The third annual Meet the Press Film Festival, held in collaboration with the American Film Institute, will take place on October 6 and 7 in Washington, D.C., and remains a haven for issue-focused documentary shorts. Todd believes the event serves a critical mission: making NBC News’ long-running Sunday program more relevant to a rising generation of video streamers.
“When I took over ‘Meet the Press,’ one thing was crystal clear to me It can’t just be a Sunday show any more,” says Todd in an interview, particularly as younger news aficionados are gravitating to new forms of content. During his tenure, “Meet the Press” has expanded to encompass a podcast as well as a weekday program on MSNBC. “I’m obsessed with figuring out how to get ‘Meet the Press’ to more people, rather than bringing more people to ‘Meet the Press,’” Todd adds.
With younger consumers gravitating toward streaming video, the allure of documentary programming has increased. “For news entities, the kind of natural place to be headed is visual storytelling,” says Michael Lumpkin, AFI’s director of festivals, in an interview. “Short documentaries kind of fit very well into the world of journalism and storytelling, but also fit well with how media is being consumed – more and more online and streamed and on mobile devices. The short format leads itself to the weay everyone is consuming media.”
Short-form documentary programs have begun to surface in interesting places. The New York Times, for example, took part in a series of looks at its newsgathering, which was broadcast on Showtime. A new program that does much the same is slated to air on FX. And TV’s most-watched daypart, broadcast-network primetime, has begun to fill with a greater amount of one-hour specials, including CBS News’ recent look at Gayle King’s interview with musician R. Kelly or a coming ABC News hour focused on the actress Farah Fawcett.
Submissions for the Meet the Press Film Festival are being accepted at NBCNews.com/mtpfilm. Films should be 40 minutes or less, have been completed in the last 12 months, produced primarily in the United States and should be in English or subtitled in English. In the past, film topics have included politics, policy, social and criminal justice, race and equality, gender, voting rights, technology, the debate over gun control, and immigration, among others.
Submissions to the festival have increased since its inception, says Todd, who notes technology has lowered the barriers to entry. A documentary “allows us to delve into topcis differently, whether it’s on opioids or immigration,” he says, “It gives us a different way of looking at things without being trapped in a polarized conversation.”
Meet the Press started its festival with AFI in August of 2017, and it has since that time featured world premieres from Netflix, HBO, and others. Past festival films produced by The New York Times Op-Docs, the Reuters Foundation and the Guardian have earned Oscar and Emmy nominations. Last year’s festival featured 23 short-length documentaries from filmmakers all across the country.
Todd predicts TV-news divisions might take the trend to a natural extension: scripted programming based on historical research. “I’m not saying NBC is going there and I don’t want to be speaking for NBC,” he notes, but he sees the value of series like HBO’s “Chernobyl,” and thinks a similar project could be worth tackling. “You want to inform people better. You want to better educate them, but you don’t have to make them do it on your terms. Do it on their terms.”