Filmmaker Conference

Over four days, the AFI DOCS Forum presents a variety of networking and professional development events for filmmakers, industry professionals and those with a passion for nonfiction storytelling.

Open to all AFI DOCS passholders, each day of the Forum will include breakfast and lunch. Check back for more details on the Forum schedule, participants and presenters.

The AFI DOCS Forum takes place June 15–18 at the Festival Hub at the District Architecture Center (DAC), 421 Seventh Street NW, Washington, DC 20004.

Thursday, June 15

10:00 a.m.
Going to the Source: Documentary Funders Share Their Insights
Industry insiders discuss current funding priorities and new initiatives while exploring the ever-shifting documentary landscape and emerging trends in the funding world.


  • Dan Cogan, Executive Director and Co-Founder, Impact Partners
  • Melissa Fondakowski, Program and Development, The Redford Center
  • Sheila Leddy, Executive Director, The Fledgling Fund
  • Maida Brankman, Founder, Genuine Article Pictures
  • Jax DeLuca, Media Arts Director, Visual Arts, National Endowment for the Arts

11:30 a.m.
Meet the Funders Meetings
Filmmakers connect with documentary funders in one-on-one, 15-minute micromeetings. Sharpen your pitch, talk funding or get a focused critique of your work-inprogress trailer (five minutes or less). Space is limited and available on a first-come basis to AFI DOCS Filmmaker and Industry pass holders. Details on registration for Meet the Funder meetings will be available here beginning Monday, June 12.

2:00 p.m.
Documentary: The Art of Canada
From the birth of motion pictures, Canada has been a driving force in documentary, and it's easy to see why. Shot near Inukjuak, Quebec, Robert J. Flaherty's 1922 film NANOOK OF THE NORTH is considered one of the world's first documentaries — and it was Flaherty's work that inspired John Grierson, father of the National Film Board, to coin the term "documentary." So what's up with our doc friends up north today? Find out as Hot Docs' Shane Smith talks with the Canadian filmmakers featured in this year's AFI DOCS.

Friday, June 16

Sponsored by

10:00 a.m.
Truth in Storytelling: Docs and the Media in a Post-Truth World
Oxford Dictionaries named "post-truth" the word of 2016 for its frequent use in the year's political campaigns. But how do we engage a post-truth society, with its fake news, hate speech and misleading narratives that further antagonism toward objective, fact-based sources for news and information? Public media journalists and independent documentary filmmakers participate in a conversation about reporting and nonfiction storytelling in a post-truth world.

11:30 a.m.
Documentary Film in Service of a Civil Society
Since the enactment of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, Americans have looked to public media to provide high-quality, reliable content that educates, inspires and entertains in ways that benefit our civil society. All locally owned and operated, public television stations help citizens and communities understand the issues they face at home and regionally, enabling them to develop solutions based on facts and rooted in community partnerships.

As localism is seen increasingly as a way to bridge the widening partisan divide, representatives of public broadcasters from across the country discuss the role of public media in their communities and the expanding roles of journalism and documentary film in activating civic engagement and creating a more equitable society.

2:00 p.m.
Documentary Case Study: GENTLEMEN OF VISION + Nine Network of Public Media (St. Louis, MO)
In 2015, St. Louis independent documentary filmmaker Frank Popper and St. Louis PBS affiliate Nine Network began production on a documentary about the nationally acclaimed, competitive high school step team Gentlemen of Vision (GOV). Following the team as they strived to win their national competitions, graduate from high school and overcome personal challenges, the documentary emerged from the Nine Network's work on American Graduate, a national and local initiative to help young people succeed in school and in life, with the goal of increasing the graduation rate nationwide to 90% by the year 2020.

GENTLEMEN OF VISION will screen at 4:00 p.m. at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

Saturday, June 17

10:00 a.m.
Short Order: Making and Distributing Rapid Response Short Docs
Short doesn't always mean fast in documentary filmmaking, but there are major advantages to making and distributing short docs on a speedy timeline. This panel of makers and funders addresses a faster approach to shorts, outlines available opportunities for support and explores key partnerships vital to working in this mode.


  • Loira Limbal, Vice President, Firelight Media


  • Brandon Kramer, Director (THE MESSY TRUTH)
  • Kate McLean, Director (GUT HACK), Producer (BILL NYE: SCIENCE GUY)
  • Laura Poitras, Co-Creator & Executive Producer, Field of Vision; Director (RISK)

11:30 a.m.
VR Exhibition
View a curated selection of the latest and best in virtual reality (VR).

1:00 p.m.
In With the New: The Latest Trends in Documentary Distribution
Staying current with the latest distribution trends is critical to filmmakers' success in reaching audiences and generating revenue. This panel of industry experts and new players in the distribution space examines the current state of documentary distribution and explains the evolving relationship between theatrical, broadcast and online platforms.


  • Andrea Meditch, Executive Producer (THE CAGE FIGHTER)


  • Dan O’Meara, Vice President, Special Projects & Documentary, NEON
  • Erin Owens, Head of Theatrical Distribution, PBS Films

Open to all AFI DOCS Passholders
Use the Newseum's C Street Entrance at the back of the building.

3:00 p.m.

4:30 p.m.
Virtual No More: How VR Is Having Real-World Impact
Hosted by the Newseum at the Knight TV Studio, 555 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20001

With lightning speed, VR has emerged as a viable storytelling platform and a major force in documentary. Driving VR's rise is its huge promise for building stronger empathy in audiences and connecting people to powerful, real-world stories and social issues. This panel will explore how filmmakers and organizations are using VR to change hearts and minds.

Moderator: Mitch Gelman, Chief Technology Officer, Newseum


  • Cassandra Herrman, lead artist (AFTER SOLITARY)
  • Will Villota, Vice President of Brand, Conservation International

Sunday, June 18

12:30 p.m.
Moving the Needle: How Programs for Filmmakers Are Making a Difference in Gender Parity
Talk is cheap, but these organizations are making a difference by putting major support and resources behind women-centered initiatives that are giving women filmmakers real opportunities to bolster their own careers, as well as transform the broader documentary landscape.


  • Debra Zimmerman, Executive Director, Women Make Movies


  • Christa Scharfenberg, Head of Studio, Glassbreaker Films, Center for Investigative Reporting

2:00 p.m.
Hear Me Now: The Art of Nonfiction Podcasting
This special session illuminates the process of creating nonfiction podcasts. In part one, panelists, including podcasters and NPR, discuss the unique challenges of podcasting. In part two, Alix Spiegel and Hanna Rosin, two of the hosts of the hugely popular NPR podcast "Invisibilia," present a case study from their new season.

Moderator: Lauren Ober, Host, The Big Listen


Part 1:

  • Steve Nelson, Director of Programming, NPR
  • Christa Scharfenberg, Head of Studio, Center for Investigative Reporting
  • Liana Simonds, Show Runner, Invisibilia

Part 2:

  • Alix Spiegel, Co-Host, Invisibilia
  • Hanna Rosin, Co-Host, Invisibilia

4:00 p.m.
Talking Pictures with Ann Hornaday
In her latest book "Talking Pictures," Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday guides us through the craft of movie-making, explaining how to watch and evaluate every piece of the process. The book reveals how many of the same skills and techniques used to create fiction works are also used in documentaries. Join Hornaday at the Festival Hub as she talks pictures and signs copies of her new book.


The AFI DOCS Forum is sponsored by:


Real Screen West