Docs in Progress gives documentaries a boost

The organization, based in Silver Spring, Md., offers screenings and courses on the nuts and bolts of filming, editing, and production. 'I think that documentaries do have a potential to really have a huge impact,' says executive director Erica Ginsberg.

Courtesy of Docs in Progress
Students learn interviewing skills in a Docs in Progress class.

When Erica Ginsberg went to graduate school to pursue a degree in filmmaking in the midst of a career shift, she realized how many other people were transitioning into the field. And she recognized the solitary nature of documentary filmmaking. “There is a huge group of people here who maybe don’t have the time or the money to go back to school ... or maybe feel intimidated joining a membership-based film organization,” she says, “but still want to have a space where they can meet people and get feedback and really feel a part of a community.” That realization inspired Ms. Ginsberg and fellow filmmaker Adele Schmidt to launch Docs in Progress, which held its first work-in-progress screening in 2004 and became a nonprofit in 2008. 

“[We are] trying to build a community of documentary filmmakers for people to share what they’re working on, to share challenges they’re having,” says Ginsberg, the organization’s executive director. Docs in Progress, based in Silver Spring, Md., offers screenings and courses on the nuts and bolts of filming, editing, and production. More than 50 programs are offered each year, including a youth summer camp, a fiscal sponsorship program, a fellowship, a residency, and a community film festival. “We are not just teaching people how to use a camera ... but [also] ... the things you have to think about as a filmmaker,” she notes. And the organization’s efforts have facilitated collaborations among the thousands of filmmakers who have been involved with Docs in Progress; some of the films have premièred at prominent festivals. 

Ginsberg believes the documentary is an important art form, especially when some journalism outlets have limited funding for in-depth investigations. “You are introducing people to other people and events ... that we may not see otherwise,” she says. “I think that documentaries do have a potential to really have a huge impact, whether it is opening eyes to something or getting people motivated to actually bring about change.”

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