Meet the Press Film Festival Interview With Moderator/NBC News Political Director: Chuck Todd

This year the Meet the Press film festival collaborates with DOC NYC, heading to NY for the first time.  I was able to speak with Chuck Todd (Political Director & Moderator of Meet the Press, NBC News) to get information about the festival, his motivations for being involved, what to expect from this year, and more!

Hello! This is Kristy Strouse with Film Inquiry. For anyone new to the festival, can you take our readers through its creation? What does it focus on ane what made you decide to do this?

Chuck Todd: My job at Meet the Press is to cover politics as it is – the good, the bad, the ugly, the intractable. And to crack open the hard exterior of that political reality so that viewers can get to the heart of the issues that really animate our elected leaders today.

But the daily pressure of political reporting – and the constant urgency of breaking news – is not always conducive to our efforts to make these issues more accessible, or putting them in the context of news consumers need to make good decisions about the public officials and issues impacting their lives.

Whenever I can, I try to seize the opportunity to do a deeper dive into the issues that are really driving the political discourse of our generation. I’ve done that with Meet the Press Reports, where we just finished the fourth season – so that’s one way we’ve explored to tackle single issues in greater depth without losing the political lens, the nuance, and the practical realities that these issues encounter along the way.

The Meet the Press Film Festival grew out of that same desire. Short documentary films are, in many ways, the new best medium for long-form journalism. And to do a good documentary you have to be not only a masterful storyteller but a good reporter and, in a lot of cases, a technical wizard as well. It’s clear that today’s news consumers sometimes prefer to learn visually, so in many ways, I think documentaries are as important to today’s new consumers as books were in the 20th century.

So this started because we wanted to be able to amplify these amazing stories and play a role in how we look at them through a political lens, and because this is exactly the kind of work that really sheds light on what needs political change, even as we have a habit in Washington of getting mired in the day-to-day.

Meet the Press Film Festival Interview With Chuck Todd
Meet the Press Film Festival “AFI Fest” source: NBC NEWS

How has it changed in its five years?  

Chuck Todd: For us, the biggest change came from our close relationship with the filmmaking community. In my conversations with directors and producers, they’ve really come to see our platform as a place where serious cinematic storytelling is celebrated and elevated, especially in the short documentary world – docs under an hour. It’s a growing area of the doc space and one we believe hits the sweet spot for what news consumers want.

One of the hallmarks of our festival is that after each film screening, we host a conversation between the filmmakers and the NBC News correspondents and reporters who cover the same beats the films look at. This kind of in-depth analysis is in many ways what defines Meet the Press – but these conversations are also important reminders of the incredible work that independent filmmakers are producing and it’s especially gratifying to help tell their stories with the reach and legacy of our show behind them.

What do you look for specifically in the short films that are chosen?

Chuck Todd: As journalists, we have so much to cover on a daily basis that it can be hard to dig deep into the defining challenges of our time before needing to move on to the next deadline. So in putting together the festival we always look for documentaries that tell a story that might already be in the news but hasn’t been told with nearly the depth nor the nuance that short docs make possible.

Topics in the past have ranged from race and climate to justice and the military, but the approach isn’t partisan — we’re looking for films about how politics affect people in the real world, and how real people and events are in turn shaping politics. We’re open to all kinds of styles and approaches (including animation, recreation, etc.), as long as it’s fundamentally a non-fiction story about how some piece of this great wide world works.

You’re collaborating for the first time with DOC NYC, exciting! Will this change anything regarding programming?

Chuck Todd: That’s right, and we’re so grateful to DOC NYC for allowing us to bring the Film Festival to New York City for the first time. We’ve done Hollywood, too – but in reality, New York is probably home to more nonfiction doc creators than anywhere else in the country. In the past, our program has been focused on introducing the year’s top short docs to a Washington audience steeped in the policy debates of the day. Moving to New York gives us the chance to bring those discussions to a larger audience outside the Beltway.

We are building on the thematic programs that we’ve developed in the past, but each year’s program is designed from the ground up to reflect the issues that have mattered the most over the last 12-24 months. Submissions are all in and we are looking forward to seeing how this year’s films will tell those stories in a new venue with a new audience.

Meet the Press Film Festival Interview With Chuck Todd
Meet the Press Film Festival “AFI Fest” source: NBC NEWS

How different of an experience has it been working on the news, and now providing an opportunity for filmmakers to share their work?

Chuck Todd: There are a lot of differences between news and filmmaking, but the biggest has to do with time. In the news business, we work as quickly as possible to get the facts, verify them and share them with the public. The filmmakers we have been honored to work with and showcase have a different timeline — even when their stories only cover a day or an hour, their perspective stretches time and allows an event to have a context that even the most thorough of news reports would lack. Journalists may be operating with different expectations around standards or language than some filmmakers, but at the end of the day, we are both trying to tell a true story — what differs is how long we have to tell that story and how much of it we can tell. This is why bringing a Meet the Press lens to these films – one that’s analytical, urgent, and rigorous — melds so well with the passion these filmmakers have brought to telling new and different parts of what are often the same stories.

How important do you feel it is for festivals such as Meet the Press to exist?  

Chuck Todd: From the very beginning, we focused on short documentaries because we felt like it was the place where we could do the most good — these are films that are sometimes programmed into the corners of larger festivals, but for us, they should be the centerpiece. We view Meet the Press as a platform for excellence, and we believe it’s important to raise up the voices of filmmakers who are telling urgent, important stories in a way that helps us further examine and analyze the news of the moment.

Meet the Press Film Festival Interview With Chuck Todd
Meet the Press Film Festival “AFI Fest” source: NBC NEWS

What are your future dreams and ambitions for the festival?  

Chuck Todd: We think we have a pretty good thing going – if anything, we want to grow what we have and make sure the documentary community continues to see us as a valuable partner to help lift up the work they’re doing. And of course, we always have our eye on new projects we want to get involved with, as well.

This seems like a wonderful way to combine news and film, have you always had a passion for documentaries/films as well?  

Chuck Todd: Yes! For me, short documentaries are like an “intellectual tonic” – they are this incredible avenue for refreshing, unique stories that you sometimes didn’t even know existed. So on a personal level that’s why I’ve always sought them out. And on a broader level, I’m really proud of the way we’ve worked to bridge the gap between news and film. I firmly believe the work these filmmakers do represents the flip side of the coin to our work on Meet the Press, while at the same time offering this massively diverse collection of perspectives and an enviable cultural incisiveness whose power to win hearts and minds is unmatched. It’s not often you get to work across such different industries while maintaining such a clear connecting thread. But being able to do that here has been really satisfying.

Amazing! Thank you for speaking with us!

We want to thank Chuck Todd for taking the time to speak with us.

Meet the Press Film Festival will be headed to NYC in on November 15th

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