Documentary Sustainability Initiatives

Background | Report Overview | Get Involved | Additional Resources


Man carrying a movie cameraabove cover title“Making a living is the most pressing challenge facing the documentary field today.” – From The State of the Documentary Field: 2016 Survey on Documentary Industry Members, released by the Center for Media & Social Impact at American University         

In partnership with the International Documentary Association, the National Endowment for the Arts hosted a one-day Sustainability Summit featuring 80 filmmakers, producers, distributors, film festival representatives, funders, and other stakeholders in the nonfiction storytelling community, as well as leaders from the federal, state, and local governments. Based on conversations captured during the convening, we officially released State of the Field: A Report from the Documentary Sustainability Summit, which outlines key issues and recommendations for the documentary community to embark upon strategic field-building activities, such as reading groups, new initiatives, and additional regional convenings.


This report reflects current conversations in the field and provides key findings and actions to assist in building a sustainable infrastructure for the nonfiction storytelling community. Alongside the key findings and recommended action items, the report also includes a range of case studies and supplemental materials, such as summarized lists of prioritized initiatives drafted by attendees working in the field.


  • Cross-sector connectivity is central to sustainability
  • Peer networks need strengthening
  • Public sector needs more engagement
  • A sustainable future is dependent on research
  • Everyone is a stakeholder


Stakeholders at all levels are recommended to take ownership of this conversation and move the work forward with the following recommendations:

  • Strengthen the field through knowledge exchange, technical assistance, cross-sector collaboration, and professional networks.
  • Research, data, and metrics are critical to the sustainability and success of the ecosystem.
  • The public sector needs continual engagement from stakeholders to accelerate its role as funder, convener, and strategist and also examine the impact of various policies on the sector.

Obtain a free copy of the report:

Download PDF  |  Request a single hard copy  |  Request multiple publications for your organization or group 



Host a reading group
Included in this package is a discussion guide around the report. We hope this is a helpful tool in conducting dialogue and action throughout the field in pursuit of tangible strategies leading towards a sustainable and healthy ecosystem for the professional documentary community, as part of a vital creative economy.


-How can you fold this conversation into your current programming?
-Who can you partner with in your community that complements your needs?


Our goal is to collectively widen the net of individuals involved in this conversation. Whether it’s local, regional, statewide, or national, we encourage individuals and organizations to bring together diverse members of their community to engage in conversations about strengthening nonfiction storytelling infrastructure.

If you are considering hosting a convening, we encourage you to contact us at We are happy to provide insights from previous sessions.


Webinar conversations
Throughout this series of field-building conversations, we invited leaders to discuss their work and share best practices activating sustainable solutions in their local communities. Featured guests included Ruthie Doyle (Sundance Institute New Frontier Lab Program), Simon Kilmurry (IDA), Herbert Niles (DC Office of Cable, Television, Film, Media & Entertainment), Rahdi Taylor (Concordia Studio), Sarah Wolozin and Kat Cizek (MIT Open Documentary Lab), Sue Schardt (Association of Independents in Radio), Teresa Hollingsworth (South Arts), and Chris Hastings (WORLD Channel).

Archived Webinars: