As we begin taking applications for the 2009 Content + Intent Documentary Institute, Working Films’ Residency at MASS MoCA we wanted to give you a sense of what the experience was like for other filmmakers. In March of 2008 Sean Flynn joined 10 other documentarians for our 5 day workshop in the beautiful Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. The following are reflections on the residency that Sean so graciously agreed to share with us. If Sean’s experience sparks your interest in the Institute click here for more info and download the application.
“There are a handful of experiences I look back to as turning points in my career as a filmmaker. The five days I spent at the Content + Intent Documentary Institute at Mass MoCA was certainly one of them. Like so many other documentary filmmakers, I was originally drawn to this art form through a combination of my passion for storytelling, my love for capturing beautiful images, and most importantly, my desire to do something with meaningful social impact. But also, like so many other documentary filmmakers, the process of actually making a film, promoting it and simply getting it seen had become so all-consuming that I began to lose sight of that last critical part of the equation. Social impact!
When I arrived last March in picturesque North Adams, MA, it had been almost a year since our first feature-length documentary “Beyond Belief” had premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, and by most measures it had been a success. People saw the film, many were moved by it, and then they went on with their lives. What the Working Films residency helped me realize was that the experience of viewing (and exhibiting) a social issues documentary can and should be so much more than that. In that moment when the lights go up and there is a theater full of people that have been moved deeply by your story, there is a profound opportunity to translate passion into action.
Ironically, this is exactly what the residency does for its filmmakers, providing an opportunity to develop a set of concrete strategies that translate your vision of a film’s impact into a coordinated campaign to achieve that impact. Judith Helfand, Robert West, and the rest of the Working Films team were extraordinarily supportive and resourceful, and I felt as though every filmmaker in the program went home bursting with new energy and ideas.
In the end, we were able to develop a detailed outreach campaign for “Beyond Belief” that has been generously supported by The Fledgling Fund, using the film as a centerpiece for a series of student conferences aimed at educating young leaders about global citizenship and cross-cultural understanding. As an added bonus, many of the relationships we’ve developed with partner organizations on this project will likely carry over into the campaign for our next film, “The Promise of Freedom.” It all started at Mass MoCA!”
Sean Flynn is a producer and cinematographer at Principle Pictures and is involved in all aspects of documentary development, production, marketing and distribution. Most recently, he served as Associate Producer and Director of Photography in Afghanistan on BEYOND BELIEF, which premiered at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival.