Interview with Jenn Cromling, Operations Director of the Southern Documentary Fund

Based in North Carolina, the Southern Documentary Fund recently partnered with Indiegogo to help raise funds and awareness for its sponsored documentary projects — in sound, writing, film, video, photography, and interactive media. These projects are filmed in or about the American South, and previous works have been screened at hundreds of festivals around the world. One recent documentary, “The Loving Story,” was even on the Academy shortlist for the Oscar in documentary filmmaking.

Together with fiscally sponsoring projects, SDF is also committed to mentoring artists that come from rural areas and underrepresented groups. Some of their work is already being used for educational and community development purposes. Below is my exchange with Jenn Cromling, SDF’s Operations Director.

ANDREW: How would you describe the SDF’s mission?

JENN: Stories are at the heart of the work of the Southern Documentary Fund. Stories that come from the varied landscapes of the American South — its people, its history, and its contemporary life. Our mission is to help preserve and share those stories by acting as a resource for documentary artists. SDF promotes dialogue, advocates for the public exhibition and discussion of documentary work, provides fiscal sponsorship to media makers, and serves as a consultant and technical resource to emerging and established documentary artists.

ANDREW: Why was it originally created and by whom?

JENN: The Southern Documentary Fund (SDF) was founded in 2002 by two talented documentary filmmakers in Durham NC, eager to create a home for Southern storytellers. Since then SDF has sponsored over 100 media projects, fulfilling its original mission – to nurture and support documentary artists around the South and beyond.

ANDREW: How is the SDF using Indiegogo?

JENN: As traditional sources of funding become scarcer (and harder to get), crowdfunding has become a critical tool for documentary artists. And these campaigns not only raise monies for projects, they are the beginnings of building audience and community outreach. As a documentary sponsor, SDF wants to be as engaged as possible with our projects, including their crowdfunding campaigns. Indiegogo makes this possible. It also means that we can group all our projects on a page, so that if a contributor gives to one project, they might be inspired to support others sponsored by SDF as well.

ANDREW: What kinds of things are campaign funds going towards?

JENN: Most documentary artists these days own their equipment (cameras, sound gear, editing software), and will get out there and start producing projects as they come along. Many will edit their own films as well. The cash crunch is most serious when it comes time to finishing films or other kinds of projects. For example, when you need to buy or commission music, or get an audio mix, or professional color correction. These are all critical services that are needed to make work look and sound professional before it is screened or broadcast, and often cost thousands of dollars.

ANDREW: How do you see this partnership growing in the future?

JENN: SDF is plotting ways to use Indiegogo to support our organization, as well as our sponsored projects! We’ve got a couple of specific initiatives in mind, related to distribution and exhibition, and hope to launch a campaign in the near future.

ANDREW: Are there any campaigns (past, present, and future) that you’d like to highlight?

JENN: Tommy! The Dreams I Keep Inside me is a touching film by Durham’s own Rodrigo Dorfman. It’s our first project since partnering with Indiegogo, and we’re going to do our best to make sure Rodrigo meets his funding goal!

ANDREW: Even if it required a very large campaign, what would be your dream project to fund using Indiegogo?

JENN: We’d love to create a collection of sponsored films that tell important Southern stories — about civil rights and social justice — and make them available at public libraries and schools around the South. We’re also interested in digitally distributing films direct from our website, and hope to raise monies to build the online infrastructure to make it happen soon.

You can check out the Southern Documentary Fund’s Indiegogo Partner page here: