Lights, Camera, Action

“That’s a wrap!”

For many, those three words represent the glitzy world that is Hollywood, but filmmaking, especially documentary filmmaking, is far from glamorous. In fact, it can be a lonely and isolating process, which is why two documentary filmmakers Erica Ginsberg and Adele Schmidt put their heads together to create the Silver Spring-based nonprofit Docs in Progress.

Since 2004, Docs in Progress has provided a community, where documentary filmmakers can connect with and receive feedback from other documentary filmmakers. Additionally, it provides them with the tools they need to tell stories that educate, inspire, and transform the way people view their world, according to its website.

Filmmakers learn about effective interviewing processes./ Photo courtesy of Docs in Progress

Filmmakers learn about effective interviewing processes./Photo courtesy of Docs in Progress

“We’re really focused on helping to build the next generation of documentary filmmakers,” Ginsberg said. “We want to help them make the best films possible. It’s about giving individuals the tools to tell stories through documentary films because they can be powerful in telling real-life stories and helping to foster change.”

Hands on Learning

Docs in Progress continues to capture the attention of those within the D.C. area and beyond because it offers a rich array of programs, along with a supportive and nurturing environment for new and experienced filmmakers. No idea is too big or small when you step foot into this nonprofit.

From classes to workshops to consultations and networking events, Docs in Progress has endless opportunities for local filmmakers – 50 programs a year, to be exact. But, according to Ginsberg, the heart of the organization lies within the public screenings that take place a couple times a month.

“We usually show one short documentary and one longer feature-length documentary that are almost finished to an audience of 30 to 50 people, which may include other filmmakers or non-filmmakers who are just interested in the topic of the film,” she said. “Afterward, we have a facilitated discussion where the audience asks questions. The filmmakers don’t speak much at all; they listen to the feedback and comments.”

Docs in Progress provides summer youth campsfellowships, and internships for emerging filmmakers so they can gain real, hands-on experience in the production world. For freelance graphic designer Monica Sanjur, an internship at Docs in Progress was a way to explore filmmaking without going back to college. 

“The fact that they are growing a community through film appealed to me,” Sanjur said. “After attending a couple events and seeing how there was a variety of ideas and age groups, I felt very comfortable. Through the years, I’ve found some really supportive people. I’ve worked at a lot of nonprofits, but I find that Docs in Progress has a true community feel.”

A three-month-long internship led to three years and counting of Sanjur volunteering for the organization. Her responsibilities include creating promotional and marketing materials, helping to set up for various events, and making phone calls for fundraising efforts.

“Being able to provide marketing materials that allow more people to know about the organization is rewarding,” Sanjur said. “Seeing the community grow is very exciting to watch.”

The seventh annual Docs in Progress Community Stories festival will take place on November 8-13, where short documentaries by first-time filmmakers, who’ve also taken the organization’s classes, are showcased over a nearly week-long period. 

On April 15-17, Docs in Progress will hold its first-ever Doc Around the Clock event, which is a two-day documentary filmmaking competition open to all that want to participate.

“Everyone will be working in teams, so it’ll be a great way to meet other filmmakers and see what you can actually push yourself to do in two days,” Ginsberg said. “Then, we’re going to have a public event on May 3, where we show the best of the best.”

Beyond the Organization

In this day and age, most of us have easy access to the tools of making films. Essentially, anybody who has a smart phone with a camera can make a video. Docs in Progress, however, focuses on how people can use those tools in the most effective way and develop their storytelling skills. 

“What’s the best way of telling your story? Who’s your audience? What’s the best way to get your story out there? Those three things are very central to all of our programs,” Ginsberg said. 

Docs in Progress thrives on the support of several sponsors, including National Endowment for the Arts, Maryland State Arts Council, and The William and Karen Tell Foundation, among others. 

Documentary films shed light on social issues that some in society would rather turn a blind eye to, such as human trafficking, mental illness and bullying. There are countless stories waiting to be told and without storytellers to share them, most would never see the light of day. Documentaries matter because they help us better understand our world and the people living in it.

“Sometimes for arts organizations, it’s much harder to sell the good we’re doing because we’re different from an organization that helps the homeless or underserved kids,” Ginsberg said. What’s beautiful about what we do is that by helping filmmakers, we can help them tell stories that will serve all of these causes. So, in a sense, it’s actually strengthening the do-gooding that goes on more broadly beyond just our organization.”

About the Author: Princess Gabbara is a Michigan-based journalist whose work has appeared on,,, Huffington Post Women, Sesi Magazine and many others. You can read more of her work on her blog. She also tweets @PrincessGabbara.