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Member of the Month - Michael Lumpkin


In this monthly interview series EDN focuses on one of its many members to show both members in the spotlight and the diversity of the EDN membership group.

Our EDN member of the month for January 2014 is Michael Lumpkin, Executive Director, IDA - International Documentary Association, Los Angeles, USA.

IDA is a non-profit organization founded in 1982 dedicated to building and serving the needs of a thriving documentary culture. Through its programs, IDA provides resources, creates community, and defends rights and freedoms for documentary artists, activists, and journalists.

EDN has talked to Michael Lumpkin about the work of IDA and possibilities in the US for European producers.

EDN: Can you start by telling about your own background and your road to IDA?

ML: My interest in film began in college where I studied film production, film theory and film history. At the same time I was involved with the relatively young LGBT rights movement, first in my home state of Texas, then in San Francisco where I lived from 1978 to 2009. In 1979 I became involved with the gay film collective Frameline, which had presented its first “Gay Film Festival” in 1977. I led Frameline from 1980 to 2009 with a four-year break to produce the 1995 feature documentary The Celluloid Closet. After running a very successful film festival and media arts organization for 25 years, I realized that I wanted a new professional challenge. I joined IDA as its executive director, relocating from San Francisco to Los Angeles, in January 2009.

EDN: What is the background of IDA? Who initiated the association and which needs in the documentary industry in the US did it arise from?

ML: IDA was founded by a group of Los Angeles-based professionals working with non-fiction film. This group was responding to the need for an organization to represent and support the collective needs of a rapidly developing documentary film community.

EDN: How has IDA developed since its launch in 1982?

ML: IDA was created to provide support and a professional network for documentary filmmakers and to support the documentary form. We continue to do that today.  How documentary films are made and how they are seen by viewers have changed dramatically over the past three decades, and IDA’s programs and services have changed and evolved as well to ensure that filmmakers receive the support they need to do their work.

EDN: How is IDA organised and funded today and what is the primary mission anno 2014?

ML: IDA is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization with a 21-member Board of Directors that oversees the organization’s long-term planning and fiscal health. The Board is also very involved with securing financial support for IDA’s programs. IDA’s year round staff numbers 14. We have just over 2,000 paid members and are connected to a community of over 20,000 through our online home, IDA’s programs are funded by a number of sources including government and foundation grants, corporate sponsorship, and donations from individuals. Our programs also receive support from program service fees, advertising and IDA membership fees.

Specific IDA programs include Fiscal Sponsorship, which provides documentary film projects with non-profit status allowing them to take donations and grants; the Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund, which awards grants providing production support; Doc U. our monthly seminar and workshop series in Los Angeles; Doc U Online, recorded full-length Doc U programs available to IDA members around the world on; First Looks, a Los Angeles based work-in-progress screening program and DocuClub, a New York based work-in-progress screening program.

Between September and December each year IDA’s Documentary Screening Series presents the year’s best documentary features, and leading up to the annual Academy Awards, IDA presents DocuDay, which presents the Oscar-nominated documentary features and shorts. Each December we honor excellence in documentary filmmaking at the IDA Documentary Awards, now in its 30th year.

Furthermore IDA publishes the quarterly magazine Documentary Magazine, which is the only US publication dedicated to documentary film.

Core to our mission is also IDA’s advocacy efforts, where we aim to protect and advance the broad fundamental rights of documentary filmmakers.

EDN: Can you be a member of IDA without being a US citizen, and if yes what are the benefits for non-US filmmakers?

ML: Filmmakers outside of the US can be members of IDA. Though some of our programs are not accessible to filmmakers outside of the US, there are several benefits for non-US filmmakers including our grant program, Documentary magazine, Doc U Online and the information and resources available at Critical to IDA’s long-term vision is to make our programs and services more relevant to filmmakers outside of the US. In 2010 we created an “Associate Member” level with a 35% lower rate for those, who due to geographic location, are not able to access the full benefits of an IDA membership. In 2014 we will be launching an updated web site with more resources for international filmmakers, and we are also planning to offer online educational and professional development resources.

EDN: One of IDA's programs is the Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund. What are the fund's objectives, and what are the requirements if you wish to apply?

ML: The Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund was established by IDA in partnership with the New York Community Trust to support the production of original, independent documentary films that illuminate pressing issues in the United States.  Each year grants are made to up to 6 projects that tell a compelling story and focus on one of Pare Lorentz’s central concerns—the appropriate use of the natural environment, justice for all or the illumination of pressing social problems. The fund supports full-length documentary films that reflect the spirit and nature of Pare Lorentz’s work, exhibiting objective research, artful storytelling, strong visual style, high production values, artistic writing, outstanding music composition, as well as skillful direction, camerawork and editing.

For interested applicants the letter of inquiry deadline for the fund is Monday, March 31, 2014.

EDN: Can you also apply as a non-US resident?

ML: Though the Fund focuses on pressing U.S. issues we encourage filmmakers outside of the U.S. to apply for support. We feel it is important to support filmmakers from other countries and cultures who are taking a critical look at issues here in the US. Our most recent round of funding awarded production grants to two non-US. productions, Children of the Arctic (Switzerland), directed by Nick Brandestini and produced by Vesna Eckert, and The Punch (Germany), directed by André Hörmann and produced by Ingmar Trost.

EDN: Can you explain more about the funding system in the US? What is the most common way to get a documentary funded?

ML: The funding system in the US can be very challenging for filmmakers with most having to secure funding from a large number of sources to complete their films. Support is scarce for development and pre-production, and many filmmakers fund this phase with their own resources or conduct online crowd funding campaigns to bring in this initial support. Production funding can come from a number of different sources such as grants from foundations and organizations such as IDA, the Sundance Institute, or the Tribeca Institute. Individuals also provide significant support for documentary production with private donations. Support through private investment is becoming more common for documentary productions in the US.

The US broadcast system provides significant support for documentaries with direct production support as well as acquisition and licensing fees. Public television’s ITVS/Independent Lens, POV, PBS and the Corporation for Pubic Broadcasting have supported documentary films for decades with both funding and broadcast opportunities. Support can also come from established commercial broadcasters such as HBO, A&E, and Discovery, and from major news organizations such as CNN and Al Jazeera that have recently launched new documentary initiatives. 

EDN: Do a lot of US documentary producers seek funding from outside the US? And vice versa - what are the funding possibilities in the States for non-US residents?

ML: Though the world is becoming more and more connected, documentary film production and consumption still varies significantly from country to country. Whether you are a US filmmaker looking for support outside of the US or a filmmaker outside of the US looking for support here, you need to understand what type of documentaries receive funding and what type of documentaries show up in theaters and on television in a particular country or region. For US filmmakers foreign support is usually in the form of co-production deals or sales to foreign broadcasters.

More US funders are responding to the need to fund filmmakers outside of the US. As I mentioned earlier, IDA’s Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund encourages filmmakers outside of the US to seek support, and other organizations including the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program and the Tribeca Film Institute support international documentary film production.

EDN: Do you have any piece of advice to a European independent striving to make a film in the States?

ML: There are a large number of documentary films being made each year in the US, and most of these productions are trying to access the same limited resources–funding, film festival slots, distribution and broadcast. Whether you are producing in the US, seeking funding in the US or trying to get your film seen by US audiences it can be a highly competitive process.  Fortunately, the US documentary community is very supportive. Filmmakers, funders and organizations such as IDA are very willing to share information, advice and resources. It is easy to connect with this community online through IDA and online communities like the D-Word and Doculink. If you are in the US, contact a local film organization to learn about local events and opportunities for documentary filmmakers. 

EDN: What lies next for you and IDA?

In May of 2013 IDA moved into new offices in Los Angeles’ thriving Koreatown district. Our new home includes space for our growing staff and also for us to hold classes and screenings for our expanding programs. For most of 2013 we have worked on an extensive communications plan. Look for a brand new in the coming months!


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