Power to the Independents: A Conversation with Anne de Mare

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by Rachel Baron | October 22nd, 2019

If you’re a filmmaker working to bring your independent vision to life, grant writing is an ineluctable, at times torturous, step in the artistic process. Whether you are a first-time filmmaker or a veteran, the road to finding good fits and crafting a compelling proposal is never straightforward and the landscape continues to change.

This Wednesday, we host a Documentary Grant Writing workshop on how to navigate this daunting task, led by documentarian Anne de Mare. Her credits include Asparagus! Stalking the American Life, The Homestretch on Independent Lens, which won a 2015 News & Documentary Emmy Award, and last year's Capturing The Flag. For de Mare, securing varied financial support has become a critical component to the narrative and integrity of her films. “I used to hate grant writing, but I’ve learned the process is vital for my creativity and the film’s own life.” Read our full interview below.

Rachel Baron: Can you start off with telling me a little about what brought you into documentary filmmaking?
Anne de Mare: I came out of a background in theatre, mostly directing and writing for experimental theatre. I became frustrated with the audiences, I wanted to tell stories to a broader range of people. Then, a story came into my life to make a piece of theatre about and I didn’t want to fictionalize it. What was amazing about this story is that it was real. I didn’t realize how it would take over my life.

RB: Without giving too much away, tell me a bit about your own process of funding and making your films?
AM: It’s a process to understand why you’re compelled to tell a story and how to build a family of support. With grant writing, you’re looking for money, but equally you’re looking for where your film fits in the larger scope of the direction you’re trying to take the story. I’ve learned how important it is to forge those partnerships. With grant writing, you’re honing in on the story you want to tell, but you’re also understanding its relevance and place in the world.

RB: What is the best advice you received during the filmmaking process?
AM: I once had a meeting with Bonnie Cohen from Catapult Films who said you have to be wary of being an issue in search of a story. It can feel very often as if you are making an argument for the impact of your film. That what you’re really doing is focusing on the social issue. It’s always about the story. Now more than ever, it’s really important for independent voices to understand how powerful it is to be able to control the story. Independent filmmakers have a responsibility for the truth of the story and to fight for the story to be told. Funders can be allies, but filmmakers also have to hold on to their independence and vision, not just the story the funding universe wants told.

RB: How do you view the contemporary documentary landscape?
AM: Funding is highly competitive and we’re seeing that more and more. People are exploring different ways to bring funding into the documentary community, but the bread and butter remains in the granting system. You have to be in those cycles to produce. But there are other ways and other people are beginning to understand the importance of story and the importance of narrative. I am an optimist that we will continue to find funding, but we do struggle with sustainability. The more tools you can have in your toolbox, the better. It’s up to us as independents to take the power back.

RB: Any favorite small budget documentaries you’d like to mention?
AM: I’ve been watching a lot of old documentaries lately. Partly because I’ve taken a subscription to Ovid.tv. I have been trying to watch some in an effort to rethink where I’m going in my own work. I’ve been watching a lot of experimental films to shake up what I’m making as well. I think we have to be more creative about how we make films in this environment. The life of the feature film is different now. It used to be that in order to be relevant you needed to have a feature film about something. That was what people paid attention to. I think that that’s shifting with the marketplace and the way film is now used for social impact. People are leaning towards different kinds of storytelling.

RB: Do you have any final thoughts on grant writing you’d like to share?
AM: I think funding can be the most daunting aspect about starting or finishing a project. Let yourself dream big and understand when you have to work within the system and when you have to challenge it.

Interested in hearing more from Anne de Mare? There’s still a few spots available in tomorrow’s Documentary Grant Writing workshop! And if you’re interested in teaching a DCTV Workshop, don’t forget to check out what we’re looking for.