8 Independent Documentaries to See and the Petition to Sign in their Support

What I Learned at the Media That Matters Conference in DC

by Lilah Shepard

I used the Engaged Learning Award offered by CELT to fund my trip to the Media That Matters conference at American University in Washington D.C. The Engaged Learning Award is awarded to students interested in attending conferences, workshops, or other programs that compliment their education/career goals.

The conference provided me with great exposure to a realm of media that I had little contact with previously; documentary film. This year’s theme was “Tools of the Trade” which meant that most of the panels and discussions were focused on how to better gauge the impact of your storytelling. It was a brand new look for me at the way we elicit and measure impact through storytelling. While I’ve been exposed to some of the discourse regarding storytelling for impact through SISE at Tulane, this conference situated the discussion within an industry that I know little about. It was fascinating to hear panels that featured representative from some of the biggest foundations supporting public television and independent documentary film like The Fledgling Fund and the Macarthur Foundation.

There was also a “Tools of the Trade Showcase” during which different organizations pitched to the audience the tools they can offer to storytellers looking to measure impact. Measuring impact is an issue relevant to both my studies in International Development and SISE as well as my work as a CELT-SI marketing fellow. I was excited by this focus in the conference as I felt like the challenging discussions we’ve had in my Tulane classes about how to approach measuring and evaluation were taken to a new level whereby I was hearing from actual practitioners of M&E in real time.

Although I have never made a film before and have little familiarity with the art of documentary, I am extremely interested in storytelling for collective impact. At Media That Matters, I learned about a ton of fascinating documentaries and multimedia storytelling projects that I want to share with everyone. But first, it’s important you understand what’s at stake: Public Television is devising a national strategy that could move POV and Independent Lens [two of the major producers of the documentaries you love] from their premier prime-time slot on Monday nights at 10pm. What does this mean? It means that the many Americans who do not pay for cable or services like Netflix but enjoy quality television for free on PBS will lose access to their favorite programming at the time they like to enjoy it.

SUPPORT Independent Documentary Film:

Check-out this list of documentaries offered by POV and Independent Lens and then let PBS know that you value this programming. Email pakerger@pbs.org and tell PBS why you value Independent Lens and POV!

ALSO, sign the petition at http://bit.ly/INDIECAUCUS


Documentaries You Must WATCH:

Criminal Justice:

  • Herman’s House: [created in part by TEDxTU 2015 speaker Jackie Sumell] Herman Wallace has spent more than 40 years in a 6’ x 9’ prison cell. He works with artist Jackie Sumell to imagine his “dream home,” questioning justice and punishment in America. (90 minutes)


  • Food, Inc.: This 2010 Oscar-nominated film lifts the veil on our nation’s food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that’s been hidden from the American consumer. (120 minutes)
  • Maquilapolis: City of Factories: Carmen and Lourdes work at maquiladoras just over the border in Tijuana, Mexico, where each day they confront labor violations, environmental devastation and urban chaos. (60 minutes)


  • Girl Model: The provocative film is a lyrical exploration of youth, beauty and ambition, seen through the eyes of a conflicted American modeling scout and the 13-year-old girl she discovers. (90 minutes)
  • The Education of Shelby Knox: A self-described “good Southern Baptist girl,” 15-year-old Texan Shelby Knox becomes an unlikely advocate for comprehensive sex education. (90 minutes)

Race Relations:

  • Getting Back to Abnormal: Election time in New Orleans: Corruption. Racism. Dancing in the streets. And one in-your-face politician trying to get re-elected. Let the good times roll. (90 minutes)
  • Revolution ‘67: Revolution ’67 is an illuminating account of events too often relegated to footnotes in U.S. history — the black urban rebellions of the 1960s.

For more incredible and independent documentaries check out www.pbs.org

One more thing, check out this amazing multimedia storytelling platform called Land of Opportunity. Look at stories of gentrification across the country and check-out pieces about “(re)building” New Orleans post-Katrina.