Regardless of whether he’s working in a long or short form, filmmaker Stephen Maing digs in. For his 2012 feature High Tech, Low Life, Maing spent five years trailing two dissident citizen journalists as they reported on censored news throughout mainland China. Subsequent projects saw him tracking the failed mayoral campaign of Christine Quinn in New York City, where the director is based, and exploring the highly charged issues of race and NYPD policing.

According to Maing, it was his work on High Tech, Low Life that led him to collaborate with Laura Poitras and Peter Maass at The Intercept, yielding the short film The Surrender, which debuted on the site in February 2015. The film was released in tandem with Maass’s written investigation “Destroyed by the Espionage Act”; both tackle the story of Stephen Kim, a U.S. State Department expert who was prosecuted and eventually imprisoned for allegedly revealing classified information to a reporter.

As Maing describes in the following interview, he and Maass made trips to Kim’s home in Virginia right up until the morning Kim checked himself into a Maryland prison. With The Release, the filmmaker continues Kim’s saga by documenting his departure from prison 13 months later, finding a man struggling to process what he’s been through and repair his shattered life.

To what degree did your reporting overlap or work in conjunction with Peter Maass’s investigation?

Maing: It’s always nice to be able to compare notes and impressions, and we would walk away with very similar questions as our understanding of Stephen’s story evolved. It was really tense in the beginning because Stephen was quite worried about potential retaliation by the Department of Justice for possibly saying the wrong thing, or coming off as though he was refuting the terms of the plea agreement that he ultimately made. It was a complicated situation, so it was meaningful to be down there with Peter.

How did you make sure that you each got what you needed?

Maing: The two mediums can have very different needs, such as the balance between observation and interview. We would stagger our trips so Stephen Kim could develop a relationship to the camera that was independent of the print reporting.

And we knew there were things we both needed to be present for, which were informing the trajectory of our reporting. The challenge would be trying to show what was going on with him and what he was going through — as opposed to straight telling. A lot of time was spent sitting and talking with Stephen in the kitchen, but a lot of amazing and interesting information would emerge from that — even if the majority of that would actually not be usable for me. It was valuable to be able to establish an independent relationship where I could start to become more of a fly on the wall in his life.

There’s a visual and auditory aspect to what you’re doing, decisions about look and feel that you’re making as a filmmaker that were distinct from what Peter was doing — though he’s got his own set of choices in terms of form. And even between your two films here, you’re making different choices. How did you come to make those choices, and how did they relate to your understanding of Stephen’s experience?

Maing: I went in knowing very little about what to shoot and how to document Stephen. There were so many questions and points of confusion about what happened to him and what to look for when we first walked through that door. But over time, I grew to understand what he was going through in this situation and in his life. The whole range of emotions he was going through started to inform what I looked for, so by the midpoint of shooting the first part, it was really apparent what kinds of scenes we could get out of this information dump that he was giving us.

In passing conversation, he would mention what it feels like to walk through the supermarket and be totally anonymous going through this thing that is destroying his life, the alienation and the suicidal thoughts he was having. And so immediately there was this thought of — if we can, I would like to film him in the supermarket. Weeks later, he mentions that he’ll have a job to go to when he’s released from prison, which would make him eligible for early release. And so that was another situation I could ask to be present for. Just by the nature of this process of long-form filmmaking, the more time we spend with people, the more we understand how to document what they’re going through.

I love that you’re talking about strategies of long-form filmmaking even though this is a short film. This kind of approach still took an investment of time and the development of a relationship to shape it into the story you wanted to tell. It wasn’t the five years you spent on your feature, but it was showing up and listening, building trust.

Maing: I’m always amazed by the process of long-form filmmaking, even if it is for a short film. For this piece, Stephen really was a slow burn. It took a long time to acclimate him to the idea of being documented — even though in some ways, he was desperate to get his story out. The nice thing about the long days and months spent making long-form docs is that as Stephen acclimated to the camera, I think it also became an open — sometimes even cathartic — space for him to begin to unpack and express some of his feelings. Whenever we have the opportunity to really dig in and establish a relationship with a subject, the sense of what to look for becomes more acute. I don’t think that it would have been possible to just go down for five or six days and do this piece. It was around 25 days of filming, and it was important to spend that kind of time.

What was it like to film with him again after he’d been in prison? He seems changed, and the second film you made with him is different as well.

Maing: It felt really great to see him, to see that he hadn’t lost his sense of humor and was still able to talk with perspective. But I was also really moved, and kind of blow away that he had gone through that whole experience and was now living in the basement of an old couple’s house — they’d generously allowed him to stay while he gets his life together.

There’s a getting-into-his-point-of-view element that’s really interesting here, both in a contemplative visual approach and the interpolated, emotionally accumulating voiceover. They’re such strong aesthetic choices, and they’re a departure from the choices you made in the first film. How did you come upon that?

Maing: Unlike Part 1, Part 2 was able to unfold without this contextual burden of establishing what had happened to him, what the circumstances were. Presumably, people arriving at this second part already got a strong sense that this was an individual who had been very harshly prosecuted under the Espionage Act, considering that he didn’t engage in any kind of wartime spying activity for which the Espionage Act was initially designed.

Instead, we had the luxury to really live inside his mind and get into some of the details of what it was like to get through prison. He told us he kept a daily journal of everything that happened to him, and received a tremendous number of letters and cards from people who had followed his case and were generally worried about him. As he went through this writing and correspondence for the first time since leaving prison, it immediately took him back. I could hear it in his voice — there would be these long pauses between one page and the next, or from one card to the next. I didn’t know what the structure of the second part would be until I saw him handling these cards and letters, and it’s quite a gift to a filmmaker when a subject is triggered by something so powerful.

To what degree does Stephen’s specific story represent larger issues of government overreach and the quashing of critical discourse?

Maing: I think it’s very much about power and legitimacy. Stephen Kim is among the growing list of mid-level government employees like Thomas Drake, Jeffrey Sterling, and Chelsea Manning targeted by the Espionage Act for challenging the government. We see how vulnerable individuals become when an administration’s policy or messaging is threatened.

Stephen Kim happened to have serious national security concerns about our policy toward North Korea, but he didn’t have the political clout to protect himself. It’s crazy to see how others with deep connections like Gen. Petraeus have gotten off so lightly considering the magnitude of his national security violations. Or how relatively unscathed Hillary Clinton has been despite her blithe mishandling of classified information. So I do think Stephen Kim’s story is a direct reminder of larger issues at play. It’s a reminder that we exist in a governed society that may resemble the idea of a democracy with rule of law — until you cross the line.

How do you balance tackling those larger issues and forces with honoring the specifics and complications of your subject? Is it something largely navigated in the editing, or was it present whenever you spent time with or spoke to Stephen?

Maing: It’s very hard for me to imagine going through what he has — to become radioactive to almost everyone you know and thought of as a criminal. I thought a lot about how to mitigate this presumption of guilt that simply came with the Espionage Act charges he fought. It didn’t help that circumstantially Stephen seemed to have made some mistakes, most notably in trusting James Rosen. But being guilty of a serious felony and being accountable for perhaps a significant lapse in judgment are two radically different things.

To neutralize this presumption of guilt, it was important to humanize Stephen’s story. And instead of making a film that attempted to re-litigate his case and innocence to viewers, I thought it would be important to give a window into his personality and world view, and raise larger questions about the extreme nature of the Espionage Act charges. Being a short film, it was also more realistic and powerful if we could try to just activate some of those questions: Why are some convicted and others aren’t under the Espionage Act? Was Stephen’s prosecution meant to correct a great breach of national security or maybe just to send a message about the consequences when government officials choose to speak to the press?

We started by talking about how you moved from your feature on Chinese journalists to this American domestic narrative. Looking back, how much overlap do you see between the two?

Maing: High Tech, Low Life was about the risks of speaking truth to power — these two scrappy citizen journalists pushing up against a powerful censorship apparatus that targets individuals and media alike. The guys in the film would talk about how in China, political legitimacy for the government was very much about social control and squashing competing narratives. So, it’s unfortunate to say, there probably are some parallels to be drawn.

But for me, this project was about trying to get at something more intimate. There’s a line by James Baldwin that I think Stephen once quoted that goes, “People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them.” For me, that perfectly captures the power of visual journalism to help us unpack both what is sublime and immensely personal about history and struggle. To think, after all he accomplished as a young immigrant to this country, a gifted student of history and literature, and one of our rising stars in the intelligence community, that he would ultimately choose to go back to South Korea and leave this place he once loved and sought to protect. The takeaway is maybe that it’s not just Stephen’s story — it’s our history too.

Related:

IF/Then Shorts, in partnership with Hulu Documentary Films calls short-documentary filmmakers based in North America to take part in the Inaugural IF/Then x Hulu Short Documentary Lab. This lab will channel Hulu and IF/Then’s shared vision of creating a new pipeline of diverse talent and incubating strong voices who will be the next class of non-fiction storytellers.

Program Details:

Four filmmaking teams will be chosen to participate in a one-year lab focused on short-documentary production and career training. For the first six months, filmmakers will be individually mentored through production by IF/Then staff and take part in monthly virtual cohort trainings, consisting of keynotes from industry heavy-hitters and edit consultations. Upon rough cut of their projects, filmmakers will be invited to debut their works-in-progress to an invitation-only audience and receive feedback. For the remainder of the program, filmmakers will finalize their cuts and receive high-level festival and distribution strategy consultations, along with guidance creating their publicity materials, and pro-bono legal support. Hulu will have the right to review the projects for potential acquisition or further development.

Each team will receive a $25,000 grant to use for the production of their film.

This opportunity will be open to individuals living in/from North America, with an emphasis on Black and/or Indigenous filmmakers, people of color, women, LGBTQ+, recent immigrants, and individuals who identify as having a disability. We will welcome any and all stories from underrepresented voices, with a strong preference around subjects related to gender, the LGTBQ community or issues unique to the BIPOC community.

Project Eligibility:

  • In addition to the identity eligibility of the maker and the theme, eligible IF/Then Shorts projects must meet the following criteria:
  • Be an original short documentary with a final duration of 10-20 minutes
  • Be completed within six to nine months of receiving the IF/Then Shorts grant
  • Be factually accurate, follow best practices in documentary ethics, and be designed for a U.S. audience
  • Be driven by (a) compelling character(s), with access to the character(s) secured
  • Be presented in English or subtitled in English
  • Have no prior distribution attached and be able to participate in the IF/Then Shorts distribution initiative
  • All stories and storytellers coming from countries and territories in North America. This includes the United States and its territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, US Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa,) Canada, Greenland, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Venezuela, and countries in the Caribbean: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, The Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, US Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Clipperton Island, Cuba, Curacao, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, Saba, St. Andres and Providencia, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten, Trinidad and Tobago, and Turks and Caicos Islands.

KEY DATES:

The application portal will open on January 15, 2021 and close at 11:59pm EST on Feb 15th.

  • January 15, 2021: Open call for IF/Then x Hulu Short Documentary Lab
  • March 31, 2021: Finalists announced
  • April 5, 2021: Virtual Program Kickoff

APPLY:

Submissions are now closed.

Please direct any questions regarding this application to ifthenshorts@fieldofvision.org

Starting July 22, IF/Then Shorts has a new home at Field of Vision. Joining Field of Vision will be IF/Then Shorts Program Director Chloe Gbai and Supervising Producer Caitlin Mae Burke. Founded in 2017 with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, IF/Then Shorts is a fund and mentorship program that supports storytellers in breaking barriers to access, exposure, and sustainability in the media landscape. IF/Then works with creators who experience inequity based on factors such as race, gender, class, sexuality, ability, ethnicity, age, citizenship, and/or geography.

IF/Then Shorts taps into the need for broader geographical representation in the stories that get told through its regional pitch events. It holistically supports short documentary storytellers in their creation of compelling, character-led, community-inspired stories that embody the breadth and diversity of the people and places they represent.

The program addresses the imbalance of representation, perspective, power, compensation, and career longevity among independent filmmakers and media artists. IF/Then Shorts leverages access, expertise, network, and brand to address these challenges. Through grants, mentorship, industry connections, and professional development, IF/Then Shorts helps to ensure that storytellers from a multitude of backgrounds have access to the resources and tools they need to tell their stories, connect with audiences, and thrive in their careers. IF/Then Shorts was previously part of the Tribeca Film Institute, which is planning to pause operations indefinitely in September. "IF/Then Shorts is an incredible program, and one that’s vital to the field," said Charlotte Cook, Field of Vision's Co-Founder and Executive Producer. "We’re so glad that they can find their new home with Field of Vision. The program’s values align perfectly with Field of Vision, and further our overall commitment to shorts and advocating for filmmakers. Chloe and Caitlin are phenomenal, and I feel so lucky that they’ll be joining our team."

IF/Then Program Director Chloe Gbai said of the move: "We’re so excited that thanks to the MacArthur Foundation and Field of Vision we can keep this funding and development pipeline open to diverse, creative nonfiction talent past TFI’s pause this September. This program will have a new life and is ready to uplift the voices that we need to champion during these interesting times."

Supervising Producer Caitlin Mae Burke added: "As a former Field of Vision filmmaker myself, I know how beneficial it is to work with these trailblazers in the short documentary space. I'm overjoyed that all of our active projects and future supported filmmakers will benefit so immensely from this move, and we look forward to the tremendous growth potential for IF/Then possible under the Field of Vision umbrella." IF/Then is currently holding an open call for the North Shorts Grant and Fellowship, in partnership with Points North Institute, The Screening Room, Jigsaw Productions, and the LEF Foundation, for regional filmmakers in the American Northeast. About Chloe Gbai Chloe Gbai is the Director of IF/Then Shorts. Previously, as the POV Shorts and Streaming Producer, she launched POV Shorts, which earned POV its third documentary short Oscar® nomination, two News & Doc Emmy nominations and an IDA Awards nomination for Best Short Form Series.  She has previously worked at Teen Vogue and Viacom, as well as served on review panels and juries for the National Endowment for the Arts, Sheffield Doc/Fest, ITVS, IDA Awards, Black Public Media, Creative Capital, and various other film organizations. She is a member of Brown Girls Doc Mafia and a member-in-residence of the Meerkat Media Collective.

About Caitlin Mae Burke Caitlin Mae Burke is an Emmy-winning producer. Her films have screened and won awards at top tier festivals including Sundance, Berlinale, and Tribeca Film Festival and have been broadcast across the US and around the world. Her work has screened at MoMA, The Museum of the Moving Image, and in movie theaters internationally. She is an inaugural inductee to DOC NYC's "40 Under 40" and alumna of Berlinale Talents. IF/Then currently has funding opportunities available for filmmakers. Please find more information here.

Field of Vision has partnered with Doc Society and Sundance Institute to launch Independent Documentary: Filming in the Time of Corona, a new Risk Assessment Guide for independent documentary filmmakers who are considering starting or resuming production during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

Many filmmakers are asking themselves — and others in the documentary field — the big question: Should I be filming at all?

As our field discusses and debates this particular question — and its ethical and and public health implications — Field of Vision, Doc Society, Sundance Institute, and our co-signatories are offering a “living document” that provides guidelines, a checklist, and questions for independent documentary film teams to ask themselves, each other and their partners. It is our hope that this guide will help filmmakers make informed decisions and help keep everyone safe.

We’d like to acknowledge our gratitude to all of the the co-signatories of the Risk Assessment Guide, who helped consult on, and improve the guide: Asian American Documentary Network (ADoc), Asociación de Documentalistas de Puerto Rico (ADocPR), ACOS (A Culture Of Safety) Alliance, Ambulante, American Documentary/POV, Black Public Media, Brown Girls Doc Mafia, Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), Chicken & Egg, DOCUBOX, Impact Partners, Indian Documentary Foundation, Latino Public Broadcasting, National Association of Latino Producers (NALIP), Pacific Islanders in Communications, Perspective Fund, Scottish Documentary Institute, Topic, Vision Maker Media: Native Stories for Public Broadcasting, and others.

This is a rapidly changing situation as well as a long-term reality. Those of us in the documentary field will need to be mindful, flexible, and diligent as our risk assessment continues to evolve in order to keep not only our community safe but also the communities we collaborate with in the stories we tell. This new normal is unprecedented, but our documentary community is nothing if not committed to responding to this profoundly unique situation.

The guide will be updated as the situation develops and as we receive additional feedback from filmmakers and support organizations.

The final round of funding is now closed.

For this final round of funding, we will continue prioritizing providing support to filmmakers of color and filmmakers from other marginalized communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Field of Vision and Topic Studios have created a $250,000 fund to provide grants for freelancers working in the Documentary field. The fund will distribute unrestricted grants of up to $2000 to support personal financial needs during the COVID19 pandemic to freelancers who have experienced hardship from loss of income or opportunity as a result of the pandemic

Dates and Deadlines

April

The fund will be open for applications from Wed April 8th from 9am ET until Friday April 10th at 6pm ET or until we reach 1,000 applications. You can find the link to the application at the bottom of this page.

May

The fund will be open for applications from May 6th from 9am ET until May 8th at 6pm ET or until we reach 750 applications.

Notification of grant approval will be within 20 days of the fund closing, and payments will be processed within 30 days of notification of a grant. June The fund will be open for a final round of applications from June 10th from 9am ET until June 12th at 6pm ET or until we reach 500 applications.


Criteria

Be able to demonstrate work as a freelancer within the documentary field in roles such as:

- Directors - Producers (This includes Associate Producers) - DPs - Editors - Sound Recordists/Designers - Researchers - Assistants - Critics & Writers who have covered documentaries - Publicists

Other freelance roles will be accepted if they meet the rest of the criteria

Provide a link (examples - IMDB page, Film Review, Direct link to project) that shows professional work in the field.

The fund is eligible for artists internationally, however you must be able to receive funding electronically (we are not able to issue checks), and priority will be given to countries and regions of which there isn’t government freelance assistance that you are eligible for. If you have not been eligible for government assistance, please state that in your application.

Students who are currently enrolled are not eligible.

People who are currently in employment are not eligible.

Please note: We have made every effort to reduce the amount of information, paperwork and requirements for funding and have tried to make the fund as open and accessible as possible. We are largely operating on a trust-based system and really urge you to work with us on being able to maintain this. It’s extremely important to us to be able to get funding to the freelancers that need it the most. Please answer all questions thoroughly and accurately so that we can ensure the funds are allocated to help as many people in need as possible.


Information Needed:

- Demonstrated professional work within the field - Usual income source - Description of situation - Maximum amount requested - Minimum amount requested - What the funding would be used for - Location

Please note: It’s important to include a maximum and minimum amount requested. Also, please note that grants may be taxable as income under the law that applies to you. We will issue Form 1099s for grants of more than $600.


The Process

As always, it is important to us that filmmakers lead how we operate and respond, and so the process will begin with a blind review of applications by a panel of filmmakers and producers, with a simultaneous review by the Field of Vision and Topic Studios teams. Those recommendations will then provide the recommended list for funding, which will then be reviewed once more before contacting the fund recipients.

We will only be contacting those who have been allocated funding.

On receipt of the grant acceptance please expect up to 30 days to receive payment. In order to issue the grants we will need a W-9 or W8-BEN tax form and an invoice which includes wire transfer details.

UPDATE: Our first 200 meeting slots have been booked. However, you can still sign up for the waitlist at the links below as we work to add additional appointment times. Coming this spring, the Field of Vision team will again offer a virtual "office hours" service for the documentary community. As we’re in a moment of uncertainty, we want to make ourselves available to filmmakers in any way we can. We understand that the industry is experiencing a lot of upheaval, and that this is a particularly difficult time for freelancers and people working independently.

We will be allocating time every weekday to have video meetings and calls. We’ll be prioritizing filmmakers who’ve been affected by festival postponements and production changes, but will also be available to offer a range of mentorship and consultation around a variety of areas.

At Field of Vision we like filmmakers to lead and improve how we work. We were inspired by Jeanie Finlay, who has opened her time to mentoring after an upcoming film shoot had to be cancelled. Jeanie is working on a new film that we’re extremely honoured to be supporting. 

We are a small team and will try our best to make ourselves available to as many filmmakers and producers as possible. If any other members of our community would also like to donate their time, we are happy to facilitate this as well, so please feel free to reach out to us.

The areas which we would like to offer consultation on are below: 

  • General mentorship
  • Feedback on proposals and grant applications
  • Project Development
  • Online Distribution
  • Digital Engagement
  • Partnerships
  • Pitch Training
  • Editing
  • Technology & Digital Security
  • Distribution
  • Editorial Feedback
  • Festival Strategy
  • Career Guidance

This is not just open to filmmakers wanting to submit work for us to review, or filmmakers we have worked with before. If you feel you would benefit from time with our team on any project you’re working on please feel free to reach out. There are more details on how to take part below.

HOW TO SIGN UP

Meetings

If you would like to have a virtual meeting about any of the above, please follow this link to book a time: https://bit.ly/waitlist-fov-virtual-consult

(We will also be adapting to demand, and will create a waitlist, and/or increase availability if needed.)

Submissions & Pitches

While we are still managing and prioritizing our regular submissions system, we would also like to make time for project and pitch meetings.

To sign up for a pitch meeting with us, please make sure you have submitted through our system prior to the meeting, using the link below:  fieldofvision.org/submit

Once you have submitted through our submissions form, please sign up for a meeting slot here. NB: We won’t be able to take any meetings around potential projects until you’ve submitted through the system. If you’re not ready to discuss a specific project, or are looking for more general advice, please use the first form.

Please bear with us as we begin rolling out our virtual office hours service. This initiative came together very quickly, so there may be hiccups. We just wanted to offer something to start. 

As we navigate these uncertain times, what is certain is that we are a strong community of creatives and storytellers. We have shown time and again how resourceful we are, how dedicated we are to our craft, art form and field, and how supportive we can be of each other. 

Please stay safe everyone, The Field of Vision Team

Shorts

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Utuqaq (27 min.)

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The Hour of Lynching (19 min.)

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Simon Wood and François Verster

The Trial (15 min.)

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Crooked Lines (11 min.)

Monica Berra, Yoruba Richen and Jacqueline Olive

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Anna Giralt Gris and Ross Domoney

CamperForce (16 min.)

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Our 100 Days 7/7

American Carnage (9 min.)

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The Town I Live In (10 min.)

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Captured in Sudan (28 min.)

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Timberline (12 min.)

Elaine McMillion Sheldon

Duterte’s Hell (8 min.)

Aaron Goodman and Luis Liwanag

Conditioned Response (6 min.)

Craig Atkinson and Laura Hartrick

Our 100 Days 4/7

Here I’ll Stay (10 min.)

Lorena Manríquez and Marlene McCurtis

Our 100 Days 3/7

An Uncertain Future (11 min.)

Chelsea Hernandez and Iliana Sosa

Our 100 Days 1/7

An Act of Worship (9 min.)

Sofian Khan and Nausheen Dadabhoy

The Moderators (20 min.)

Adrian Chen and Ciaran Cassidy

Clowns (7 min.)

Alex Kliment, Dana O'Keefe and Mike Tucker

Project X (10 min.)

Laura Poitras and Henrik Moltke

Hopewell (3 min.)

Lorena Manríquez

The Vote (12 min.)

Mila Aung-Thwin and Van Royko

Like (9 min.)

Garrett Bradley

Concerned Student 1950 (32 min.)

Adam Dietrich, Varun Bajaj and Kellan Marvin

Peace in the Valley (15 min.)

Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher

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Arabian Street Artists Heba Y. Amin, Caram Kapp and Don Karl aka Stone

#ThisIsACoup 4/4

Surrender or Die (16 min.)

Theopi Skarlatos and Paul Mason

Eric & “Anna” (14 min.)

Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway

Birdie (14 min.)

Heloisa Passos

The Above (8 min.)

Kirsten Johnson