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Aug 30

Written by: Sara Archambault
8/30/2012 9:20 AM  RssIcon

Our 3rd DocYard summer season has wrapped and another collection of amazing films and artists has come and gone. Nearing the end of this summer’s programming, several people approached me asking about how we select the films. I’ve been programming screening and discussion events with filmmakers for my entire professional life (actually starting as a wee lass at Syracuse University when I brought Todd Haynes to campus to talk about one of my favorite films of all time Poison), and these inquiries made me realize that what seems so rote to me is actually a total mystery to others. Now that the summer season is closed and we’ve turned our eyes to the next round of films in our scope, I thought it was a good time to share a bit about the process and thinking behind our programming.

When Ben Fowlie, Sean Flynn and I started the DocYard in 2010, we had two primary reasons we wanted to do it: (1) We love nonfiction cinema. A lot. And we were seeing so much of it, truly great work, go unnoticed. We wanted to do our part to shine a light on the films that were inspiring us. (2) We live in Boston, home to many of documentary’s greats, birthplace to its technological innovation, and educational mecca for the next generation of craftspeople and storytellers. It’s a pretty impressive tradition to be a part of. And yet, beyond the university walls, we found that the opportunities to “gather the tribe” were few. We craved community. So we said to ourselves, maybe if we build it, they will come.

We are deeply pleased that what we set out to do 3 years ago has resonated with the Boston creative community. We built it and they DID come! Quite frankly, we’re excited that anyone shows up at all, but we are most honored that the filmmaking community comes out and supports this event on the regular. There will be times when I’m looking out at the audience and all I see is a sea of filmmakers looking to engage with the work and each other, and I know we’re doing something right.

But how do we do it? It all starts with the films themselves. We screen dozens of films per season, hundreds over the year, to create the program. We do not take submissions. This is a hand-crafted, curated event, which we believe is part of its appeal. Some films we scout out at festivals; others we find through our various connections to nonfiction work (Ben - Camden International Film Festival, Sara - LEF Foundation, Sean - Filmmaker). For each season, we are looking for work that is innovative or inspiring either in form, point of view, or subject matter. We also make sure to feature a local master of the craft, given that so many of them live within swinging distance of the Brattle Theatre. All three of us watch every film that we are seriously considering and discuss them at length. Sometimes we hit it out of the park and all three of us say yes, but we do not always agree. Those are always the most interesting and generative times. In these discussions, we revisit what makes us love a film - or films in general! We’ll talk about style, editorial decisions, ethics, music, and social justice.  In the end, we always come to an understanding about what films or filmmakers might connect best with our audience. When it comes down to the fine cutting we often ask ourselves: Did something about this work move us? Did we see something new in this film that we hadn’t seen before? What about this filmmaker’s philosophy or approach might inspire the folks that turn out for our screenings? We try to make sure we have a diverse balance of work: in geography, gender, race, etc. And then there’s that pesky budget... It’s a complex web of considerations going into each season’s program - often difficult, but always worthwhile.

Beyond the pain and pleasure of programming, there is the reality of putting on the show. No one gets paid. This is a labor of love. And labor is not a term I do use lightly. It takes a LOT of work to pull this off. If a film makes our short list, we make sure the filmmaker can attend the screening as this is a crucial piece of our mission. If they can, we make all of their travel, accommodation and schedule arrangements for them. We try to create the best technical environment we can for the films, which means hustling sponsorships and lugging decks around town. We do what we can to get the film a review which helps a filmmaker grow their appeal, but in this world where film critics have made the endangered list, this is not always an easy task. We promote the film ourselves. This takes time, research and a LOT of phone calls and emails.

We don’t do this on our own. We have a small, but growing, team of folks who help make this happen each year. Nellie Kluz, Chanel Kong, Erin Trahan - we couldn’t do this without you. Ned Hinkle and all the wonderful staff at the Brattle Theatre - thank you for jumping through hoops and being lovely hosts. Lyda Kuth - you contribute so much to what we do that a mere thanks seems not enough. To the Center for Independent Documentary, the Irving House at Harvard, Rule Boston Camera, the LEF Foundation and the Open Doc Lab at MIT - we would not exist without you.

And with that, The DocYard says goodbye to summer and the programming for the winter season commences!

- Sara

New England