» 17 Emmy Awards (20+ additional Emmy nominations)
» 17 George Foster Peabody Awards
» 5 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Journalism Awards
» 8 Academy Award nominations
Independent Lens was honored in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017 with the International Documentary Association Award for Best Series.
The visionary that guides Independent Lens is Lois Vossen ’84.
“Not only can social issue documentaries and docuseries succeed in this environment of fake news and distrust of media, but I believe they will continue to thrive,” said Vossen. “In a time when television ratings are going down, Independent Lens broadcast ratings and streaming numbers have increased for the past four years.”
Independent Lens is presented by ITVS, a co-production mini studio and the leading incubator and funder of independent nonfiction programming on public television. Independent Lens is a weekly PBS primetime series with a nine-month broadcast season from mid-October through June, making it “television’s largest showcase of independent documentary film.”
Vossen is the founding executive producer of the flagship program, having been with it since its inception as a national PBS
primetime series in January 2003.
In recent years Independent Lens has become a multi- platform effort. Indie Lens Pop Up is the series’ ground- breaking community screening initiative, with monthly events in 75 cities across the United States. Each screening is followed by a live panel discussion that features local experts and community organizations coming together to talk and solve problems.
Indie Lens Storycast is a new web series on YouTube featuring short-form digital-only stories by indie filmmakers. On yet another platform, Independent Lens funds and produces independent journalism videos in partnership with major news media outlets, such as The Washington Post and the New York Times.
Character driven stories that help audiences make sense of local, national and international events are at the core of Independent Lens. Peter Bratt’s “Dolores” documents the life and legacy of Dolores Huerta, 88, who created the National Farm- workers Association alongside her more famous partner, the late César Chávez.
“‘Dolores’ is a valuable film because it demonstrates that we cannot write women out of history,” said Vossen. “It’s a compelling example of the power one person can have to create change and impact the lives of millions of people.”
The 2016 struggle between the federal government and armed protestors at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon is the focus of “No Man’s Land.” Filmmaker David Byars offers a fly-on-wall look at the inner-workings of the 41-day occupation, whose leaders included brothers Ammon Bundy and Ryan Bundy.
“Most of our documentaries feature very human stories. We believe audiences relate to issues emotionally and intellec- tually when they can connect with a person – rather than just talking heads,” she said.
On her “best days,” Vossen said, she screens film cuts and meets with filmmakers about their projects. She screened work-in-progress cuts of Oscar-winner Morgan Neville’s new film about children’s television pioneer Fred Rogers. The much-anticipated “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” appeared in theaters in June. Its television premiere on “Independent Lens” is expected in early 2019.
In the case of “The King,” a cross country road trip that looks at the Great American Dream through the life of Elvis Presley, Vossen worked with filmmaker Eugene Jarecki on the film’s re-edit, following a work-in-progress screening at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.
“I’m fortunate because there’s a lot of variety in my days and I’m someone who likes change,” said Vossen. “I get up at 5:30 a.m. every day and go to the gym. I began doing that the year after I graduated from SCSU, when I realized how important it was to wake up my body and my brain—and it made dealing with Minnesota winter weather a lot easier.”
“Commissioning films is an art form, not a science. I really rely on my gut and always regret when I don’t.”
Her St. Cloud State bachelor’s degrees in creative writing and arts administration (a theater major with a business minor) appear perfectly suited to the film-commissioning process that dominates her work life.
She meets filmmakers via film festivals, industry events, pitch forums and email. When she finds a project that seems a likely fit for Independent Lens, she solicits a treatment and budget. If she likes what she sees, Independent Lens provides production funding so the filmmaker can finish the film or she encourages filmmakers to apply for ITVS production funding.
“Commissioning films is an art form, not a science. I really rely on my gut and always regret when I don’t,” she said.
For 20 years, Vossen’s gut told her the world needed a documentary about African American novelist and essayist James Baldwin (1924-1987). In 2013, she met Raoul Peck, who had access to the Baldwin estate. She worked with the Haitian filmmaker through the intervening years on what became the Oscar-nominated “I Am Not Your Negro,” which earned a 97-percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and “universal acclaim” on Metacritic.
In the 93-minute film Peck imagines an unfinished Baldwin book about race in America, including the lives and the deaths of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Having funded the film, Independent Lens hosted the television premiere of “I Am Not Your Negro” in January.
“Working with Raoul on ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ was one of the great joys of my career.”
A condensed career path
» GUTHRIE THEATER, Minneapolis | Paid intern
» LOFT LITERARY CENTER, Minneapolis | Program Director
» BICYCLED FROM SEATTLE, Washington to Belfast, Maine | Unpaid adventure
» SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL, Park City, Utah | Festival worker
» BACKPACKED SOLO ACROSS WEST AFRICA | Unpaid adventure
» EAST CALHOUN CO-OP, Minneapolis | Part- time manager of the cheese department
» SUNDANCE INSTITUTE/SUNDANCE LABS, Park City, Utah | Associate Managing Director
» INDEPENDENT LENS, ITVS, San Francisco | Executive Producer
» TELEVISION ACADEMY, Board of Governors | Documentary Peer Group