Over the last 15 years, NW Film Center executive director Amy Dotson has been “blessed to do [filmmaking] labs in Qatar, New York, and Oklahoma.” Those labs, she says, have overwhelmingly focused on fresh talent. “But there are a lot of folks who have made a project or two, that are immensely talented, and they're at the stage of either their life or their career where they can't max their credit cards anymore,” Dotson says.
So last week, the NW Film Center announced that applications have opened for its new Sustainability Lab. The lab will support six mid-career media artists in areas like financial stability, mental health, work-life balance, and more. Rather than focus on getting a single project off the ground, participants will take a more holistic approach to their practice, with an eye toward longevity instead of simple ladder climbing—or as Doston puts it, being the “bright, shiny, new thing.”
“[Filmmaking] is very goal oriented. It's like, ‘If I make my first feature, maybe I'll get an agent. Maybe if I get that agent, I might get an opportunity that's a little bigger, or has a bigger actress, or has something where I can cut my teeth in a different way,’" Dotson says. "But no one really talks about the fact that all these folks are human.”
The lab will begin with a weeklong October intensive, where participants will meet with mentors, presenters, NW Film Center personnel, each other, and a to-be-announced life coach who's done work with the Sundance Institute. They'll set goals, discuss brand building, and do some financial forecasting, before disbanding through the winter to work on the goals they've set. After a few months of regular checkins, they'll reunite at the Portland International Film Festival in March 2022 to present work or pitch projects to industry professionals.
The hope is to build a group that spans Northwest artists and creatives further afield. Each participant will receive optional travel to and lodging in Portland for the October session (remote options will also be available), plus a $2,500 stipend, partially funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. In a press release, the NW Film Center says half of the cohort will consist of "marginalized or underrepresented communities”–BIPOC, women, trans, and queer artists.
Since she took the reins of the organization in 2019, Dotson has steered the NW Film Center toward a multidisciplinary filmmaking practice she calls “cinema unbound.” She sees the Sustainability Lab as a key manifestation of it, and champions the idea that one way to sustain a creative career is to create in multiple mediums.
Her ideal candidate? “Somebody that is not only making documentary films, but might also be interested in working in the TV space, or maybe already has. There are some incredibly impressive people who were working in the film space, but are now writing for games.... It's somebody that has an artist's mentality: you have a story to tell, or a world that you want to build, and there's different glasses you can pour your water in," she says.
Applications for the NW Film Center's Sustainability Lab will close September 1, and recipients will be announced on September 20.