Category Archives: Pluralities

The Need for Niche: Re-thinking a Film’s Festival Circuit

Traversing the Niche Festival Market

Con Moto: The Alexander String Quartet along with Abina and the Important Men will screen at niche driven festivals in Napa Valley and Toronto, Canada this month.  Con Moto looks at the tradition of chamber music as lived by the world famous Alexander String Quartet as they travel through Poland.  Abina is an animated film adapted from the award-winning graphic novel about a young woman who escapes slavery and takes her master to court in West Africa during the late 1800’s.  The distribution of these films is an eye-opening education in the vital role niche festivals play in the life of films that are made on the fringes of the mainstream.

There is an evident and clear need for alternative spaces for films operating in niche categories, genres and content.  They create important discussions with their respective communities. A film’s life through the festival circuit varies widely from years past.  As Daryl Chin and Larry Qualls note, the possibilities are many as “we are living in a time of developing alternatives. Though the hegemony of the commercial industry remains, there are fringe activities and new models for exhibition, distribution, and dissemination.” We must be aware of alternative possibilities that exist on the “fringe” especially considering new modes of storytelling and content historically pushed to the margins are becoming more and more part of the conversation in the mainstream, in form and content.

“Con Moto” & “Abina” Laurels

The landscape of festivals is much different considering the proliferation of niche markets and stories emerging from minority and marginalized communities. The remapping of festival options for a film has aided in the “survival of the phenomenon of film festivals,” and helped retain the festival space as, “a zone, a liminal state, where the cinematic products can bask in the attention they receive for their aesthetic achievements, cultural specificity, or social relevance” (Marijke de Valck). I would extend these thoughts to speak directly to the opportunities created through the niche and fringe festival markets. From the perspective of content that represents peoples and histories ignored in mainstream outlets, or discussions about the direction of form and new media, these niche environments help support and encourage storytelling to challenge the status quo. This provides agency to voices and filmmakers who are now finding outlets, gaining traction and proving a need for diverse storytelling.


This profound diversity in the festival scene is something we are witness to. We develop relationships and attend festivals that may not ordinarily cross our virtual path. Con Moto had early success in two online film festivals, an option with growing strength and one that speaks to global audiences. Con Moto is also an example of a film that can bridge art forms that may not typically intersect. We have been able to screen this film in conjunction with chamber music performances and events. Screening in this manner speaks to specific audiences and gives the film opportunity to thrive in curated spaces.

With Abina being adapted from a graphic novel, it has the ability to screen in chapters – as a series – or from start to finish as a feature. This connects nicely with festivals seeking to draw out discussions surrounding new media in storytelling. This is in addition to the rich history the film and graphic novel explores. Raindance created a Webfest and VR Arcade to the expand the main festival in recent years, speaking to the power and importance of emerging niche markets, and we were inspired that Abina could contribute to that dialogue and interaction.  The programmer’s thoughtful approach was not only inclusive but also bold, adding Abina to a documentary program as the only animated film in the bunch.

Soumyaa @ Raindance FF


It’s not just the makers but the programmers who are making this revolution happen.  Without alternative thinkers who are gatekeepers to exhibition, these smaller films would not reach the audiences they are now being connected to.

DocFilm held its first conference last year, Pluralities, on the expanded state of documentary including a panel on niche distribution led by Susie Hernandez from KQED. This panel featured an insightful dialogue with Masashi Niwano from the Center for Asian American Media, Daniel Moretti from Frameline and Marc Smolowitz Independent Producer extraordinaire of 13th Gen.

They discussed both festival cycles, but also the varied and unique options a film has in distribution. They also pointed out that as access to content becomes more democratized and varied films will need to reflect these diversified audiences and their backgrounds.

We are encouraged to see the direction our industry is headed, as the panel, who represent highly diverse backgrounds, are in positions that serve as gatekeepers to exhibition. It makes abundantly clear that terms examined here – niche and fringe – should now and forward be considered on their own volition rather than in deference to any commodified mainstream or homogenized market.

Pluralities Panel on Niche Distribution: Led by Susie Hernandez KQED



Coming up, Con Moto and Abina have been announced as Official Selections for upcoming festivals, The Classical Arts Film Festival and The Toronto Black Film Festival.

Con Moto has the privilege of opening the festival with the feature-length documentary Beautifully Scary. Operating to promote the classical arts the Jarvis Conservatory is in its third year as host of this festival. These two films will start the conversation on the importance of the arts, inspiration, and education. If you can join us, Soumyaa and I will be in attendance and will participate in a Q&A after the screening.

The Alexander String Quartet & DocFilm Crew in Poland

Finally, Abina and the Important Men is thrilled to be among the films at this year’s Toronto Black Film Festival. Speaking further to the specific way films are being programmed and ultimately shared with a community, Abina will be part of the TBFF Kids Film Festival. This selection of films aim to inspire and empower children through the discovery of filmmaking, animation, story-telling and more. This is especially exciting as Abina was adapted to exist supplementally as an educational tool in high-school history curriculum. This provides yet another opportunity for Abina to be viewed through a new, yet equally important, lens.

Quoted Content:

  1. Chin, Daryl, and Larry Qualls. “Open Circuits, Closed Markets: Festivals and Expositions of Film and Video.” PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, vol. 23, no. 1, 2001, p. 33. Project MUSE [Johns Hopkins UP], doi:10.2307/3246488.
  2. “Film Festivals from European Geopolitics to Global Cinephilia.” Film Festivals from European Geopolitics to Global Cinephilia, by Marijke de. Valck, Amsterdam University Press, 2007, p. 30.

#documentary #filmfestival #Abinaandtheimportantmen #ConMoto #CAAM #Frameline #13th Gen #KQED #ClassicalArtsFilmFestival #TorontoBlackFilmFestival #TheAlexanderStringQuartet #Animation #Raindance #RaindanceWebFest #DocumentaryFilmInstitute #SFSU #SFStateLCA

Pluralities Nonfiction Film Conference Full Schedule


Join us NOV 8th and 9th at San Francisco State University for an exciting line-up of filmmakers, researchers, performance, VR, and discussion about all things nonfiction. We welcome Kim Nelson and her team from University of Windsor in Canada with their live doc project 130 Year Road Trip, Kelly Gallagher from Antioch College with panels and workshops on animation and resistance, Jason Fox from Princeton University to discuss his World Records journal published by Union Docs and presenters from across the Bay Area and beyond including a niche distribution panel with Susie Hernandez from KQED, Daniel Moretti of Frameline, Masashi Niwano with CAAM and producer Marc Smolowitz and the Munduruku VR Amazon experience created by Alchemy VR with Greenpeace.

Check out the full schedule. Attendance is FREE.


Register for your FREE tickets here:


Kelly Gallagher is an experimental animator, filmmaker and Assistant Professor of Media Arts at Antioch College in Ohio. Her theoretical work investigates the radical and feminist possibilities of experimental animation. Her animations, experimental films and documentaries have screened internationally at venues including: Ann Arbor Film Festival, London ICA Artists’ Biennial, LA Film Forum, Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival, Traverse City Film Festival, and Anthology Film Archives. She is the recipient of the Ivan Kaljević Award from Alternative Film/Video Festival Belgrade, the Helen Hill Award from Indie Grits, the Audience Award from Brazil’s Fronteira Film Festival, and the Jury’s Choice Award from Black Maria Film Festival.

Kim Nelson is the Director of the Humanities Research Group and an Associate Professor in the School of Creative Arts at the University of Windsor in Canada. Her work has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Ontario Arts Council, the Windsor Endowment for the Arts and have screened at international film festivals and on university campuses in Canada, the US and Europe, as well as online with KCET in the US. Kim has held fellowships in Germany, Canada, and the US, and she has been a board member and programmer at the Windsor International Film Festival since 2010. Her current interest is in conceptualizing and creating live participatory cinema as an alternative future for screen culture.

Jason Fox is a filmmaker and lecturer at Princeton University. He has taught in the Graduate School of Cinema Studies at New York University, Vassar College, and Cooper Union. His award-winning work as a director, cinematographer, and editor has screened internationally in film festivals including Sundance, AFI Fest, and Venice, on broadcast television, and in gallery installation settings.  He has worked as a film programmer in conjunction with The American Museum of Natural History, The Flaherty Seminar, and the Museum of Modern Art, among other venues. He is a recipient of a Union Square Award for social justice, and he is also the founding editor of the peer-reviewed journal of documentary studies, World Records, published by UnionDocs in Brooklyn, NY.


Nov 8th & 9th – All Day

An Immersive VR Experience: Munduruku: The Fight to Defend the Heart of the Amazon

Combining cutting-edge Virtual Reality filmmaking and multisensory storytelling, Munduruku opens a window into the lives, stories and struggle of the Munduruku Indigenous People in the heart of the Amazon rainforest.

Wednesday, Nov 8th

9:00am: Coffee/Tea – All are welcome

9:10am-10:45am: In Resistance with Filmmaker Scholars

  • Kelly Gallagher (Antioch College): Animation as Power and Protest (working title)
  • Alexander Johnston (UC Santa Cruz): Evidence of Evidence
  • Kevin Pina (CSU, East Bay): Documenting Dissent

11:00am-12:00pm: Identity: Constructed, Deconstructed

  • Yuriko Romer (Independent Filmmaker): Diamond Diplomacy
  • Talena Sanders (Sonoma State University): Prospector
  • Nyssa Chow (Columbia University, NY): Still Life, A Digital Book

1:00pm-2:00pm: Consequences of Historical Rendering and Technology

  • Kim Nelson: Constructing a Historiophoty for/in the Digital Sublunar
  • Rob Nelson: Whether you Win or Lose, Bombing Civilians is Complicated: Strategies of Explanation in the Canadian and German Documentaries ‘Death by Moonlight’ (1992) and ‘Der Feuersturm’ (2003)

(Both from University of Windsor, Canada)

2:15pm-3:45pm: Innovation & Scholarship in Nonfiction Media Journals

  • Jason Fox: The Documentary Camera and World Records Journal, Princeton University
  • Alexander Johnston: Now!  Journal of Urgent Praxis
  • Soumyaa K. Behrens: Pluralities Journal, Documentary Film Institute
  • Kelly Gallagher: Now!  Journal of Urgent Praxis

3:45pm-4:15pm: Short Reception – Everyone welcome to attend

4:15pm-5:45pm: Emergent Stories: How Niche and Diaspora Films Impact Smaller Communities

  • Susie Hernandez from KQED
  • Masashi Niwano from Center for Asian American Media
  • Daniel Moretti from Frameline
  • Marc Smolowitz Independent Producer, 13th Gen

Thursday, Nov 9th

8:00am: Coffee/Tea – Everyone welcome to attend

8:20am-9:25am: Politics, Activism and Visibility in Golden Gate and Gezi Parks*

  • Cahal McLaughlin (Queens University Belfast): Introduction
  • Şirin Fulya Erensoy (Istanbul Kültür University): Documenting Injustice in a Time of Media Blackout
  • Soumyaa K. Behrens (SFSU): Nail House: Political Gentrification in San Francisco

* This panel is in collaboration with the Center for Documentary Research Conference at Queens University and will be conducted live and via Skype.

9:30am-11:00am: Small Hands-On Workshop with Kelly Gallagher

11:00am-12:20pm: Agency in Nonfiction: To Tell One’s Own Stories

  • Harjant Gill (Towson University): Exploring South Asian Masculinities Through Ethnographic Film
  • Emily Beitiks (SFSU): Documenting Disability
  • Aaron Dickinson Sachs (St. Mary’s College) & John Drew (Adelphi University): Cacao Stories, A Food Manifesto

2:10pm-3:45pm: 130 Year Road Trip (Performance, Live Documentary)

  • Kim Nelson, Rob Nelson, Lana Oppen, Brent Lee (University of Windsor)

3:45pm-5pm: Reception – All are welcome

7:30pm: Screening of Kelly Gallagher’s films at Artists Television Access

#pluralities #docfilminstitute #nonfiction #sfsu #130yearroadtrip #animateddocs #scholarfilmmaker #researchpractitioner #documentarydisrupted

Open Access Publishing Hot Topic at #SCMS17

DocFilm just returned from this year’s SCMS (Society for Cinema and Media Studies) conference in the big old city of Chicago.  Not as gritty as I remember it from days past, Chicago is hip, happening, and operating at warp speed.  There were wireless “charging rings” for your devices in the coffee shops, not to mention mobile ordering and pick-up at Starbucks.  The smart elevators in the AON center whisked you up to the 80th so fast you got a bit of a head rush from it.  And, one of the most interesting discussions at this year’s event was also concerned with the inter-future of academic publishing, aka the open access model.

open access scms17 chicago

There were two workshops dedicated to the topic and a flurry of the biggest gatekeepers of profit, non-profit and alternative forms of book and journal publication as well as the new guard of revolutionary writers, bloggers and scholars who are aiming to democratize the system and a couple people who seem to fall in both of those categories… The big question at hand: is open access a revolutionary model or just another way for the major players to control the system?  Can it possibly be a sustainable form for sharing research without the traditional backing of book sales and publishers’ prestigious marquees?

There is a whirlwind of new websites out there with the explicit intention to share, share widely and share freely.  Things like Critical Commons, Film Studies for Free,, (in) media res, Lever Press and SCMS backed [in]Transition.  Many of these initiatives spun into being as a response to the Budapest Open Access Initiative which was first published (online) in 2002.  There are countless additional sites that uphold its vision for free access via the arts, sciences, humanities, and social disciplines.  This has also given way to multi-platform approaches to creating scholarship using live annotations, film and audio clips and other creative renderings to deepen the relationship between the reader and the researcher, speak to a more global audience and include non-academic writers who may have just as much to contribute to the conversation.

Sustainability remains the key challenge to this rebellious effort meant to level the playing field of academia and research as something reserved only for the intelligent elite.   Many of these websites have also closed up shop after burning out from handling every aspect of publication themselves due to little or no funding or simply been unable to raise the minimum amount needed to keep their initiative alive.  And, alive, on the internet, is a very real problem.  Outdated pages, expired links, journeys to Error 404 abound.  There’s nothing more stinky than a rotten internet corpse.  Without regular maintenance, a system or platform to retain embedded data and, of course, M-O-N-E-Y, these efforts all have an eventual end.  As Mary Francis of University of Michigan Press pointed out (she was a panelist and vocal audience member), less and less people have the need to publish as tenured positions at University are decreasing at a rapid pace and Universities are saving that cash by bringing on the dreaded “adjunct” faculty instead.  If there is no professional need to publish, what then?  She also stressed that the processes of the presses have not really changed.  Yes, they now sometimes offer an open access version of a book or journal but not much else has evolved.  She wondered if we are looking in the right place to resolve this issue of inclusion, access and democracy among academics.

With 2020 swiftly approaching, so does a new referendum by the European Union entitled Horizon2020.  All scientific research papers that are produced under publicly funded initiatives must be made available for free.   We will see who’s ready (and who’s not) to capitalize on this when the new decade dawns.   At DocFilm we are eager to take part in this dialogue and help facilitate it.  We are busily constructing programs, initiatives and strategic partnerships to launch our own open access, multi-media nonfiction journal (working title) Pluralities.  Using the engagement with the so-called real as a center, the journal will mesh theory and practice of nonfiction film, explicitly connect with other disciplines in hopes to visualize, digitize and democratize research, media, and innovative reflections on reality.

open access scms17 chicago

Many many thanks to the SCMS17 for hosting these workshops and the fascinating individuals who structured the conversation as well as those who participated in it.

Workshop G5: Film and Media Studies in the Digital Era

Chaired by Caroline Edwards with Jefferson Pooley, Katie Gallof and Anna Froula

Workshop N16: Open Access Book Publishing

Chaired by Eric Hoyt with Mary Francis, Nedda Ahmed, Vicki Mayer (whose open access book I just downloaded), Lea Jacobs and Ben Brewster

Both with extremely vocal and sometimes adversarial crowds to whom I am also grateful.

Written by Soumyaa K. Behrens, Photos by Robert Barbarino