What's the Next Big Thing In Documentary Filmmaking?

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation recently gave American Documentary, Inc. a $250,000 grant in order to "develop new innovations in digital storytelling" through the award winning PBS series POV, which they produce. Could this be a further sign of the change in direction of documentary filmmaking?

The answer is, of course, yes, but that's not really groundbreaking news. Documentary filmmaking has been using the digital domain for quite a while now for things like promotion, fundraising, and even as an alternate mode of distribution for films that may not find much purchase in traditional markets. What is news is that this is a sign that more and more foundations are paying attention to the power of digital storytelling and actually getting behind it with real funding.

American Documentary has been producing POV since the 1990s and has always been on the forefront of digital innovation, creating various companion film websites and apps to supplement their TV series. POV was in fact responsible for PBS's first program website, and also created their first interactive storytelling project, the Webby Award-winning POV's Borders.

$75,000 of the Knight Foundation's gift will go toward technical and creative support for two, as yet unnamed, "promising media projects that push the boundaries of nonfiction media in the digital age" and will help take them from conception to a slickly finished product. The remainder of the funds will be used to offer a yearlong fellowship to a technologist and continue POV's successful, popular nonfiction media hackathon labs. The person who receives this fellowship will also develop digital and mobile tools for "nonfiction media makers."

The message from Knight is clear: It's all about innovation and using the digital realm to supplement and enhance nonfiction film projects. Knight has long supported POV, and also has a recent history of supporting new, long-running projects similar to the POV series. This gift is further proof that support shows no sign of abating.

"We're excited that Knight is supporting digital media across the spectrum, from the experimentation that comes out of POV Hackathon to creating new works that forward the field of digital journalism and Web documentary," said POV co-executive producer Cynthia López. "As POV continues exploring what's possible, we will also see how nonfiction media makers can find new ways to use mobile platforms for storytelling and engagement."

The Knight Foundation's VP of Journalism and Media Innovation Michael Maness concurred: "Videos and documentaries have a great power to engage the public and capture in-depth stories," said Maness. "We can strengthen their reach by supporting innovation in this area."