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Kartemquin Film Exec Describes to MSLCE Students How Shifts in Media Landscape Affect Documentary Business

By Scotty Stieber

How do you utilize your past experiences while still pushing yourself to learn something new?

Betsy Steinberg, who stopped by to speak with MSLCE students in Professor Dan Gruber’s Business Models in Creative Enterprises class, found herself asking this question when transitioning from her vital position as Managing Director with the Illinois Film Office to her current role as Executive Director for Kartemquin Films, a not-for-profit documentary production company based in Chicago.

As a mission-driven company, Kartemquin is a full media arts organization that prides itself on staying true to its core values and motivations where the story always takes center stage. Unlike Steinberg’s eight years with the Illinois Film Office, where her work often revolved around the state’s economic and political landscape, she is free to explore her creative passions to provide a voice to the stories that might otherwise go unheard. The people at Kartemquin understand how difficult it can be to find an appropriate balance between funding their documentaries and fulfilling their basic mission.

In its 50th year, Steinberg is eager to see where Kartemquin will go. With more films in the pipeline, she says the company is fully embracing more technological channels, like social media platforms, in hopes to increase viewership and attract today’s evolving audiences. As more consumers continue to become more mobile, she plans to provide greater accessibility for individual devices, as well. Steinberg is fully aware of these necessary changes, and stresses the importance of employing new business tactics to stay relevant.

Kartemquin celebrates independent film production, and it is always looking to support different ways to help filmmakers succeed in a constantly changing creative world. Steinberg noted that flexible thinking requires the ability to see the grey in every situation. The film industry is a competitive industry that forces people and businesses to perpetually reinvent themselves. However, as Betsy Steinberg has come to realize, good storytelling will never change. Compelling stories are undoubtedly Kartemquin’s most valuable currency.