya’s Other Country, The War Show, Last Men in Aleppo, and 4.1 Miles.
And in the visual masterpiece of Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson, which bears witness to a quarter century of storytelling behind the camera. And the vulnerability and bravery of Michael Collins’ and Marty Syjuco’s Almost Sunrise, a portrait of two combat vets on a twenty-seven-hundred mile trek across America in search of healing.
And My Love, Don’t Cross that River, the achingly poignant love story of South Korean newlyweds in the final days of their 76-year marriage, which reminds us that love may be the ultimate revolutionary act in these times of strife and division. And in a world with so many competing platforms and a juggernaut of content, this film connected to one viewer who tweeted: “PBS is the best station ever… with the illest films.”
So to our friends, our collaborators, our partners at POV, we say job well done. And here’s to the next thirty years!