Our America: Documentaries in Dialogue
Our America: Documentaries in Dialogue, now in its sixth year, was established by American Documentary | POV in the aftermath of the 2016 US election in order to support regional PBS stations and their viewers in finding common ground in an ever changing social, economic, and political landscape.
In this vein, the initiative’s aim is to aid in amplifying local community voices, and to foster conversation between viewers of different cultural backgrounds. Participating stations and community groups each receive up to $10,000 to support their event, exclusive digital access to POV films, and community and educational resources that can support virtual screenings, marketing and workshops.
Our America is made possible with the generous support of the Open Society Foundations.
This year's six grantees are education-focused organizations serving adults with lower incomes at The Clemente Course in Humanities and currently and formerly incarcerated people at From Prison Cells to PhD; second year grantee Doc Savannah; Found Sound Nation, which uses music to connect people globally; and PBS station partners Georgia Public Broadcasting andPrairie Public Broadcasting, the program's first partner to reach public media audiences in North Dakota, northwestern Minnesota, as well as parts of Montana and South Dakota.
The Clemente Course in Humanities provides a transformative educational experience for adults facing economic hardship and adverse circumstances. Clemente's free college humanities courses empower students to further their education and careers, become effective advocates for themselves and their families, and engage actively in the cultural and political lives of their communities. Clemente is based on the conviction that by studying the humanities, individuals who have been denied access to economic, cultural and social opportunities develop the critical, reflective and creative skills that empower them to work effectively toward improving their own lives and those of their families and communities. Clemente has selected Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust.
Doc Savannah aims to serve nonfiction filmmakers and the communities of the Coastal Empire and the Low Country in Georgia and South Carolina as a resource to inform, entertain, enrich and inspire change through documentary film. They are an inclusive collective of artists working to support the future of the documentary storytelling form and build a network of nonfiction filmmakers in the South. Doc Savannah has selected The Last Out, Let the Little Light Shine, and I Didn't See You There.
Found Sound Nation (FSN) is a creative agency that uses music-making to connect people across cultural and societal divides. It believes that collaborative music creation is a deeply effective way to become aware of the beauty, trauma, and hidden potential in our communities. Its work emphasizes a mobile approach to creating and producing music, combining traditions of musique concréte, hip hop, audio journalism, and contemporary composition. Found Sound Nation has selected Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust, Winter's Yearning, Faya Dayi, and Delikado.
Georgia Public Broadcasting has a mission to create, produce and distribute high quality programs and services that educate, inform and entertain its audiences and enrich the quality of their lives. As one of the largest PBS stations in the nation, GPB has been creating content worth sharing for over 60 years. With nine television stations, 19 radio stations and multi-faceted digital and education divisions, GPB strives to educate, entertain and enrich the lives of our viewers and listeners with programming that includes statewide radio news, current affairs, high school sports, educational resources for teachers and students and enlightening programs about our state like "Georgia Outdoors," "Political Rewind" and more. Georgia Public Broadcasting has selected Love & Stuff, Accepted, and Let the Little Light Shine.
Prairie Public Broadcasting provides quality radio, television, and public media services that educate, involve, and inspire the people of the prairie region. It offers a window on the world through national and regional television and radio programming; creates a forum for the most important issues facing our region with locally produced, topical programming; partners with others to foster education for all ages; and utilizes digital technology and web services to expand those valued services. Prairie Public Broadcasting has selected Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust and Let the Little Light Shine.
From Prison Cells to PhD provides mentoring and educational counseling to currently and formerly incarcerated men and women so that they may position themselves to start building their career as opposed to obtaining temporary employment. Their mission is to help inspire others with similar backgrounds to excel beyond what society and life circumstances have set to be the norm. From Prison Cells to PhD has selected The Neutral Ground, Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust, and Let the Little Light Shine.
We are pleased to announce the partners for 'Our America: Documentaries in Dialogue' 2021:
For a generation, POV has championed accessibility and audience engagement in partnership with educators, community leaders and local stations. In 2020, the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic physically cut off from in-person connection as public spaces and events have shut down to “flatten the curve.” Thousands of our partners including PBS stations, libraries and local media centers could no longer host in-person events that uniquely serve their communities. In addition, we are witnessing a historic moment of national uprisings and community-led calls for social change. Innovative and inclusive ways to stay connected are more critical than ever, although our own work is not immune to this pandemic. We continue to reflect on ways to be both responsive and responsible in our engagement efforts.
Rural Stories: Portraits & Dreams
With support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, POV partnered with PBS stations to amplify rural voices and engage audiences throughout Appalachia and beyond. In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, we heard first-hand about challenges that stations faced in the transition to remote operations while doubling down on the need for meaningful community engagement. After receiving interest from nearly a dozen stations, we selected the following partners:
- WSKG (Western New York)
- WOUB (Athens, Ohio)
- Blue Ridge PBS (Roanoke, Virginia)
- KET (Kentucky)
- WTCI (Tennesse)
Inspired by the film Portraits and Dreams, our PBS station partners worked with local organizers, artists, and educators to foster conversation in their communities to reframe narratives about rural life. One of the most important shifts during this time was reimagining public programs when large-scale public gatherings are not possible. We are proud of the creative ways our station partners rose to the challenge. Some highlights include:
- In high school classrooms in western New York, WSKG utilized POV’s educational resources to create their own lesson plans that challenge students to explore representation through photography. View adapted lesson plan.
- WOUB in Athens, Ohio worked with high schools in their region to give students media training and resources to create their own short films, with plans to expand their teacher development project throughout the state. Read project summary.
- Blue Ridge PBS used virtual platforms to engage audiences and college students in the southwestern corner of Virginia to discuss representation in rural Appalachia and launched a photo contest called “Moments in Time: What is Home?” View photo contest.
- Kentucky Educational Television launched a summer “Portraits and Dreams” photo contest for K-12 students and partnered with local photographers and filmmakers to offer virtual media workshops. View photo contest and winners.
- WTCI collaborated with community organizers and artist collectives in the greater Chattanooga area to create a virtual participatory artmaking experience “Outside World: Inside Worth” for communities to reflect on their stories around art and identity.
Activism Onscreen: The Infiltrators & Whose Streets?
In 2020, we also witnessed social unrest and global protests in response to the murder of George Floyd. A new generation was coming into its political consciousness through demonstrations that ranged from social media to the streets. Several of our partners used this moment to spark dialogue through documentaries that centered BIPOC organizers standing up to injustice in their own communities.
New Filmmakers of Los Angeles (NFMLA) partnered with Metro Sessions to host a free screening and discussion of Whose Streets? in August 2020. Hosted on Twitch, the event was designed as a space for self-education into issues facing people of color, further participants’ self-education, and open inclusive discussion that encourages inquiry and advocacy. In addition, NFMLA engaged with faculty, staff, students, and community partners such as nonprofit organizations, elected officials, and industry professionals to populate three public-facing programs around the film The Infiltrators, including over 40 official program partners. Cumulatively, the program reach was over 300,000 through partner newsletters and social media. These events included:
- POV and NFMLA Present: Supporting Latinx Voices on October 7, 2020 at 7pm PT. This event was moderated by LALIFF Artistic Director Diana Cadavid and introduced by HFPA Board Chair and journalist Meher Tatna. It received 1958 views and 259 registrations and was promoted by 19 partner organizations.
- POV and NFMLA Present: Participatory Media Production Panel on October 8, 2020 at 1pm PT. This event was moderated by NY Times and LA Times journalist Carlos Aguilar and introduced by HFPA member, journalist, and film programmer Silvia Bizio. It received 404 views and 46 registrations and was promoted by 11 schools.
- POV and NFMLA Present: Media Production For Social Activism on October 8, 2020 at 4pm PT. This event was moderated by founder of 4C LAB and Inner City Arts educator Marissa Herrera and introduced by HFPA member, journalist, and author Ana Maria Bahiana. It received 652 views and 132 registrations and was promoted by 13 schools and organizations.
2017-2019 Pilot Program
Sponsored by the Open Society Foundations, POV launched “Our America: Documentary in Dialogue” as a response to growing political and regional division in the wake of the 2016 election. The national screening series invited PBS stations to use our catalog of over 200 titles to delve into growing concerns in their communities. The main objective: to expand the mission of public media as a trusted resource for local communities and spark meaningful dialogue through events that serve audiences with different views and backgrounds.During our pilot year, we worked with stations based in America’s heartland: Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska. These Midwestern communities, often far from the national spotlight, selected titles about divisive topics that resonated with their communities, including police militarization, race relations and educational equity. To complement each screening, stations partnered with community organizations to build rich event experiences for attendees including panel discussions that provided a local perspective on the issues presented.
The pilot year was a resounding success, with an overwhelming response that these “community-first” screenings and conversations must continue. Direct funding allowed stations to address local barriers to attendance, like providing childcare or transportation to increase participation. Stations also indicated they would continue working with the local advocacy groups, making it a particular point to note that they found the pilot model both easy to implement and incredibly supportive.While the first year primarily focused on rural and non-coastal communities, we received interest from the broader PBS station network.
Carol Griskavich, Wisconsin Public Television
[T]he main question we fielded from attendees across the demographic spectrum was this: ‘You guys are going to keep doing these, right?’ These events have really made an impact, and hopefully created a model for us statewide.
In 2018, we launched a sister initiative “POV Presents” as a city-focused corollary to “Our America.” In addition to partners in Missouri and Tennessee, we hosted events in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City and expanded the hyper-local model to address challenges distinct to marginalized communities within major cities. We received positive feedback across the board but recognized the two programs caused some among stations and funders, as well as logistical challenges with limited staff capacity.
In 2019, we combined sponsored community screenings under a unified "Our America" umbrella and focused on youth outreach and immigration, especially in areas hit hard by economic divestment and deportations. Teaming up with local nonprofits, we continued to emphasize events that spur action and reflection on issues that mattered to local partners. We increased screenings across the country in states like Arizona and Wisconsin, holding them in schools, with arts programs, and at station headquarters. Our learnings and the relationships built over the past three years have been instrumental in shaping strategic shifts in our approach to engagement and impact activities today.
Pilot Station Partners:
- Arizona PBS (Arizona)
- Nebraska Educational Television (Omaha, NE)
- Nine Network (St. Louis, MO)
- NPT (Nashville, TN)
- PBS SoCal, Los Angeles, CA
- WDCQ (Flint, MI)
- WHUT (Washington, D.C.)
- WHYY (Philadelphia, PA)
- WNET (New York)
- WPT (Madison, WI)
- WTTW (Chicago, IL)
Request For Proposals
Applications for the 2021 cycle are now closed. Please stay tuned for more details on future opportunities.
- Asad Muhammad, VP of Engagement & Impact Strategy
- Robert Salyer, Manager of Outreach & Impact
- Aqiyla Thomas, Former Manager of Community Engagement
- Alice Quinlan, Our America Lead, Year Two
- Erika Howard, Our America Lead, Year One
- Artemis Independent
This program was made possible by a pilot grant from Open Society Foundations. Additional support was provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Hollywood Foreign Press Association Charitable Trust and the Lefkofsky Family Foundation.