Southern Documentary Fund's Rachel Raney on “In-the-Works” at Full Frame | Arts
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Friday, April 4, 2014

Southern Documentary Fund's Rachel Raney on “In-the-Works” at Full Frame

Posted by on Fri, Apr 4, 2014 at 1:00 PM

click to enlarge Old South - COURTESY OF DANIELLE BEVERLY
  • courtesy of Danielle Beverly
  • Old South
This Sunday at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, the Southern Documentary Fund presents "In-the-Works," its annual sneak peek and critique session for new projects that have yet to reach their final cuts. This year, the program runs from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Durham Arts Council and features Danielle Beverly’s Old South, about a standoff between a historic black neighborhood and a white fraternity, and Dawn Porter’s Trapped, about embattled abortion clinics. In-the-Works is just one way that SDF serves as a financial sponsor and support system for Southern documentarians. We spoke with Executive Director Rachel Raney about the program, the films and the big-picture work that SDF does year-round.

INDY: How long have you been Executive Director of the Southern Documentary Fund?

RACHEL RANEY: I’ve been here since 2011. This will be my third Full Frame as Executive Director. There is this interesting trajectory of films that start at Full Frame as works in progress but then land coveted slots at the festival. I called Cynthia Hill recently, who’s our co-founder and whose film Private Violence is playing at Full Frame this year, and she mentioned that she's had three of her feature-length films do that exact thing, dating back to her first project, Tobacco Money Feeds My Family, then The Guestworker, now Private Violence.

Tell us more about the In-the-Works program.

SDF inherited In-the-Works from another organization, but we give it a little bit more of a Southern flavor. It really is the only dedicated forum in the festival to showcase Southern work. Full Frame does give a little extra attention to entries that come from North Carolina, but SDF works with films that are being made all over the American South.

How do you select the featured films?

We convene a panel each year. It usually has anywhere from four to six people, including SDF staff and non-SDF people. For example, this year’s panel included an arts critic and a filmmaker who had work in Full Frame last year, but who is not part of SDF. We have a regular panel that reviews projects four times a year for fiscal sponsorship with SDF, and obviously those people get really attached to the projects and want them to succeed, so I think it’s important that we have an independent panel that helps us pick In-the-Works. It’s often the first time they’re hearing about these projects or seeing any bit of them. It’s a blank slate.

How far along do the projects have to be?

click to enlarge Trapped - COURTESY OF DAWN PORTER
  • courtesy of Dawn Porter
  • Trapped
That’s an interesting question. One of the films we’re showing this year, Trapped, is still in production. They are still shooting, but the filmmaker behind it, Dawn Porter, whose Gideon’s Army was the opening night film at last year’s Full Frame, is just so good that even her early material is really up to snuff. We often end up showing things close to their final stages because we want to present work that is polished at the festival. We also do a monthly works-in-progress screening series called Fresh Docs. Because it’s monthly, we can show a range of projects. But with one slot at Full Frame, we like to show things that are really going to grab the audience’s attention.

How is this program an extension of the work you do all year long?

Since I’ve been with SDF, I’ve wanted to be associated with any great film being made in or about the American South. I put a lot of time into recruiting films because often, there are filmmakers from Milwaukee or New York or Seattle who fly down here to shoot but don’t know about our regional organization. Certainly, we have a closer relationship to people who are living in the area, but we want to connect with filmmakers from other parts of the country who are making Southern work.

This year’s In-the-Works is a good example of that. One of these filmmakers is from the Northeast and the other is from Milwaukee, but the fact that we knew they were down here making movies shows that we’re getting more aggressive about making sure we’re working with all the best filmmakers dealing with the South. I also think it speaks to the kind of robust support we’re offering: We know where they’re at in their process and the decisions they’re facing. We’re grabbing them by the hand and saying, “How can we help you make these movies and launch them into the world?” It’s really going beyond the model of fiscal sponsorship.

What do you hope filmmakers get out of these screenings?

We hope that they’ll get some good feedback from the audience, especially with these two particular films. With Trapped, she’s still making the movie, so she wants to hear stories from people related to this material, whether they’re about an abortion clinic or a piece of legislation that’s pending. She’s looking to extend the content of the film based on this screening. How are you relating to the characters? What’s working? What’s not working?

Also, there’s the exposure, because hopefully the captive audience of 200 people who come to see your movie will begin to follow your efforts as you launch the film. They tell their friends; they like the Facebook page; they follow you on Twitter. They subscribe to your newsletter and they become supporters of the project. I don’t mean financial supporters, but people who let others know that this movie is out there.

Just getting to attend Full Frame as a filmmaker is a huge perk as well. They get a filmmaker pass and spend four days immersed in the festival, watching films, talking about films, meeting other filmmakers. A lot of the films that get featured at In-the-Works are by new or emerging filmmakers, and that’s just huge for them. It’s a different level of access than just buying a ticket and showing up for a screening.

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