Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Inside PBS’s POV Strand (2/2): The Filters, Selection Process, Timeline & Decision-makers

We continue our coverage of POV, the flagship PBS documentary strand.

In this post:

  • What is POV’s selection process, from Open Call to the Offer?
  • What is the Timeline?
  • Who makes the decisions?

Selection Process


  • Great non-fiction storytelling
  • Address social issues and issues neglected elsewhere
  • Have a strong point of view from the filmmaker and/or the characters
  • Character-driven
    • “Our strand is called ‘POV’ for a reason” says VP of Programming & Production Chris White. “Our films are often a subjective take on a controversial issue.”
    • “POV films Involve viewers in an issue through the eyes of an active participant or observer.”
  • Aesthetically bold: “The filmmaker has a unique editorial style that pushes the boundaries of the craft of filmmaking.”
  • Emotional resonance

Curatorial Discretion

  • POV’s filters are combined with a “curatorial eye”
    • The POV team ensures that themes and styles are not repeated.
    • And that needed topics are explored.
  •  “Themes frequently emerge organically” says POV’s Executive Producer Simon Kilmurry. “Examples are human rights and immigration.”

Topics: Domestic? Or Global?

  • U.S. topics: 10+/-
  • International topics: 6+/-
    • “About half of these come from international filmmakers – but the mix varies from year to year.”

Marketing and Promotional Clout

We asked if it makes a difference if a project arrives with powerful marketing relationships in place:

  • “We’re interested in hooks and ties that will expand a film’s audience. But it’s the quality of the film that leads the decision.”
  • POV develops national public awareness campaigns which can include presenting films to critics at the Television Critics, satellite tv and radio media tours.

Technical Format

  • HD
  • Film

POV’s Acquisitions Process & Timeline

1. Open Call

  • End of June
  • POV receives 800-1,000 entries for 16+/- slots
  • The entries fall into three categories based on their level of completion:
    • In the Works
      Treatment and some scenes are complete
      Few projects are funded that are in these early stages
      But many are watched or mentored for the next year’s Open Call
    • Completion Funding
      Substantially complete: rough cut or close
      They represent 50% of funded projects
    • Fine Cuts
      Films need post: 50% of projects

2. Scouting

POV staff also attends many markets and festivals scouting for projects in production

  • These include Sundance, IDFA (Amsterdam), Hot Docs (Toronto), Sheffield Doc/Fest, Full Frame and others

3. Screening for Short List

  • June- September
  • 20 pre-screeners + 5 POV staff members sift through the 800-1,000 Open Call applicants
  • They develop a shortlist of 25-30 films

4. Editorial Advisory Committee

  • Selection panel is comprised of
    • 6 public TV station representatives
    • 6 independents, including filmmakers and festival programmers
  • Panel is sequestered for a long weekend in early October
    • Each film is screened by 4 of 12 panelists
    • Each film is presented to the full panel, with extended clips
    • Final 15-16 films recommended by end of weekend
  • The POV team exercises a final ‘curatorial filter’ in case a topic or style of filmmaking is over-represented
  • The final decision made by POV’s executive producer

5. Contract

  • Offers are sent out after final decision


  • Filmmakers who accept the offer complete their work and cut their film to the POV clock
  • Kilmurry says “POV provides editorial feedback and support, but we don’t make the final cut. The filmmaker’s vision is key.”
  • The work is completed either in the filmmaker’s facilities or in POV’s editing suites
  • Winners are announced in early February



  • The POV slot is scheduled weekly on Monday nights at 10PM, June-October


  • The PBS footprint covers 115 million TV households, and POV reaches 96%+/- of them
  • Audience for premieres:
    • High: 1,900,000
    • Low: 500,000


  • POV has a mission to create dialogue in communities around issues that are raised in its films
  • The POV team works in partnership with local organizations and PBS stations
  • Lesson plans, discussion guides and resource lists are developed for all films

Other POV Initiatives

  • American Documentary Inc is the non-profit organization that is the parent of POV.
  • A new series AMERICA REFRAMED was launched in 2012 in collaboration with the WORLD.
  • AMERICA REFRAMED licenses completed films focused on contemporary American stories.
  • Films that are in a second window are eligible for AMERICA REFRAMED
  • The license fee for AMERICA REFRAMED IS $1,500 for a one-year license.
  • POV HACKATHONS – held 4 times per year, the HACKATHONS  are a place to experiment with new digital storytelling tools, matching filmmakers with coders and programmers to develop prototypes. Applications due by 5/31.
  • Filmmaker Resources – POV launched a new online resource for filmmakers with opportunities for funding, distribution and festivals.


POV is entering its fourth year partnering with StoryCorps, to showcase original animated shorts based on NPR’s groundbreaking oral history project, StoryCorps.

POV 2013 Schedule
All regular programs air Mondays at 10 p.m.

June 24Homegoings by Christine Turner

July 1 Special Flight by Fernand Melgar

July 8 Herman’s House by Angad Singh Bhalla

July 15 Only the Young by Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims

July 22 High Tech, Low Life by Stephen Maing

July 29 Neurotypical by Adam Larsen

Aug. 5 Last Train Home by Lixin Fan

August 12 – The City Dark by Ian Cheney

August 19 – The Law in These Parts by Ra’anan Alexandrowicz and Liran Atzmor

August 26 – 5 Broken Cameras by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi

September 9 – Ping Pong by Hugh Hartford and Anson Hartford

September 16 – The World Before Her by Nisha Pahuja

September 23 – Best Kept Secret by Samatha Buck

Special Broadcast (PBS Independent Films Showcase) Brooklyn Castle by Kate Dellamaggiore (date TBA)

Special Broadcast (PBS Independent Films Showcase) 56 Up by Michael Apted (date TBA)

Fall/Winter Special Broadcast American Promise by Joe Brewster and Michèle Stepheson (date TBA)

Fall/Winter Special Broadcast StoryCorps Special by The Rauch Brothers (date TBA)