A new documentary film initiative, The Documentary Film Council (DFC), will launch at Sheffield Docfest in June.
The DFC will seek to represent the UK’s independent documentary community, facilitate transparent communication within the sector and aims to take effective, coordinated action to address the key issues that that the community faces.
“The Documentary Film Council exists to provide an opportunity for filmmakers of all levels of experience to collaborate, learn and support the craft of documentary,” explains Paul Sng, a member of the DFC Interim Board and director of Tish, DocFest’s opening night film. “I’m very honoured to be involved in this initiative and hope it will open doors and elevate anyone in the documentary community whose voice is in need of amplification.”
A nationwide participatory initiative, the DFC has been co-designed by filmmakers and executives from across the industry working in partnership with researchers at UWE Bristol. As a co-operative, the DFC will be legally owned and run by and for its members on behalf of the UK’s documentary community.
“There is an unprecedented level of cross-sector support for the DFC and I’m delighted to be shepherding this much-needed organisation into existence,” says Emily Copley, DFC Operations Manager and Acting CEO. “A lot of people have put in a lot of work to get to this stage, but this is just the beginning. We’re really hoping everyone in the UK docs community will join the DFC and help shape the future of the field together.”
The DFC’s launch event will be the first in an annual series of participatory ‘Open Assemblies’ at DocFest, in which members can help steer the DFC’s strategic direction and shape the future of the documentary world together.
‘The DFC is so exciting because it brings together all voices of the UK independent documentary sector for the first time around shared challenges and opportunities,” says Sandra Whipham, Doc Society Director and member of DFC Interim Board. “The unique importance of independent documentary to culture, society and democracy has never been more needed and yet the sector faces external barriers that stop it reaching its full potential, getting films to audiences and maximising impact. The DFC is the first step to addressing sector needs in an inclusive, joined up way and we can’t wait to get started”.
The DFC has three membership tiers:
• Basic – a free membership that includes access to the DFC talent directory;
• Ally - an annual donation of £12 to support the DFC’s work and access its benefits and discounts;
• Member - for £24 per year, members are able to participate in the DFC’s decision-making structures and elect its board.
Two of the DFC’s first committees have already started work on urgent priorities. To mitigate the impact of word-of-mouth recruitment on workforce diversity, the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committee (led by Lindsey Dryden and Shanida Scotland) is building the UK’s first directory for documentary talent and crew.
Meanwhile, the Mental Health committee (led by Rebecca Day) is training therapists to work with nonfiction filmmakers as part of ongoing efforts to address the mental health crisis in the screen industries, which is especially pronounced among documentarians working with vulnerable people and/or in traumatic or dangerous situations.
The concept of the DFC stems from the UK Feature Docs research project, which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) from 2018-2021 and which evidenced many of the challenges facing the independent documentary film industry.
Led by Dr Steve Presence at UWE Bristol, the research team worked with freelancers and organisations across the industry on a major process of policy research and development, the findings of which were published in two reports: Keeping it Real (2020), based on a survey of independent producers and directors; and Making it Real (2021), a 68-page policy programme that was co-created with stakeholders across the industry following an extensive consultation process.
The AHRC provided a seed-funding grant to establish the DFC last October. Since then, the research team have worked with field-building organisations, freelancers and groups such Doc Producers UK (DPUK) to develop a governance structure that balances accountability with the need to take fast and effective action.
The DFC has been incorporated as a specific type of co-operative known as a Community Benefit Society (CBS). This means it has a legally-binding democratic structure, with an elected board, and is owned and controlled by its members on a not-for-profit basis according to the principle of one-member, one-vote. As a CBS, it also means that the DFC must be run in the interests of the community it is designed to serve - in this case, the UK documentary community and its audiences.