A Primer on Documentaries | Beyond the Peaks Film Fest

Documentary films are where entertainment meets education. This non-fiction genre provides the opportunity to capture diverse stories from your own community or beyond. You can profile a friend or family member, raise awareness about an issue, or showcase a little-known art form. No matter what story you choose to tell, your audience will walk away with meaningful, real-life insight into the subject.

Making a documentary of your own? Learn how to write (and ask) thoughtful interview questions for film with our handy guide. Then check out filmmaking tools, tips, and classroom-ready resources in the 2024 Beyond the Peaks festival announcement and our Storytelling and Filmmaking collection on PBS LearningMedia.

Documentary category requirements:

  • Films must have a run time of 5 minutes or less.
  • Pre-production materials include interview questions and storyboard. A script is optional.
  • Additional materials include a poster, trailer, synopsis, and cast & crew lists.

Students can submit original films in a variety of additional categories including PSA, Narrative, Thriller, and Open.

Discover Diverse Stories With Documentaries

Get inspired to create your own documentary film with this selection of award-winning Beyond the Peaks films and recent MLPBS feature. Explore diverse stories—from the exciting reopening of the railroad to Tupper Lake in upstate New York to one coach’s fight for equal distance races in men’s and women’s cross-country skiing—there’s lot’s to discover with documentaries.

Next Stop: Tupper Lake!

“Next Stop: Tupper Lake!” celebrates the reopening of the railroad to Tupper Lake in upstate New York. Harrison Smith, producer, says the railroad had been closed since the 1980 Olympics, and recently a passenger train arrived at Tupper Lake from Utica. Smith, a homeschooled student, is very interested in railroads and photography. He says he hopes to make more films like this for future Tupper Lake railroad projects. The film was both the Documentary category and 1st Place Overall winner of the 2023 Beyond the Peaks Film Festival.

Equal Distance

“Equal Distance” by Seven Bowen highlights coach Molly Peters’ goals of making racing distances for women equal to those of men. Molly Peters is a cross-country running and skiing coach at St. Michael’s College in Vermont, and has been working on her campaign for the past three years. This documentary won 2nd Place Overall in the 2023 Beyond the Peaks Film Festival.

Historical forager finds abundance in the Adirondacks

In this Mountain Lake PBS segment join Melanie Sawyer, a historical forager in Essex, NY, as she shows us the bountiful number of edible plants and mushrooms that grow in the Adirondacks, a region notorious for its difficult climate. Explore the ways in which we can learn from the traditional food practices of the people indigenous to this land, and how to harvest edible and medicinal plants in a way that is ethical and respectful.

Enter the “Beyond the Peaks Student Film Festival”!

To get started, create a student or teacher account on Launchpad. Explore tutorials, resources, and step-by-step instructions on how to successfully submit your completed film entries!

Documentary | PSA | Narrative | Thriller | Open entry

Submissions are due May 14th with winners announced at an end-of-school year Red Carpet Showcase. The top three winners will receive a cash prize and video supplies!

Sign up for Beyond the Peaks!

Register your account today to get started, and receive email updates about the festival.