ITVS Receives NEA Research Grant to Better Understand Relationship Between Documentary Makers and Participants

By ITVS Staff
Posted on March 21, 2023

Amid intense ongoing discussions of ethics in the arts, including the potential power imbalance between filmmakers and film participants, ITVS will research evidence-based practices that documentary filmmakers may use as they work with people who participate in their films. 

ITVS is partnering with researchers from Columbia University and American University, and with the following filmmaking organizations to form a “design team” to guide study design, recruit filmmakers to take the survey, and ensure the findings are useful for the documentary filmmaking field:

  • Brown Girls Doc Mafia 

  • Documentary Accountability Working Group 

  • Documentary Producers Alliance

  • FWD-Doc 

  • Flaherty
  • Nia Tero
  • Youth FX: NeXt Doc 

The design team will also actively engage film participants in the survey design and analysis. 

“The conversation about filmmaking ethics and best practices is important, overdue, and more relevant than ever,” said Sherry Simpson, ITVS Senior Director of Engagement & Impact. ITVS Director of Research & Evaluation Grace Anglin added: “We hope this research will provide the documentary filmmaking community with critical insights into how filmmakers and the field can better support the use of these practices.”

“The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support this project from ITVS, part of the NEA’s investment in studies that explore the value and impact of the arts,” said the NEA Director of Research & Analysis Sunil Iyengar. “Research studies such as this one are key to our agency’s goal of understanding the factors, conditions, and characteristics of our country’s arts ecosystem and the many ways the arts can impact other areas of American life.”

Over the course of 2023, ITVS and the design team will survey filmmakers and conduct focus groups to better understand how filmmakers perceive their relationship with film participants and how they approach that relationship. The research team plans to share findings from the study widely among members of the filmmaking community and work together to build on identified best practices. 

Matching funds for the NEA support of this research is provided by the Ford Foundation.

From our blog

  1. A Fruitful Collaborative Year: Filmmakers and Scholars Reflect on First Humanities Documentary Development Fund

    May 2, 2023

    With the help of the advisors and filmmakers who participated, we look back on a year of work for ITVS Humanities Documentary Development Fund recipients.

  2. ITVS Shares Our Progress on Representation

    February 7, 2023

    As an organization with diversity and inclusivity as our top priority, ITVS has a long record of sharing with the public the data that we provide each fiscal year to our board of directors. We’re proud of our record of representation—on our board, on our staff, and among our ITVS-funded filmmakers and programs—and we continuously strive to improve our

  3. ITVS Announces CEO Departure of Sally Jo Fifer

    January 12, 2023

    ITVS announced today that it will launch a search for its next chief executive officer to succeed Sally Jo Fifer. She will remain in her role until the board hires and onboards a new President and CEO.“What a gift it has been these past 22 years to serve film artists who engage and transform our hearts and minds — make us more empathetic, more just, more wise,”