Business of Art | Elevate the Art of Storytelling: a Filmmakers Guide to POV

Business of Art | Elevate the Art of Storytelling: a Filmmakers Guide to POV

Filmmakers, explore new possibilities for showcasing powerful stories.

POV, produced by American Documentary Inc., celebrates the creative and boundary-pushing non-fiction work of independent filmmakers throughout the world. Now in its 31st year, POV has expanded its programming to diversify its storytelling, showcasing a breadth of both feature films and short-form nonfiction films that transport audiences into the heart of contemporary issues.

POV strives to support independent filmmakers first. In August 2018, Nikki Heyman, POV’s Coordinating Producer, and Chloe Gbai, Shorts and Streaming Producer, visited NYFA. Together, they shared a behind-the-scenes look at POV’s submission process, their new initiative POV Shorts, and the outreach support POV provides for their filmmakers and audiences through POV Engage. Visit their website for more resources for filmmakers and to learn more about POV’s programming.

When and where is POV screened?

POV is showcased on PBS every summer between June and October and screens 14-16 documentaries each season. Documentaries are also now digitally streamed on POV’s website to reach new audiences.

This year, POV launched POV Shorts, which showcases  8-12 short films in four 30-minute slots.

What is POV’s audience?

POV’s audience is unusual among broadcasters in that it tends to reach audiences of modest and lower incomes, and an unusually high percentage of Black and Hispanic households. The audience is also skewed towards older populations. Each episode is viewed on average by 1,000,000 people in the U.S.

A Call for Entries

POV’s Call for Entries is open year-round and on a rolling basis. It is free to submit a film for consideration. Films can be submitted through their online portal here.

To learn more about whether your film would be a good fit for POV’s programming, read through their eligibility requirements. Here is a list of additional advice they shared to keep in mind before submitting:

  • Films should be one-offs rather than episodic or serial.
  • Films must meet PBS’s underwriting guidelines. Read through them here.
  • Films must be non-fiction in nature and tied to a contemporary issue. Survey films, biopics, and historical documentaries may not be a great fit.
  • Films should be able to fit into a 52, 70, or 82 minutes slot. Short films that are 35 minutes and under are also welcome.
  • Films are recommended to be in a finished or final cut prior to submission. Occasionally, rough cuts are selected for broadcast but often a previous relationship with the filmmaker is required for this decision to be made.

The POV Selection Process

POV’s programming staff, pre-screeners, and an Editorial Committee comprised of non-fiction documentary makers, producers, program directors, etc. are involved in selecting and reviewing each submission carefully. Through discussion, films are carefully considered for their strength in telling a story, aesthetic approach, timeliness, and potential to engage with a community.

  1. Each film is reviewed by two pre-screeners and is rated 1-5.
  2. If a film received a 3, the film will be viewed internally by the POV programming staff. A short list of 25 films will be created.
  3. In October of each year, a group which includes six PBS station programmers and six Editorial Committee members from around the U.S. convene. They are assigned 8-10 films each to review prior to the session, and then discuss and view clips that are significantly representative of the film’s power. A ranked list of top10 films is created.
  4. POV’s full staff discusses these 25 films internally and 14-16 films are determined for the next season’s programming, ultimately by the Executive Producers.


POV licenses exclusive public television rights within the U.S. for a period of 4 years. The license is also typically accompanied by limited digital-streaming rights. All films are acquired with a flat standard acquisition fee.

POV Engage

POV Engage is a built-in tool with a POV contract that helps build audience and community engagement and extend the life of your film past its broadcast.

The team behind POV Engage create:

  • thoughtful discussion guides
  • suggested reading lists
  • curriculum aligned lesson plans

These tools spur conversation in community and educational settings. Additionally, POV facilitates free community screenings within their Community Network which includes educators, community leaders, NGOs, churches, and libraries. Please note that POV is not an educational distributor and this should not interfere with educational distribution revenue.

Knight AmDoc Kickstarter Patron Fund

Live in a community that the Knight Foundation invests in, or are you developing a story about one?

Through a new ongoing opportunity, when you kick-off a Kickstarter campaign for your documentary film or digital storytelling media project, you can receive a financial push from the Knight AmDoc Kickstarter Patron Fund, supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

American Documentary will select a project on a biweekly basis to funnel $1,000-$10,000 into growing your Kickstarter campaign. Learn more about this funding opportunity here.

More about POV

Produced by American Documentary, Inc., POV is public television’s premier showcase for nonfiction films. Since 1988, POV has been the home for the world’s boldest contemporary filmmakers, celebrating intriguing personal stories that spark conversation and inspire action. Always an innovator, POV discovers fresh new voices and creates interactive experiences that shine a light on social issues and elevate the art of storytelling. With documentary broadcasts, original online programming and dynamic community engagement campaigns, POV is committed to supporting films that capture the imagination and present diverse perspectives.

Not a Good Fit for POV?

Check out other PBS broadcasted shows like America Reframed, Independent Lens, and American Masters. Each show provides a varied set of criteria tailored for their specific audiences.

This program was presented by NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship. Are you an artist or a new organization interested in expanding your fundraising capacity through NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship? No-fee applications are accepted on a quarterly basis and our next deadline is September 30. Click here to learn more about the program, current fiscally-sponsored projects, and to apply.

    – Priscilla Son, Program Associate, Fiscal Sponsorship & Finance

    Image: Orphan elephant getting bottle @ Camp Phoenix – 2017 – HD Video – 16×9  – Mirra Bank, No Fear No Favor (Sponsored Project)

    Amy Aronoff
    Posted on:
    Post author