Documentary Sustainability Summit

Summit Overview | Report from the Summit | Get Involved | Additional Materials

“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. Throughout the day, convening participants were engaged in the following questions:

  • How are new technologies and shifting business models transforming the way content is created, distributed, and viewed?
  • What types of initiatives and partnerships create a more stable and sustainable industry for independent filmmakers?
  • What do effective public sector partnerships look like?
  • How can the field self-organize to advance strategies that contribute to career sustainability?

View the full convening agenda and panelists here


Based on conversations captured during the convening, the Arts Endowment released State of the Field: A Report from the Documentary Sustainability Summit. This report provides key findings and actions to assist in building more sustainable infrastructures for the nonfiction storytelling community. Alongside 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 


  • Analyze local needs and resources: We have created a discussion guide to accompany the report and a convening toolkit (Word | PDF) to conduct local needs analysis and asset mapping.
  • Convene regularly: Regional and local leaders are strongly encouraged to gather independent filmmakers, artists, and community stakeholders (local and national) at least once a year. Over time, this small act can strengthen peer and industry networks, leading to the alignment of regional resources and enable to field to participate in self-advocacy.
  • Leverage Existing Resources: How can you engage and support local content creators in your current programming? What networks, partners, or initiatives can you align with to meet the needs of your local makers?
  • Engage in National Initiatives: In March 2020, the Arts Endowment launched the Documentary Sustainability Project a national initiative in partnership with the Sundance Institute, as an extension of the conversations held at the Documentary Sustainability Summit. This new initiative aims to strengthen the documentary filmmaking field through knowledge exchange, cross-sector collaboration, and research. If you are engaging in strategies serving regional filmmaking communities, we encourage you to contact us at


In response to the summit report, we invited leaders to discuss their work and share best practices activating sustainable solutions in their local communities as part of a series of webinar conversations.

Archived Webinars: