Helpful Resources for Documentary Filmmakers

Here are some of the resources I've found helpful in financing, structuring, shooting, editing, and selling documentaries. Perhaps you'll find them useful, too.


Essential Reading

The surest way to waste an enormous amount of time and money is to start a project without a clear story structure. The single best book on this topic -- and a must read for documentary filmmakers -- is Documentary Storytelling by Sheila Curran. Of course, the First and Second Testament of Story is still Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey and Robert McKee's Story.

Also very useful for me is the free e-book Documentary Editing, which you can get from Karen Everette here. It was extremely helpful when editing my film, The Russian Woodpecker.

This presentation on documentary storytelling may also be useful -- it shares lessons I learned while making my film The Russian Woodpecker.

Essential Viewing

Everyone has their favorite documentary films. Here are a list of a few of mine, focusing on those that use classic story structure to tell unforgettable character-driven stories.

  • American Movie

  • The King of Kong

  • Burden of Dreams

  • When We Were Kings

  • Sherman's March

  • The Overnighters

  • Minding the Gap

My favorite 20 documentaries are here: Top 20 Character-Driven Documentaries 


When we were kings.jpg

GraciaFilms CEO Chad Gracia accepting 2015 Sundance Grand Jury Prize for International Documentary.

GraciaFilms CEO Chad Gracia accepting 2015 Sundance Grand Jury Prize for International Documentary.

Essential Festivals

Where to premiere your film and how to develop a festival strategy is a time-consuming job, but should start with the preliminary question: what is your goal? Festivals play the role of finding buyers and distributors, allow you to network and gain inspiration from your colleagues, and most important, show and watch your film as it was likely intended: to a rapt audience in a theater full of cinephiles like us.

Some of the best festivals offer much more, like local wine & food at Biografilm Festival in Bologna, a chance to meet luminaries at Sundance, or an opportunity to visit Chernobyl and a planned Soviet utopia-city at 86 Festival. Here is a list of festivals I focused on for The Russian Woodpecker. It may be outdated, but hopefully of some value (feel free to comment if you have updated info and I’ll add it to the list).

  • Festivals Dedicated Exclusively to Documentary Film - Wikipedia List

  • Festivals that Include Documentary Sections - POV List

  • Best Festivals to Target Internationally - List

  • Five Great Film Festivals for Short Documentaries - The Beat's List


Essential Fundraising & Financing Tips


More to come...

Fun Stuff

Inspiring Stories, Poetically Told