News from the Field

New survey reveals insights on current state of the documentary field

This week, the Center for Media and Social Impact (CMSI) and the International Documentary Association (IDA) released the results of a survey—“The State of the Documentary Field”—designed to track and better understand trends in the evolving field of documentary film.

“As new audiences continue to discover documentary storytelling across various platforms, tracking industry professionals’ perspectives and lived experiences in the field is a vital pursuit,” the survey introduction reads.

The survey, announced at IDA’s Getting Real conference in Los Angeles, was designed for documentary industry members in order to gain further insights on four key areas: challenges and motivations; careers and funding; distribution and format; and diversity and inclusion. Despite the many opportunities that exist in the way documentaries are now produced, distributed and consumed, the survey results of more than 500 professionals reveal that important challenges persist.

Some key takeaways from the survey:

  • Despite excitement about the future of documentary film, the majority of respondents (78 percent) said they were not able to make a living from their documentary work.
  • Foundation grants remain the top option as a main source of documentary funding (33 percent).
  • Almost half of respondents (47 percent) believe there’s been no progress or not much progress on the inclusion of directors of color, and 56 percent feel the same way about including producers of color.
  • Film festivals are the primary form of distribution (73 percent), followed by grassroots/ community screenings and educational screenings (both 49 percent).

With all of the challenges, more than 80 percent of respondents indicated that they felt excited about the future of documentaries and nearly two-thirds agreed that we are in a “golden era” for documentary film. “Documentary film producers and directors are a resourceful and resilient group, says MIF executive director Vince Stehle, who attended the filmmaker gathering this week. “And philanthropy continues to play a large and growing role in the development of this critical field of expression.”

“The State of the Documentary Field” was conducted over the course of several months in 2016 by CMSI co-director Caty Borum Chattoo in collaboration with IDA’s Simon Kilmurry, Ken Jacobson and Amy Halpin.

Read the report in its entirety here.