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Getting Real '16: 'Together. Stronger' (Not 'Stronger Together')

By Ken Jacobson

Hillary got it wrong. Her campaign slogan, "Stronger Together," embossed on a sea of campaign signs at the Democratic convention and emblazoned across banner ads in The New York Times, has the right idea, but, in my mind, puts the two words in reverse order. At least that's the argument I began constructing when I realized that the slogan we coined months ago for the Getting Real 2016 documentary film conference was almost identical to hers.

"Together. Stronger." That's our slogan. Of course, the two messages are so similar, why quibble? The difference is subtle, but for those of you not that familiar with Getting Real, and even for those of you who are, I think it's an important one. But before we go any further down that etymological path, let's talk Getting Real. What is it? Why does it matter to us in the doc world? Started in 2014 (and itself a stepchild of the International Documentary Congresses of the mid '90's), Getting Real is a biennial three-day conference, co-presented by IDA and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and being held this year from September 27 to 29 in LA. The idea behind the conference is to take those things that are normally relegated to the sidebar section of film festivals — panels, workshops, keynotes and discussions — and make them the main event.

Still, what exactly is the driving purpose behind the event? Getting Real is intended to give the documentary community (and by "community," I mean primarily filmmakers, but also industry, students, academics, writers and others) the space and the structure to get together and discuss the critical issues facing the documentary field, to dig deep into the craft and to look at the art form itself in new ways. OK, that's where the "Together" part comes from: Getting Real is about getting together on a level playing field and benefiting from having people with multiple perspectives in the same room listening and talking to each other on a range of issues.

In that spirit, what you'll see at Getting Real 2016 is not just one big convening (we expect about 300+ people to show up, so not too big), but a series of smaller convenings, both organized and spontaneous. Some of the meetings we know about in advance include: a working group of filmmakers dedicated to the issue of career sustainability will hold a series of information sessions and conversations; another group of filmmakers will meet with public television executives; VR practitioners will gather with funders, technologists and exhibitors to try to figure out the most strategic next steps in the VR doc space; and Asian-American filmmakers will get together with the goal of building a stronger, louder voice in the doc world. We also expect meetings to pop up throughout the conference as attendees find each other to discuss what's most important to them and how they can move forward on certain issues that affect us all.

Besides more convenings, what else is different this year? For one, new in 2016 is a series of Getting Real Programming Partners, including the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program, Firelight Media, Kartemquin Films, Flaherty Seminar, Center for Media & Social Impact, European Documentary Network and others, who are working with us to curate sessions in our three main content areas of art, diversity and sustainability. Each of these partners is bringing fresh ideas from a range of unique perspectives. Keep your eyes peeled for the bulk of the schedule and list of participants, which will be posted on in about two weeks. What you'll see is a program that builds on the foundation laid down by Getting Real 2014, without being beholden to it. The 2016 edition is designed to be an original, creative act, and, in collaboration with our Programming Partners and conference attendees, is destined to forge its own identity.

What else is new? The Getting Real 2016 list of participants and attendees is going to be more inclusive and international. In 2014, only a tiny handful of filmmakers from outside the US attended the conference. For 2016, we are making a conscious effort to create an event that will draw filmmakers and industry from other parts of the world. Growth will be incremental and strategic, but expect to see greater representation from Europe, Canada and the Middle East especially. Also, there will be programming to go along with our more global community, including an overview of the international co-production landscape, featuring representatives from at least five countries; in-depth co-production case studies; a session on the creative challenges of making films under repressive regimes; and a group of experts discussing public broadcasting from a global perspective. And we will be bringing in filmmakers from other parts of the world to participate in challenging conversations and deliver provocative keynotes.

So, back to our slogan. What about the "Stronger" part? That's the intriguing, scary thing. We don't actually know how, when or even if that's going to happen. We intuit that it's likely connected to the "Together" part, but also sense that it's an independent variable. We hope it's going to happen, but we can't be sure, and, as a result, we don't have any pre-determined outcomes. Hillary's slogan implies an assertion of strength through or alongside togetherness. We believe both things are intrinsically important at this historic moment in the evolution of our art form, but we take no such forward progress for granted. "Together" feels like an important Step 1; "Stronger" is going to be a harder nut to crack. That's where you come in…

We invite you to come to Getting Real, to help us make this a more vital, stronger documentary community. You'll meet lots of great people, be exposed to many thought-provoking ideas, and maybe you'll even come home with a t-shirt or poster that says "Together. Stronger." on it. And you can explain to the folks back home why Hillary got it wrong.

Ken Jacobson is Director of Programming for Getting Real '16, as well as IDA's Director of Educational programs and Strategic Partnerships.