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in Filmmaking
on May 18, 2009

Jonathan Fanton, President of the MacArthur Foundation, has posted a “President’s Essay” in which he discusses the ways in which digital media is transforming both our lives as well as the working methodologies and granting practices of the Foundation. I recommend the essay, and particularly noteworthy is the section on media grantmaking, in which Fanton says the Foundation will now seek to fund projects that take advantage of the new distribution tools as well as those from new sources of information and that stimulate and include audience interaction.

An excerpt:

With these changes, the challenge of providing individuals with diverse perspectives and reliable information is more complex than in the past, precisely because the tools available are so much more powerful. We enjoy unprecedented access to data, analysis, and opinion from around the world, but this also requires greater effort to filter, choose, and process such information.

In light of these developments, MacArthur’s long-standing programs supporting documentary film and public radio and television are in transition. We still want to help ensure that reliable information on important topics is available and that it finds the audience it deserves. And we want to help bring fresh sources of information to bear on the debate of important issues.

MacArthur will continue to support the creation of exceptional documentary films and high-quality nonfiction programming for public radio and television. But to take full advantage of new technologies, the Foundation is challenging content-producers to tell their stories through more than one medium — radio and podcasting, for example; or documentary film and streaming video. We are especially interested in projects that invite significant participation from their audiences.

The piece goes on to give recent grants as examples. One is Frontline World, is a PBS program that fully integrates broadcast and online content, and another is Global Voices, “a website that calls attention to the most interesting conversations and perspectives emerging from citizens’ media around the world.”

I attended a panel the other day in which the audience consisted of mostly documentary filmmakers. One admitted that she “was just getting into the internet.” She had better hurry up now that one of the bastions of non-commercial media funding is prioritizing web-based content generation and dissemination strategies.

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