Kartemquin Films: 44 Years of Documentary Films

March 5, 2010

8:00 am

Editor’s Note: This video episode was created by Tim Jahn, a longtime Chicago TECH cocktailer and storyteller who produces the online video series, Beyond The Pedway focused on better telling the local business stories in Chicago. You can follow Tim on Twitter: @timjahn.

In this episode, I’m chatting with the folks at Kartemquin Films, a documentary production company in Chicago that has been producing socially relevant documentary films for 44 years. Kartemquin produces a wide range of films about subjects ranging from stem cell research to genetic testing to typography to gangs and society. Here are some highlights from our interview:

  • Kartemquin was founded by three University of Chicago students who were interested in cinematic social inquiry. They thought if you could reflect society back onto itself, you could create social change.
  • Their most famous film is Hoop Dreams.
  • Creating a documentary film can often be a lonely process, so Kartemquin specializes in creating a collaborative environment.
  • Kartemquin films typically run the festival circuit, followed by a national broadcast (sometimes international) and then a DVD and/or digital release.
  • There’s not much money right now in digital distribution, especially for documentaries, so everybody is trying to figure out what the new income model will be.
  • Kartemquin is currently working on a new documentary called “The Interrupters” about a group of ex-gang members who are part of a group called CeaseFire whose mission is to break up violence in Chicago.
  • Documentary filmmakers never know where the story is going to go. They have a basic idea in mind at the beginning, but the story evolves as the film is made.
  • When films are ready to be distributed, reviews in major publications are still important. But filmmakers are increasingly looking to reach the communities of people they think the film relates to most.

If you can’t see the video, please click here. The music featured during the intro and credits of this episode is a song called “Free Now” from local Chicago band Marcella.

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Tim has conducted over 150 interviews on BeyondThePedway.com, a website he founded for creative entrepreneurs to learn from the successes, failures, and journeys of fellow creators. Follow Tim on Twitter @timjahn.

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