How do you sell your documentary idea? Five emerging nonfiction filmmakers got the opportunity to pitch their story proposals to a panel of decision-makers at the popular The Art of the Documentary Pitch workshop in New York on Saturday, Oct. 27, part of DocFest07, the eighth annual documentary festival at The Paley Center for Media. American Documentary, Inc., producer of the award-winning POV series on PBS, sponsored the third annual award, presented during the competition portion of the session. The winner, Canadian filmmaker Angad Bhalla, received a $5,000 grant to be used toward the completion of the pitched film, The House That Herman Built.
Ron Simon, Cynthia Lopez and Angad Balla
The Paley Center’s Ron Simon, POV’s Cynthia López and winner of the 2007 Art of the Pitch competition, Angad Bhalla.
For over 35 years Black Panther Herman Joshua Wallace has been in solitary confinement in the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. Solitary Confinement, or Closed Cell Restriction (CCR) at Angola consists of spending a minimum of 23 hours a day in a 6-foot -by-9-foot cell. He was convicted of the murder of a prison guard, and maintains his innocence to this day. Five years ago the activist/artist Jackie Sumell asked Herman a simple question: “What kind of house does a man who has lived in a 6′ x 9′ box for over 30 years dream of?” The answer is manifested in a remarkable project called The House That Herman Built, consisting of a book by Sumell and Wallace illustrating their long correspondence and his detailed home designs and dreams; exhibits; school curricula; a community of support that hopes to build Herman’s House in New Orleans; and now, a documentary.
Independent filmmaker Angad Bhalla seeks out projects that highlight marginalized voices. As his thesis project at Stanford University, he made UAIL Go Back (named for the Montreal-based aluminum giant Utkal Alumina International Ltd.), about the displacing of indigenous peoples in India for mining interests. After graduating, he spent two years in India assisting Canadian documentary filmmaker Ali Kazimi on the Gemini (Canadian Emmy) Award-winning Runaway Grooms and directing a short documentary on the hopes and dreams of Indian street artists entitled Writings on the Wall, currently on the festival circuit. Bhalla, who hails from Toronto and lives in New York, has produced videos for advocacy groups including Human Rights Watch and the Global March Against Child Labor.
“Our mission is to find and cultivate talented filmmakers with compelling stories to tell,” says American Documentary, Inc. Vice President Cynthia López, who, along with the Paley Center Curator Ron Simon presented the grant. “We’re delighted to meet the next generation of storytellers and to give this award to Angad Bhalla, who presented his ideas with exceptional passion and clarity.”
“This annual workshop and competition epitomizes what DocFest is all about,” said Ron Simon. “The festival’s events not only entertain and inform, but also provide an environment where emerging directors can learn important skills beyond filmmaking.”
The Art of the Documentary Pitch, co-sponsored by the International Documentary Association (IDA), annually convenes a panel of distinguished producers who discuss the many issues that arise during the making of a documentary film. Five emerging filmmakers pitch their ideas to the panel members and audience in this workshop/competition. The producers offer feedback on their concept as well as their presentation skills — invaluable lessons for all aspiring filmmakers. The winner receives a $5,000 grant, sponsored by American Documentary.
Last year’s recipient was Christopher Wong, producer/director of Whatever It Takes. The 2005 recipients, Anne de Mare and Kirsten Kelly, won for Asparagus! (A Stalk-umentary), which had its world premiere at the 2006 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and won the Best Documentary Award at the Rural Route Film Festival.
The 2007 panel of judges included Diana Holtzberg, Acquisitions & Project Development Director, Films Transit International; Lauren Lazin, Filmmaker/Executive Producer, MTV Networks; Cynthia López; Molly Thompson, Programming Director, A&E IndieFilms, and Susan Werbe, Vice President, Programming, The History Channel.
DocFest07 also celebrated two decades of remarkable nonfiction television from POV with 20 Years of POV: The Art of Personal Storytelling, a roundtable discussion with filmmakers Alan Berliner, Ralph Arlyck and Tina DiFeliciantonio, POV founder Marc Weiss, and Simon Kilmurry, on Oct. 29.
The Paley Center’s annual documentary festival was inaugurated in 2000 with the mission of bringing exemplary documentaries and works of nonfiction to the public. Previous festivals have introduced audiences to such acclaimed films as Born Into Brothels, Ken Burns’s The War, and POV’s Street Fight (nominated for an Academy Award).
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POV Staff
POV (a cinema term for "point of view") is television's longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. POV premieres 14-16 of the best, boldest and most innovative programs every year on PBS. Since 1988, POV has presented over 400 films to public television audiences across the country. POV films are known for their intimacy, their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues.