ITVS: Has This Key Funding Partner Lost its Way?

The Independent Television Service, or ITVS, is one of the most prestigious sources for film funding in the United States. But some filmmakers complain it's abusing its power.

PBS series Global Voices picked up the controversial "Father Roy: Inside the School of Assassins" ten years after its release.

The creation of the Independent Television Service in the mid-1990s as a source of funding for independent filmmakers was seen at the time as one of the great successes in the independent film movement. Today, the organization has a budget exceeding $12 million, and provides key funding to hundreds of films each year, including approving many outright grants in the six-figure range. All ITVS projects are supposed to completed and groomed for public television—but, in fact, one in three films funded by ITVS do not make to a major PBS series. Why is that? In more than a dozen interviews with filmmakers and people familiar with ITVS, some complaints emerge: namely, that ITVS is an overbearing funding partner that deploys "bulldog" lawyers and shrouds the funding process in secrecy. The Independent's Michele Meek takes a look at the organization and the independent filmmakers who rely on it, to find out what's going on.

In 2007, filmmaker Joanna Rudnick learned that her application for funding from the Independent Television Service (ITVS) had been accepted. Rudnick, a first-time director, had applied for ITVS funding to finance the completion of her documentary In the Family, a look at women who are aware they carry a genetic predisposition to breast or ovarian cancer.

The Doc Doctor's Anatomy of a Film: "Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea"

Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer braved camera-melting heat to film their documentary

A Shore Thing: Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer spent four years filming "Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea."

The Independent's Doc Doctor Fernanda Rossi analyzes the success of Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea (view the trailer), directed by Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer. The filmmakers talk about sleeping in their car, having a camera melt in the heat, landing John Waters as a narrator, and re-editing their film after its world premiere at Slamdance. Also, check out Rossi's last "Anatomy" column on The Longing. Attention Colorado Filmmakers: The Doc will be conducting her signature workshops on story structure and trailer mechanics in Denver on May 17 and 18; she is also speaking at the Boston Media Market on May 30. For details, visit

About this column: Many filmmakers ponder in anguish, How do other people—celebrated people—do it? Am I taking too long to make this documentary? Does everybody spend as much money as I am spending, or am I spending too little? And when filmmakers share their lessons learned in interviews in the glossy trade magazines, their tales seem to follow the arc of otherworldy heroes rather than real documentary makers, i.e. human beings like you and me. So each month, the Doc Doctor will go out into the world (this real world) of filmmakers who are successful and find out how they made it. The "Anatomy of a Film Column" is a chance to learn from filmmakers' hits and misses in real life examples. —Fernanda Rossi, story consultant a.k.a. the Documentary Doctor

Lost Angels

Where is the indie scene in big bad LA?

I could just be romanticizing it now that I’ve moved, but in New York all the filmmakers I knew seemed to be creating by any means necessary—from Super-8 shorts to animation on their laptops while fundraising for a summer-shoot, to staging readings for a work-in-progress in between compiling documentary footage.

Funder FAQ: Sundance Institute Documentary Program

What is the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund?
It’s a fund to support documentaries in the US and internationally that deal with contemporary human rights issues, social justice, civil liberties, and freedom of expression. It used to be the Soros Documentary Fund.

How long has the fund been with Sundance?
It’s been here for two years.

Funder FAQ: Latino Public Broadcasting

What is Latino Public Broadcasting?

San Francisco Screens

Indie Film venues of the Bay area

In her review of Phil Kaufman’s 1978 remake of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, legendary film critic Pauline Kael wrote, “The story is set in San Francisco, which is the ideally right setting, because of the city’s traditional hospitality to artists and eccentrics.” This hospitality extends to movie venues.

Distributor FAQ: Newmarket Films

Why was Newmarket Films created?

Cave Paintings, Churches, and Rooftops

Microcinemas come of age

While the Lumiere brothers originally screened their films in a Paris café, the term microcinema was not coined until 1991 with the naming of Rebecca Barten and David Sherman’s Total Mobile Home Microcinema.

Distributor FAQ: Porchlight Entertainment

What is PorchLight Entertainment?
PorchLight is an independent distributor of films and television. We focus solely on programs that promote positive values and/or are family-friendly.

PorchLight also produces and co-produces films and series, and currently produces two animated series that air on PBS: Jay Jay the Jetplane and Adventures From the Book of Virtues.

Funder FAQ: Flintridge Foundation

What is the Flintridge Foundation?

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