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The Independence project

A group of independent documentary organisations from around the world have come together to advocate for the unique importance of independent documentary to culture, society and democracy. Unless we do, our space to operate may be extinguished before anyone out there realises the damage done. If we are successful, we may be able to strengthen field cohesion, reinforce existing allyship and win new partners.

The Impulse

Ever feel like the value of independent documentary is screamingly obvious to those of us working in it - and very poorly understood by everyone else?

We know how different we are - in how we work, why we do it, what we contribute to culture, society and democracy. We know why the ‘independent’ part of it - independent of both market and state power - matters so, so much. For us, it's the very air we breathe. But do many people outside our small, brilliant world understand?

We think not many. And actually, that’s probably our fault. Because we were too busy acting on known values and principles and too busy doing the actual work. We didn’t spend that much time articulating the very basics to people.

And because they don’t get it, there aren't the allies we need right now to champion the space for independent documentaries to be made and equally importantly, to be seen. Right now the space to show our work is shrinking but there is little awareness of that outside our field.

The moment we find ourselves in

Most people outside indie docs imagine we are just thrilled by the rise of the form to such a cultural force and commercially valuable form - the so called Golden Age. They are largely unaware, even those inside broadcasters, of the downsides already laid out in Variety, warning instead that we have entered the Corporate Age of documentary.

Many of these allies do not see rising government censorship in many territories is happening at the same time as the streamers are narrowing their appetites for creative or politically sensitive content. That traditional public service broadcasters are also on the backfoot financially and politically.

It's not pretty out there and the market is reflecting this reality. The latest Distribution Advocates figures presented at IDA show how few independent documentaries are being acquired even from major festivals - and at the same time the streamers are commissioning millions and millions of dollars worth of doc series that they control and own in perpetuity.

What Now?

We are optimistic that if we can be clear about the value of what we do, then our peers in the film industry and beyond in related industries (art world, publishing, journalism, human rights etc) will also agree and want to support the work and become champions for more resources and distribution opportunities.

But we need to come together as a whole field to develop clear demands of them, to show them clearly how they are needed to support independent voices in documentary for their own good, for the good of us all.

We know none of the above is an original thought, and others are already doing great organising for independent documentary, public service and indie media - in particular in the US. But we think that this is a pivotal moment to centre the perspective of global makers and regional cultural organisers in this conversation. DISCO is getting the ball rolling and as we progress, we hope our fellow allies, and all lovers of indie doc will join us.

The DISCO network has initiated The Independence Project as an effort to co-construct a shared definition of an independent documentary that centres the global community of makers and their allies. To clearly describe our unique contribution to culture and society, to create a manifesto and directly demand the support we need from distributors – a certain level of independent acquisitions for instance, editorial independence on films deemed independent etc.

The Independence Project status

Research Stage – underway

Proposition Stage

Advocacy stage

To find out more about The Independence Project or learn how you can join this effort, please contact Zeena Starbuck, lead researcher on this project. She can be reached at