Recess | Local Arts

'Nothing about us without us': Southern Documentary Fund's Artists Convening highlights regional filmmakers

This June marks the fourth annual Artists Convening for the Southern Documentary Fund, a Triangle-based nonprofit that advances documentary projects made in or about the American South. Founded in 2002, the SDF’s purpose is to give a voice to regional documentary artists, connecting them to industry professionals and providing them fiscal and professional support.

Although this year’s Artists Convening is, in part, a realization of this goal—events include master classes and workshops with industry professionals—it also serves to spark conversation about an area of the United States that is facing increasing scrutiny.

“I think that after the last election, people feel [the South] is a deeply misunderstood region,” SDF Executive Director Naomi Walker said. “What we at SDF want to do is, as well as support and highlight Southern stories, also encourage our Southern makers to be thinking about what it means to be the representative voice of the region.”

To this end, the weekend begins with a group discussion entitled “Who Tells the South?”—a particularly pertinent question considering the recent prevalence of films being made about the South by non-Southern filmmakers.

“A lot of times we get stories told about the South by people who don’t know it,” Walker said. “There’s a saying, ‘Nothing about us without us,’ and we want to encourage that thinking about representation in documentaries. It’s a big national conversation in doc circles, and we want to give that conversation a regional focus.”

One of the weekend’s notable participants will be Carlos Sandoval, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker whose production company, Camino Bluff Productions Inc., makes independent films inspired by the Latino experience in the United States. His master class will focus on similar issues of agency and representation, topics with which he has had personal experience.

“I’m hoping we’ll be able to look at how stories change according to each person’s perspective and how, looking at the American narrative today, how it’s important to include a broad range of voices in that,” Sandoval said. “I’ll be speaking to that, from my perspective in part, as someone who is a person of color who felt that, growing up, my voice or my view was not reflected accurately or reflected at all.”

Although Sandoval has not participated in the Artists Convening before, he has worked with SDF previously as a funding panelist.

“There’s a whole layering of challenges that comes with documentary filmmaking, and organizations like the SDF, I think, help people who might not otherwise have access to the funders or distributors who might be located in New York or L.A.,” Sandoval said, noting the impact of locating the convention in Durham.

Other events this weekend include workshops and panels designed to educate filmmakers on various aspects of the production process, from editing to distribution. New this year, artists will also be able to participate in one-on-one mentoring sessions with established filmmakers and industry professionals.

“This year we’ve got more panelists coming through, so it’s more experts and also more one-on-one time,” SDF Program Director Lana Garland said. “We used to do a pitch session that we would allow our filmmakers to participate in, but we replaced that with speed mentoring so that more people would be able to get their projects in front of industry experts.”

Although the Artists Convening has much to offer for emerging filmmakers in the region, it will also offer insights to anyone who enjoys documentary film or is interested in the Southern region. The weekend tops off with a fundraising brunch at Mateo Bar de Tapas and a Spring Showcase, both events perfect for non-filmmakers who are nonetheless interested in the industry.

“I would hope that [non-filmmakers] would be able to gain a sense of the process it takes to make a film,” Sandoval said. “You don’t just wake up one morning and say, ‘I’m going to make a film.’ It takes years to do….This event can help a non-filmmaker understand both the art and work of that.”

More information about the Southern Documentary Fund and a full schedule of events for the Artists Convening can be found online at southerndocumentaryfund.org.


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