This past Summer, someone mentioned to me at our Annual Meeting of the New Day Filmmakers that they had tasted the New Day Kool Aid. Â And now they can’t get enough.
Some people think that New Day is a secret society — a residue of sixties socialists who despite their good intentions to change the world are out of touch with today’s market economies and new media.
Well, they’re right about the 60s. Â Our company was formed nearly 40 years ago by veteran filmmakers Julia Reichert, Jim Klein, Amalie Rothschild and Liane Brandon. Â The early films in our collection are taught in documentary courses around the world as the seminal films of their time. Â They paved the way for an engaged filmmaking that challenged cultural norms, especially patriarchies of the time. Â Forty years later, the collection, while stylistically different, continues beating with the same heart. Â Maybe we should call it a 60s idea that worked.
To the extent that New Day Films opens hearts and minds, challenges and provokes, and educates our audiences, New Day is radical. Â For me, it is home. Â I spend four days every June with my compatriots in Sonoma County, California planning the business of our next year, sharing filmmaking tips, curating new films, and bonding intimately with other filmmakers whose fortitude in continuing this work and whose heart and passion for telling untold stories through cinema blows me away.
There is something completely refreshing about a business model that reflects the very values that our films portray. Â Each of us is keenly interested in optimizing the distribution of our own titles - both as a vehicle for income and for audience engagement. At the same time, we are committed to the shared success of our entire collection and the well being of each of our filmmakers. Â New Day’s version of participatory democracy entices its members to constantly innovate and share resources that enables the group as a whole to keep thriving. Â It’s not an accident that our million dollar a year business continues to increase sales by nearly 10 percent every year. Â A figure that is somewhat staggering in this beleaguered economy.
The most common complaint I hear about making documentaries is how isolated filmmakers feel, that the process of pushing large boulders up hills without any guarantee of success wears people down. Â It’s an understandable concern. Â Production funding has shrunk in the last two decades and while documentaries and reality television have captured the public’s attention, the business models to support independent filmmakers have not kept pace. Â This is why I feel so lucky to have found my tribe: a community which has taught me how to be a better filmmaker and a better business person. Â What started, perhaps, as a 60s experiment and a collective willingness to eliminate the middle man and wrangle our own destinies I know will endure at least another 40 years as a new generation of community-minded filmmakers find their way to New Day.
Tom Shepard produced and directed Scout’s Honor, Knocking, and Whiz Kids. Â He was Chairman of New Day Films from 2007-09.