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Strategies for Raising Money & Building a Sustainable Income as an Independent Full-Time Filmmaker

It is a matter of cinematic survival: You can have a brilliant idea for a film, but if you can’t finance your vision you will never see your artistry on the big screen. And once you have made your film, how do you monetize your creative work in order to forge a durable and lasting career?

On Tuesday, February 22, at 7 pm ET, veteran documentary filmmaker (and VCFA alum) John J. Valadez will share some practical and particular ways to think about, maneuver, pivot, and position your way into generating income from funders and strategic stakeholders at the front end, and through distribution and promotion on the back end, in order to survive and thrive as an independent documentary filmmaker.

Additionally, John will hold office hours on February 24 and March 1 for VCFA students and alumnx to consult with him about fundraising and distribution.

Sign up for the event at the link below!


John J. Valadez is a Peabody Award-winning documentary filmmaker who has received two primetime National Emmy nominations, and has directed a dozen films for primetime national broadcast on PBS and CNN. His films explore the struggle over race and power in America. They have tackled such diverse subjects as the false imprisonment of a leader of the Black Panther Party (Passin’ It On, PBS/POV); Latinos in World War II (Latino Americans, PBS), Latino gangs in Chicago (Making Peace, PBS); segregation in America’s schools (Beyond Brown, PBS); the intersection of art and the genocide of Native Americans (The Last Conquistador, PBS/POV), and the history and impact of Latino civil rights on American society (The Longoria Affair, PBS/Independent Lens & Latino Americans PBS).  They have garnered top prizes at film festivals from San Francisco to Dallas to Mumbai and have been featured at major museums and cultural institutions across the United States and Europe—places like The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), The National Gallery of Art, The George Pompidou Centre, Lincoln Center, and The Berlin Film Festival.

Valadez is an independent filmmaker who has been able to carve out a sustainable career for over twenty-five years by raising millions of dollars in funding for his projects from places like The Independent Television Service (ITVS), The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB), CNN, The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), The New York State Council for the Arts (NYSCA), and many more. He has worked with European broadcasters and has lectured and sold his work to hundreds colleges and universities across the United States.

Valadez is a graduate of New York University’s film program, and he earned an MFA in filmmaking from the Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA). He grew up in Seattle, taught photography in rural India, and is currently the Director of the Documentary Film Program (the DOC LAB) at Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where he teaches documentary filmmaking, history, and analysis.

His latest film, AMERICAN EXILE, about the deportation of US military veterans, was a project crafted while at VCFA. It received a primetime national broadcast on PBS in the fall of 2021.

While making the film, Valadez gave testimony at a Congressional briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on deported veterans for lawmakers. The film eventually helped change national policy. On July 2, 2021, President Biden ordered the Department of Homeland create a process to bring all deported veterans and their families back to the United States.

For even more information, check out our alumnx interview with John!


February 22, 2022
7:00 pm – 8:00 pm EST
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