Documentary Filmmakers’ Lifeline

Stuck on the notion that documentaries are stuffy and boring? Docs in Progress can change your mind.

Docs in Progress is a nonprofit organization founded in 2004 by Erica Ginsberg and Adele Schmidt. Both documentary filmmakers wanted to start a program that supported the Washington area documentary community. It became a nonprofit in 2008 and has grown since then to help expert or aspiring documentary filmmakers.

“There are so many stories that can be told truthfully and exceptionally through documentaries… It is a way to creatively express yourself,” explained Erica Ginsberg, Executive Director at Docs in Progress.

However, telling those stories can be an expensive and tedious task. Docs in Progress gives assistance to aspiring and experienced document filmmakers by holding public screenings of unfinished documents to allow for constructive criticism. It also offers classes, workshops, talks, consultation, a fiscal scholarship program, and technical assistance for filmmakers.

Docs in Progress extends their services to the community as well. It holds summer document filmmaking camps for middle and high school students. It also holds an annual summer open house. This year it is on June 22.

The summer open house receives submissions from the summer camp and local documentary filmmakers of three to five minute clips about local people. It is a four-hour event and serves as a way for people to network and learn a little more about what Docs in Progress does, according to Ginsberg.

People have come in looking to do documentaries as a hobby or to just learn more about the art form and have come out wanting to continue making documentaries.

Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson were activists who came in wanting to learn more about documentary filmmaking. They eventually made Out in the Silence, a documentary about the acceptance of homosexuality in small town America.  They got funding from Sundance and showed their documentary at the Human Rights Festival. It started a huge outreach campaign and they are currently working on another documentary.

Another documentary filmmaker, Paul Moon, came and worked in a production class and has now made around 4 documentaries, mainly focusing around music and arts. His documentaries are shown in festivals and museums. Moon now teaches at Docs in Progress, sharing his knowledge with others.

Moon’s unfinished documentary LowerTown Paducah will be shown at the first-ever Outdoor Work-in-Progress, held at Pyramid Atlantic. In this event, audience members will be able to watch the unfinished documentary and provide feedback on it.

LowerTown Paducah is about the town of Paducah, Kentucky, where a “close community of artists moved into beautiful old houses and transformed a troubled neighborhood”, according to Docs in Progress’ website.

“For us, it’s even the smaller stories that are really amazing,” commented Ginsberg on the talent Docs in Progress sees coming in to use their services. The organization strives to help people feel empowered by learning new things.

Docs in Progress has coached or taught more than 1,000 people. It is currently headquartered in downtown Silver Spring, and is part of the area’s Arts & Entertainment district, which includes the American Film Institute Silver Theatre, Discovery Communications global headquarters, Round House Theatre, The Fillmore, and Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center.

So, if ever in need of a documentary fix, check out the Docs in Progress webpage for upcoming showings or events.