Blog: Feature Documentary Films

New Dorst MediaWorks Site … And a Higher Goal

I’m excited about my company’s new website, which is live this week!

It was high time to define Dorst MediaWorks’ mission statement to reflect what we’ve been doing for 14 years: video production for international development.

“Dorst MediaWorks’ goal is to help make the world a more just and equal place. We make videos for international development organizations that show how international development programs transform lives. This gives greater voice to the world’s poor and strengthens the entities that work with them.”

The website features four main sections: feature documentary films, videos for international development organizations, a bio page, and a blog.

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 3.35.23 PM

Patrick Calder of the Design Foundry did the design work.

On Dorst MediaWorks’ portfolio of videos for international development organizations, you can skip around and see 30+ films from 15+ countries. Or you can filter by topic (education, health, small business, etc) or location (Azerbaijan, Kenya, Zimbabwe, etc). You can even click around on a world map to see where I’ve produced for clients ranging from USAID to Catholic Relief Services to the World Bank.

It was a blast looking back at the blog posts I started doing nine years ago around my experience making my first feature documentary film Volcanic Sprint, with Dan Evans. This new version of the blog lets you jump into categories, like the 57 posts tagged “Field Production,” or 54 tagged “Travel,” or cycling, equipment, or my latest doc, Jobs for G.I.s.

I like how the site is visually rich. The slideshow on the front page contains stills from my work. The pictures, films, and blogs — so many great memories of working in some challenging, interesting places with amazing people.

It’s an honor to be doing this work, amplifying the efforts of international development organizations, and ultimately improving the quality of life of the people they work with.

JOBS for G.I.s: Joint Service Achievement Medal

IMG_6023I’m honored to have received a Joint Service Achievement Medal” for “Outstanding “Achievement” for my recent documentary film, JOBS for G.I.s.

The honor was a complete surprise. Given by former Air Force officer, Aneika Solomon, who is one of the five transitioning service members we follow in the film, the award reads: “Director Stephen Dorst distinguished himself by outstanding craftsmanship as Director and Producer, Z-Channel Films, Washington D.C. by creating the documentary film, G.I. JOBS. While in collaboration with DirecTV and working alongside Producer and Director Doug Gritzmacher, Director Dorst’s keen perspective was instrumental in capturing and melding the stories of five veterans from the services of the Army, Air Force, Navy and the Marines.”

IMG_6020Aneika, like the other four people we follow, was brave to share her story with us. I hope this films helps all of us to pay more attention to this transition out of the service, which is such a critical juncture in the lives of millions of people. Too often, I think, people figure they do their part by clapping for the military at a baseball game or supporting Congressional increases in defense budget spending. But that doesn’t cut it.

We have to do a better job of making the transition work for more people. We need to target resources better for education, workforce training, and other support. If you own a company, you can help out by keeping an open mind and trying to interview former military for every position, not just the ones they’re stereotyped in. If you know somebody that served overseas, try to learn more about Iraq and Afghanistan so you can better appreciate what they went through.

At the policy level, we should all encourage the DOD to share more information with veteran service organizations (VSOs) at the city level. Too often, these VSOs want to help, but don’t find out about veterans in need until they’re already jobless, homeless, or worse.

When you empower veterans, you strengthen communities.

Doug and I went to Los Angeles six times during 2015 to film JOBS for G.I.s. Working with Doug as a two-man documentary film crew was a big pleasure: he’s super talented, with a great sense for story, and a strong eye. But we couldn’t have done it without the support of many organizations that are doing great work day in and day out:
Reboot
Vet Hunters
Salvation Army Haven
JVS Los Angeles
USC Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families (CIR)
National Veterans Foundation
Weingart Center
Veterans in Film and TV
Silhouettes for Vets
New Directions 
Goodwill Veterans Employment Program
Operation PAVE (Paralyzed Veterans of America)
LA County Dept of Military and Vet Affairs 
Got Your 6

Doug and I are on the lookout for our next documentary topic. If you know of a great, inspiring story, let us know. If you are an Executive Producer-type, interested in funding great stories, reach out. We are always looking to expand our team.

 

 

JOBS for G.I.s Now on DirecTV

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 6.34.43 PMA year ago today, Doug Gritzmacher and I flew to Los Angeles to start pre-production on a documentary that we pre-sold to DirecTV. The idea: since 9/11, more than 2 million people have left the military. How are they doing re-integrating into civilian life?

Our challenge: make the feature documentary film in nine months, soup to nuts! This was our first documentary film under the banner of our new company, Z-Channel Films.

That first whirlwind week we met with as many people as we could who were working on veterans affairs in Los Angeles. (We set the film there because the city has more veterans than any city in the nation; more homeless veterans; a Navy vet as a Mayor; and the city is the headquarters of DirecTV, so they liked that it was a “local” story.)

Over the subsequent six months, we returned to Los Angeles seven times. We followed a lot of transitioning service members, and ultimately settled on five, at least one from each branch.

Kudos to DirecTV, which gave us great latitude to tell the story we wanted to tell!

When JOBS FOR G.I.s premiered on DirecTV’s Audience Channel around Veterans Day in early November, I was elated. Mad props to my filmmaking partner, Doug Gritzmacher, who was a delight to work with. He does it all, from directing and shooting to editing and color correction. I hope we make many more documentaries together!

Long form is a grind. You don’t make much money. When you do it the way we prefer — more observational documentary — it takes time. And you’re not necessarily sure where the story is going or when it’s going to wrap up.

But that’s documentary. Thanks to Doreen, Aneika, Andy, Christian, and Alex who let us into their lives. Respect to the thousands of providers in the city of angels who are helping service members transition out. And thanks to our patriots who serve in our stead.

Making this film gave me a renewed appreciation for what you do.

Volcanic Sprint on iTunes tomorrow!

Volc Sprint crew

Seven years ago last month, with both legs dangling out of an old African military helicopter, I trained my film camera down at small dots of racers during the world’s most extreme running race. The participants in the Mt. Cameroon Race of Hope still had 25 miles and 10,000 vertical feet to go to reach the roof of West Africa. We screamed up the main drag from Molyko Stadium, spitting up red dirt above thatched-roof huts to Upper Farms with its thousands of joyous fans.

It was my first time directing a documentary. I had no cash. So I put everything on credit cards, hired a knowledgeable DP to head up filming, and then Dan Evans left Washington, DC to fly to Buea, Cameroon. Little did I know that it would go on to do well in film festivals, get distribution around the world, and remain to this day the only documentary that chronicles this extreme running race.

If you like documentary films or running, or appreciate projects that are really a wing-and-a-prayer, then spread the word about Volcanic Sprint.

Tomorrow, Volcanic Sprint goes live online, with its premiere on iTunes!

If you like documentary films or running, or appreciate projects that are really a wing-and-a-prayer, then spread the word about Volcanic Sprint. How can you help? Share the FB post that accompanies this blog post. Rate Volcanic Sprint on IMDB (we don’t have many ratings, and a few boneheads gave us 1 out of 10 ratings, so you can help counteract that . . . if you want!).

Watch the trailer here:

Check out the Volcanic Sprint website, where US endurance running legend Scott Jurek says: “Insurmountable challenges, true courage, a triumph of the human spirit. Inspiration for runner and non-runner alike!” US marathon record-holder Deena Kastor says, “This movie captures the competitiveness, danger, and heroism of the world’s most difficult marathon.” And 2009 NYC marathon champion Meb Keflezighi calls Volcanic Sprint “A wonderful movie that is uplifting and inspirational!”

 

Shattered Sky on Hulu, iTunes & Amazon!

I’m thrilled that Shattered Sky is newly available to watch on Hulu! If you have Hulu, it’s free. Just click here. Let me know what you think! The film is also available for purchase or rental on iTunes and Amazon. And if you need a social-issue break from video games, check it out on Playstation!

Thanks to the big Facebook community for spreading the word. December was the best month for downloads yet. Thanks!

Shattered Sky tells the story of how America led to solve the biggest environmental crisis the world had ever seen. It challenges us all to do the same on climate change today. If you want, pass it on — tell a friend or two about my movie — hopefully more of us can have a can-do spirit about solving climate change.

Repairing the Shattered Sky

I wanted to share a great follow-up to my Bloomberg article last week. Policy Innovations, a publication of the Carnegie Council, ran a Q&A with me entitled Repairing the Shattered Sky. Editor Evan O’Neil asked some tough questions. I call climate negotiations “medieval trade fairs” and US politicians “cowards.” I hope you have a chance to read it!

It was good fun, particularly thinking about the film and the issues it raises through Carnegie’s lens: ethics. China came up a lot. The moral and practical responsibility of Americans to act on climate change came up as well. Hope you can read it!

Kickstarter, Bloomberg, and the Care2 petition

Pretty excited today. An article I wrote got picked up by Bloomberg. It’s in Bloomberg’s Sustainability blog, “The Grid.” It’s about my experience interviewing Jim Rogers — the CEO of America’s largest coal utility — for Shattered Sky. About the lessons of the ozone issue, through the eyes of America’s most powerful coal executive.

Today is also the second day of the Shattered Sky Kickstarter campaign. It’s been an incredible response, with $9,200 given, by 54 backers in the first day. It’s not easy launching a project to raise $35,000, but it sures allays some fears when you raise 25% in the first 24 hours. If I reach my Kickstarter goal, Shattered Sky’s distribution will be great: festivals, promotion around the PBS TV distribution, and Facebook contests and other initiatives to accompany grassroots events. Here’s my first Kickstarter update.

I’m also encouraged by the progress on the petition, which I’m conducting with Shattered Sky’s advocacy partner, Care2. More than 4,400 people have now signed it, demanding that candidates Obama and Romney pay more attention to climate and energy issues in their election runs.

 

Sign the Petition! Obama & Romney . . .

I launched a petition today calling on our Presidential candidates to talk early and often about their plans for a fair national energy policy and solutions for climate change. This year is a critical presidential election and an important time in history. Will we see big money and bad politics? Or can we inspire progress on climate and energy? My movie, Shattered Sky, which is premiering on PBS in September, tells the story of how America led the world to a solution on the ozone crisis. Let’s remind our candidates about that success story. Solving big environmental issues is not a partisan issue.

Care2 is Shattered Sky‘s advocacy partner, working together to restore a can-do attitude on energy and climate solutions. Care2 has almost 20 million members, and is the nation’s largest online community empowering people to lead a healthy and green lifestyle while taking action on important causes.

So, take a minute and sign the petition . . . Obama & Romney: What’s Your Plan to Solve Energy & Climate Change?

U.S. State Department Screening

It was a great way to celebrate Independence Day: a screening of Shattered Sky at the U.S. State Department on Tuesday. It was an honor, given the history of the institution and the role its employees played during the ozone crisis.

George C. Marshall auditorium welcomed us: the “Marshall” in “Marshall Plan.” Dan Evans and I fielded a bevy of smart and challenging questions following the show: about climate policy, the interplay between regulation and technology, the importance of citizen action.

In 1985, 20 countries signed the Vienna Convention to set up a framework for negotiating international regulations of ozone-depleting substances like CFCs. Chief U.S. Negotiator Richard Benedick (who is in our film) must have walked these State Department halls and had lively debates with his team. How would they set the tone for global cooperation on a future global treaty?

Less than two years later, following the discovery of the ozone hole, Benedick and the EPA’s Lee Thomas led the American presence at the important signing of the Montreal Protocol, where 24 countries formally committed to phasing out 50 percent of CFCs. Subsequently, the Montreal Protocol got updated seven times, and more than 190 countries eventually signed it. And they all phased out 100% of CFCs.

For me, that’s the main lesson on climate. You don’t have to get it 100% right at first. Gather up the main players, take an important first step. Then update the plan together. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We’re coming up on the 25th anniversary this September. Hopefully, more of us will take notice that in 1987, America led the world to a global solution on the ozone crisis.

Will we will all take inspiration to take smart action on climate? Only time will tell.

 

 

 

 

 

Perspectives on 500,000

Less than three months to go until the nationwide public TV premiere of Shattered Sky.

I’m excited about the chance to make a difference. I’m hoping enough people get wind of the film and get inspired that our country led the world during the ozone crisis. Then we can all look at the challenges posed by climate change through a new lens — why not work together? Why not set aside short-term differences? Why not unite to lead the world on renewable energy? How can this NOT be a good strategy for jobs and the economy — the rest of the world licensing our clean-tech inventions for the next century?

If Ronald Reagan’s cabinet thought that strong action on the global ozone treaty was a good thing, why can’t our politicians today find a way to work together on the issues that affect our economy and environment?

Maybe we as citizens aren’t doing enough to work together.

I aim to change that. And passing 500,000 fans on Facebook this past week reminded me that there are a lot of people out there who share this vision. Working toward the September public TV release and campaign launch, I know we can really make a difference together!