ML: Following the program, what drove you to the next phase of your career and how did you break into the field?
RC: As I was finishing up my dissertation and thinking about the next stage of my career, I did a lot of soul searching. Many different life events hit right around the time I was finishing my dissertation. Life happens, right?... Well, enough things happened in ways that made me take stock and reassess. I was actually very happy to be in the classroom. Where I had been teaching, I had the opportunity to design my own syllabi for courses on the anthropology the senses as well as for classes on religion & media. Basically, I was teaching in my field and quite enjoyed it.
But I had other constraints to consider, including geography–so it wasn’t just the pursuit of curiosity that factored in as I weighed the possibilities of which career I could pursue with all of my training. That’s when I really benefited from being able to keep one foot in the door of the film industry as I worked on my doctorate. After I made my Culture and Media film (Nothing to Lose), I line produced other narrative projects that had gone on the festival circuit. My very first pitch session that I attended as a student, my fellow “co-pitchee” was [Culture & Media graduate] Rachel Lears. We pitched at Silverdocs to a panel that included Yance Ford and Cynthia Lopez, who at the time were both associated with American Documentary, where I am now currently the Coordinating Producer of America ReFramed. As it turns out, in 2020 I went back as a panelist at the DX festival that, like Silverdocs, was under the directorship of [Culture & Media graduate] Sky Sitney. So, it was a very satisfying full circle over a decade later.
Anyhow, I had always tried to keep a foot in that world, and it was actually through a random social media post by somebody in the industry about an opening at American Documentary that led me to take a closer look. I realized that many of the documentary films that I taught with in my own classroom were also films that American Documentary had broadcast to public television viewers through their curated series: POV [https://www.amdoc.org/pov/] and America ReFramed. I was like, wow, there's actually an organization that is committed to amplifying the voices of independent filmmakers by providing their work access to public media viewers. The series that American Documentary produces showcases the work of filmmakers from both around the country and around the world on American airwaves. So, I was thrilled to join the team and help shape the curation and production of America ReFramed.
You’ll see a recurring theme of my assessing opportunities and going, “Yes, that's what I want.” At each point that I made the decision, it was always informed by my own curiosity about what the new opportunity might bring and how I might be able to make an impact with the training that I had under my belt. Also, for me to have gotten to where I am – I know that many people have opened doors for me, shared opportunities for me, and pointed me in directions of places where I might want to look. I wouldn't be here without those who were very gracious and generous to me with their time, experience, and networks. That’s something that I try to pay forward, as well. Increasingly, I also wonder how I might shape the circumstances that I’m in so that it can become more hospitable for those who come after me.
ML: Those are the hardest questions to ask oneself.
RC: Yeah. They are the hardest questions because it's so much easier not to have to ask them. But I also think that by not asking them there runs a risk reproducing processes and practices that we may not want to be a part of–or that I definitely wouldn’t want to see proliferate. The questions that we’re taught to ask as anthropologists are relevant to a range of industries, like “What are the relationships of power? How does consent operate? What’s going on?” This stance is fundamental to how anthropologists do their work, and I think I bring that with me as I move into the responsibilities that I have in shaping a national series. In terms of program curation, outreach with filmmakers, selection of our community engagement partners, either within public media or with artist services programs, we think very carefully about which projects we move forward and how we might be able to support our filmmakers even if perhaps our series may not be the best fit for their current work. It’s always painful to say no to a project that you love. The real work, the much less seen work, by those people in gatekeeping roles is how might you open other pathways forward for projects and filmmakers who might find support and opportunities elsewhere. That’s something that I had no idea really existed back when I was making my first pitch at Silverdocs. Now, being on the other side receiving project pitches, I have a very different perspective on the process and what the industry could be like for those starting out.
ML: Could you describe the process of establishing yourself in this field, including the meaningful moments and challenges?
RC: I feel like I continue to work toward establishing myself in the field. When you are first introduced to a field–it always seems very big. Regardless of how big it actually is, it nonetheless is always comprised of people. It’s going to sound very corny, but I’m discovering the importance of trying to be authentically you as you interact with each person that you encounter in the field. That's the way that I’ve tried to establish myself. I don't think there's a surefire way to establish yourself in any field. Some people are very good at showcasing their many accomplishments; others take a back seat and are more backstage to the kinds of work that they do. I actually quite like the producer’s role, in the sense that a producer is rarely front and center grabbing the attention, but rather able to put forward and advance projects deserving of attention.
Some of the meaningful moments that I’ve had have really been when I've had a chance to have one-on-one conversations with filmmakers at film festivals or with programmers about projects that they’re working on. It’s really these conversations that I feel have helped me find grounding and continue to center me within what I do. It’s these relationships of discovery that keep me going even when I wake up and am faced with enough work that would take days, weeks, months, even years to accomplish.
Presently the space that I’m operating within, that of public media, a lot can still be done for those who are on the outside and for those who have not had the opportunity and support of a national broadcast. The work that I do to reallocate and direct resources and to support filmmakers continues to be very meaningful for me.