What is the Independence Project?

The purpose of the Independence Project is to help encourage a ground swell of conversations amongst documentary filmmakers across every region. In a time when public interest media is in jeopardy - from market forces, from big tech, from political pressures - we need to organise. To reclaim our identity. To name and describe the practice of independent filmmaking and why it matters. Only then and only together will we be able to make the case for the resources and the platforms that this field needs and deserves. To imagine and design new infrastructure that will allow citizens everywhere to access this critical genre of storytelling.

We hope this manuscript will spark conversation, help us to see ourselves anew and understand ourselves as connected across continents with common purpose.

This begins with listening to our comrades.

This manuscript contains extracts from longer interviews conducted in eight languages with 51 fellow documentary filmmakers from over 34 countries - each describing their understanding of the practice of independent filmmaking and its significance to their lives, cultures, societies. It is one of the only research projects of its kind that centres the voices of global majority makers.

In volume one, we have pulled together responses relating to just one theme; what does independent documentary mean to you and why does it matter? Excerpts from interviews relating to this theme have been compiled under filmmaker’s names.

We will be publishing more volumes over the next year which explore questions of sustainability and funding models, the future of public and corporate distribution, assessment of media industry festivals and markets, how to build better communities and networks, and other subjects. Our aim is to provide a richer and a more diverse set of perspectives on the state of the field and hear where filmmakers are aligned, what they want to see changed and what we might build together.

Who is behind the Independence Project?

The Independence Project is a project of DISCO.

DISCO (Decentralised Independent Story and Culture Organizers) is a network of global cultural and documentary organisations who have come together to collaborate and coordinate around shared field challenges and advocate for the unique importance of independent documentary to culture, society and democracy.

Ambulante, AFLAMUNA, DocsMX, Doc Society, DocSP, Docubox, and In-Docs have come together to peer-share learnings, collaborate on initiatives and create novel resources for the field. Over time, we have become an informal support and sharing network to collaborate together on some of the systemic challenges facing independent media, and are now formalising our collaborations to deepen support for each other and the broader ecosystem as DISCO.

Individually we each hold deep local intelligence but together we are also a global force in the creative community. In the past year alone the network has worked in over 40 countries including: Colombia, UK, US, Australia, Netherlands, Brazil, Uruguay, Kenya, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, México, Paraguay, Panamá, Perú, Puerto Rico, República Dominicana, Uruguay, Venezuela, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Comoros Islands, Sierra Leone and South Africa. Across DISCO, we are directly supporting 2000+ independent filmmakers each year, with funding, hosting festivals and markets and training programmes in our respective regions.

How was the Independence Project research conducted?

The concept and research behind the Independence Project was designed by DISCO with the aid of academic advisors and a wider constellation of cultural organisations.

Together we agreed on regions to be represented in the study - the Arab Region, Central Asia, Central & South America, East Asia, East & Central Africa, North America, Oceania & Pacific Islands, South Asia, South East Asia, Southern Africa, West Africa, West Indies, Western & Eastern Europe.

The number of filmmakers recruited for interviews from each region was determined by population. Emergent and emblematic filmmakers from diverse backgrounds were identified and recruited by local cultural organisations.

All interviews were conducted in the preferred language of each filmmaker. Interviews were approximately one hour long, where interviewees were encouraged to ask questions, and contribute their visions towards the project.

Some interviewees have chosen to protect their identities. Consent has been sought specifically for the publication of the research in this form. Please contact zeena@docsociety.org for permission to use the research in any other contexts.

What comes next?

DISCO will be moving to workshop learnings from the Independence Project in order to crowdsource and elevate advocacy goals and campaign strategy for the field. This will include an attempt to co-create a common technical definition of independent documentary which can be used by local organisations to advocate to funders, curators and commissioners of the work.