Stories for a Stronger Nation: Indies, Public TV and Democracy

Dolores Huerta speaking through a megaphone

Latinx people make up c. 15% of the US population. Latino Public Broadcasting and ITVS have been important partners for telling Latinex stories. One example is DOLORES, a film about Dolores Huerta.









Public TV needs the perspectives and voices of independent filmmakers more than ever, in a time of racial, climate, health and political crisis. CMSI’s latest report, Stories for a Stronger Nation, explains why.

Documentary, public TV and democracy go together well. Public TV is the nation’s most trusted brand. (Public TV is even trusted by many Fox News viewers.)  And if public TV is a rare zone of trust and confidence, viewers also trust documentaries more than they trust news services. Together, documentaries and public TV can bring together communities for essential conversations. Our recent report, Breaking the Silence, showed just that.

The report synthesizes learnings from meetings with 57 thought leaders in the group of independent filmmakers who work with public broadcasting. Here’s what we heard:

  • Indie filmmakers, and particularly BIPOC filmmakers, highly value public TV. They love the editorial independence, and the engagement strategies, and the reach of public TV. (It reaches more homes than commercial TV or streamers, and for free.)
  • Indie filmmakers bring younger, more diverse audiences to public TV, with their diverse perspectives reflecting the complexity of America.
  • Indies believe that public TV doesn’t always understand the value of what they bring to the service. It’s hard to work in the acronym-jungle that is public TV, and it’s especially hard to get full funding for a project. During the pandemic, when filmmakers’ unemployment and business failures were far larger than the average, they acutely noticed public TV’s failure to grasp their value. Nothing of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s $250 million in Covid relief money went to any public TV entities that support independent work, such as The Independent Television Service (ITVS), the National Multicultural Alliance, and TV series.
  • They care about public TV’s future. And they wonder about it. Their viewers have trouble finding their programs, and sometimes a station doesn’t carry it. The PBS streaming app is widely unknown. A younger generation sometimes has never seen public TV. The filmmakers may have a first film with public TV, and then streamers pick up the most successful of them. So commercial entities, not public TV, benefit from public TV’s investment in incubating talent. Entities like ITVS need more support from public TV, for indie work to be done faster, with more BIPOC and marginalized-community viewes, and with more reach.
  • Indies want to be part of revitalizing an essential media service for democracy. They think they’re part of the solution, and they make a good case.

To read the report, go here.


Full Frame 2021: Hidden History, Fast and Slow Cinema, and BIPOC Editors