"Getting Reel" at the International Documentary Association Conference

The person who knows how will always have a job; the person who knows why will always be the boss.
— John Maxwell 

This September, John and Kate joined me in Los Angeles to attend the biennial conference “Getting Reel” hosted by the International Documentary Association. This gathering of documentary filmmakers, executives, and creatives offered a unique opportunity for us to get a pulse on the documentary world and explore new forms of content creation and distribution.

While we were there, we were happy to reconnect with our friends at Al-Jazeera Witness who distributed our film Mind Over Battle. We even got to meet up and have dinner with the films subject Javier!

As we hopped from panel to panel, we quickly learned that this years gathering was almost twice as big as year prior. It’s not exactly a surprise — with more and more screens around the  world, the demand for documentary content has exploded. 

Not only have Netflix and other streaming services been spending big bucks developing and promoting their own content, but this year documentaries have held their own at the theaters with the films like Three Identical Strangers, RBG, and Won’t You Be My Neighbor, all far exceeding expeditions at the box office. More recently, the National Geographic documentary Free Solo which opened its limited theatrical run in four cities generated an average of $72,551 per theater on it’s opening weekend — the highest per-screen average for any movie released in the US this year! (It even beat the 2006 favorite, An Inconvenient Truth).  

While funding for documentary films still remains an ever present challenge (there were lots of panels on that), there was a distinct sense at “Getting Real” that we are in the midst of a new golden age for documentary content. So with that, we are rolling up our sleeves and getting back to work!  Or as John likes to say, “let’s go shoot some cool shit! 

-Audrey Emerson