Gatekeepers of Truth

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I wrote this post about my job and a car ride I took last year with Gordon Quinn, founder of Kartemquin. It was about my early career in Chicago and how it connects with Chicago tradition. This year, I’m taking part in the development of a new tradition that will change the face of Chicago documentary. I have the honor of building a new rung on the ladder to success as a member of the inaugural Diverse Voices in Docs class.

Diverse Voices in Docs is a professional development and mentorship program for emerging documentary filmmakers of color, organized by Kartemquin Films and the Community Film Workshop of Chicago.

Justine Nagan and Tim Horsburgh lead the workshops and bring in guests to listen to our pitches and share experiences with us. The information they bring to the monthly sessions is practical and immediately useful, but the real value of the program is having your ideas mingle with other filmmakers that are in the same boat. We’re an example in true diversity. In us, you’ll find a range of ethnicities, ages, faiths, educations, tax brackets, cultural sensitivities, filmographies and approaches to documentary. We have members that found documentary through full time teaching jobs in other academic fields. Others have years of experience working in television or journalism. Some shoot verite, others like talking heads and a few of us are going the first-person route. No template would fit us all, but good puzzles are meant to have unique pieces.

Tim Horsburgh at KTQ We had our second to last session last week and it gave me another brush with the roots of Chicago documentary. I’d stepped into Kartemquin headquarters once before but screening in a KTQ Labs setting and getting the official tour were brand new experiences for me, since I missed the boat on the KTQ internship. That’s why I turned into a giddy school girl and started snapping pics on my phone when Tim Horsburgh picked up one of the 16mm synch sound cameras that made cinema verite possible. The beast reminded me of the Sony PD-170 that I began my career with but the changes that it brought to the filmmaking process mirror those brought by the DSLR. It made acquisition quicker and more affordable but also carried restrictions on shot duration and required a separate audio recorder, much like the kit I use today. We saw newer, fancier cameras but they’ll come and go. This thing is eternal.

Another great moment came during introductions and pitches, where Gordon Quinn and special guest Peter Kuttner referenced projects I’m familiar with. Gordon had new postcards for 63 Boycott, a film and website that reunites participants of Chicago’s biggest ever civil rights march. I’d heard of the project because our close friend and fellow Food Patriot, Arlen Parsa, put the website together. It was great to hear it referenced by one of the higher-ups in the room. Peter disregarded camera department credits for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Groundhog Day or Dark Knight, which would have impressed anyone. Instead he plugged End of the Nightstick, the flagship program for Community Television Network, the educational non-profit that I work for and wrote about last year.

Artists are the gatekeepers of truth. We are civilization’s radical voice. – Paul Robeson (1898-1976)

The best part of the program is exchanging ideas and feedback with filmmakers that value stories from outside the mainstream. All the filmmakers; Camille S. DeBose, Darryl Pitts, Derek Grace, Grantlin Banks, Heather Charles, Jesus Mario Contreras, Jonathan Ashley Amsterd, Junko Kajino, Kelly Pope, Pamela Sherrod Anderson, Philister Sidigu, Raymond Lambert, Ronnie Reese, Shahari Moore, Shuling Yong, Tony Williams, Tracey Scruggs Yearwood, Zia Nizami took different paths to get to this point but we’re on the same road now. We’re learning about each others cultures and finding commonalities between our struggles. This speech by Harry Belafonte is one that I wouldn’t have known about if not for a link that was shared between the group and it makes me proud to be part of this radical bunch.

4 thoughts on “Gatekeepers of Truth

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    tracey said:
    October 27, 2013 at 8:57 am

    Just read this post today. Well Put Mr. Contreras well put.

    […] Films’ professional development fellowship for midwestern documentary filmmakers of color. I was lucky to be in the inaugural class and hope that some of my friends and collaborators will slide in behind me in true Buena Espalda […]

    […] Itself, a feature documentary about the life of Roger Ebert. It’s directed by Steve James of Kartemquin Films and executive produced by Martin Scorsese. As I write this, they’re only $10,000 away from […]

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