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Documentary Company Field of Vision Spins Off as Independent Studio

Exclusive: The non-profit organization behind "Nothing Compares" and "MLK/FBI" will separate from parent-company First Look Media.

Sinead O'Connor, "Nothing Compares" Field of Vision

Sinead O’Connor, “Nothing Compares”

Sundance/Showtime

Field of Vision, the documentary production arm been behind films like this year’s “Nothing Compares” and “Disclosure,” “MLK/FBI,” and more, will spin off from its parent company First Look Media and become a new independent organization, IndieWire exclusively reveals.

Field of Vision is part of First Look Media’s non-profit arm First Look Institute (FLI) and is known for its intersection of documentary film, journalism and the visual arts. Co-founder and executive director Charlotte Cook, who has been with the organization since it was formed in 2015, will continue to lead the new independent company.

Field of Vision will remain a non-profit organization, but it won’t be starting things from scratch. First Look Institute will also provide a “significant” financial grant to Field of Vision as part of the transition period as it looks to continue to find new donors and supporters. What’s more, the company’s journalistic publication Field Notes will also continue and expand as part of the transition.

Cook told IndieWire in an interview that the decision to branch off from First Look was a mutual one, and they’ve been working toward going independent for some time. For one, Field of Vision acquired the IF/Then Shorts initiative in 2020 after the shuttering of the Tribeca Institute, and it has demonstrated that it can play within the more commercial space of documentary filmmaking as well after producing the Sinead O’Connor film “Nothing Compares” for Showtime. But the decision to go independent today was part of Cook’s long-term vision for Field of Vision to make the organization financially viable and sustainable long after she’s gone.

“We obviously saw the rise of the commercial side of the world and companies in that space. I think the non-profit documentaries are always under threat to some level. It’s hard to fund these organizations. And in some ways that’s made us more determined to go out as a new non-profit to really bolster that side of the field,” Cook said. “We’ve shown that we can do commercial funding in a way that’s good for filmmakers. And it does work in the non-profit context. It is possible. That’s one of the things we’re trying to show as well, that there is space for greater films, both in the non-profit world and in the commercial space. So I’m really hoping people can perceive us going independent in that way.”

“A key part of First Look’s model has been to incubate new organizations and support filmmakers who are breaking new ground and telling global stories of critical importance” Michael Bloom, CEO of First Look Media, added in a statement. “We are so proud to have supported Field of Vision over the last seven years and remain committed to Charlotte and the team as they step out on their own and chart their course as an independent organization.”

Charlotte Cook Field of Vision

Charlotte Cook, co-founder and executive director, Field of Vision

Courtesy of First Look Media

Like its peers Sandbox, XTR, or Concordia, Cook stressed a dedication to boundary-pushing non-fiction filmmaking and that the types of projects the company takes on won’t change as a result of this transition.

“We don’t see them as risk. We see them as opportunities. But you have filmmakers who are really pushing forward their craft. And so for us, it was less of a commercial opportunity and more really wanting to bolster the non-profit side of the field,” she said. “Documentary is one of the few art forms that sees innovation and creativity as a risk, and it’s very unusual because other art forms are quite the opposite. When you look at literature, photography, fashion, or even just fiction films, they see innovation and creativity completely as something to be lauded, whereas in the documentary world, we don’t. We actually have people hesitant to buy those films. And that’s very much the form that we work on. So it’s really for me making a stand about that. When you have editors having to edit the algorithms, rather than based on their craft and skill, it’s a difficult space.”

Upcoming, Field of Vision is bringing three features and one short to 2023’s Sundance: “Joonam,” playing in the U.S. Documentary competition; “Milisuthando,” playing in the World Cinema Documentary competition; and “Tuba Thieves” and “King Coal,” both playing in the NEXT section.

Field of Vision has to date supported or produced 260 features, shorts, and series. They’ve additionally had a hand in the Oscar-winning “American Factory” and other awards nominees like “Ascension,” “Strong Island,” and “Hale County This Morning, This Evening.” The company championed independent filmmakers, with nearly half coming from first- or second-time directors. And the company touts that 64 percent of its roster of filmmakers and producers have come from underrepresented backgrounds, 57 percent identify as female and 50 percent are people of color. Field of Vision has also in the past launched an apprentice program for aspiring filmmakers and talent in the documentary film world, pro-bono Legal and Digital Security Clinics for filmmakers, and dispersed $250,000 worth of aid for filmmakers affected by COVID-19.

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