Docs-in-the-Works dazzles and educates next generation of documentary filmmakers

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By Jenny Levine.

Considered by many to be the most exciting part of the festival, this year’s Docs-in-the-Works competition was undoubtedly thrilling for those who attended. Trailers cut by undergraduate Film and TV major Thelma Boyiri and graduate students Caitlin Stickles and Giuliana Monteiro Pinheiro were pitched and presented in front of five captains of the documentary world representing HBO, Vice, and Chicken & Egg, with the promise of grant money and invaluable one-on-ones.

What went into each pitch? Tisch professor Sam Pollard workshopped with the three finalists to capture the heart of the film in a short 4-7 minute trailer. For some, their film was nearly complete, while others had ways to go. Each finalist was met with a unique challenge that brought them professional experience. Where Giuliana had previous experience pitching to a room full of 100 professionals, Caitlin was admittedly nervous but told the judges the advice that Sam had told her, “You got to be suave.”

After each screening and pitch, the judges went down in a line and gave their feedback –  a mixture of advice and questions about the direction each director wanted to take her film. After each judge’s feedback, the director tried to answer questions and accept the helpful feedback.


Each filmmaker had strong subject matter: Thelma’s Sanctity of Sound explored live jazz performance in New York and Berlin, Caitlin investigated capital punishment through the trial and execution of Lisa Ann Coleman in Capital, and Giuliana’s Bento brought viewers to the small town in Brazil that was the site of one of the worst mining disasters in modern history.

While the judges deliberated, spectators were able to ask the finalists’ advice about how to construct a strong trailer and pitch as well as their plans for the future. “This is my future,” Caitlin said. The finalists admitted that the judges commentary was tough but constructive, as they were asked questions about the focus of the film or the marketability of the final product.

When the judges returned, vice-president of Documentary Films HBO Jackie Glover announced the winner: Bento by Giuliana Monteiro. The judges voiced their admiration for the creativity of the angle and the visual poetry Giuliana brought to her pitch.

Without a doubt, the crowd in Docs-in-the-Works wanted to learn. Many were taking notes during the judge’s commentary so they could prepare for when they pitch in the future. Maybe next year we’ll be watching them share their stories.