New Power Couple on the Potomac

The new executive director of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities (PCAH) is independent TV and film producer and attorney Rachel Goslins, who was tapped by the White House for the post. The PCAH, which was created during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, himself a former film and TV figure, is charged with advocating for the value of the arts and humanities. This includes working with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

Goslins is the second presidential appointment in her household. The first was husband Julius Genachowski, chairman of the FCC. Both campaigned for Barack Obama, and Genachowski is a former Harvard Law School classmate of the president.

Goslins' independent film resume includes 2008 indie documentary 'Bama Girl, about a black woman running for homecoming queen at the University of Alabama, and Onderduiken, about her family's need to hide in the Netherlands during the Holocaust. Her TV production credits include a host of cable projects.

Goslins spoke recently with B&C Washington Editor John Eggerton about her new job and her continuing passion for documentary production. Following is an edited transcript.

What is the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities?

It is an advisory committee that works on special projects in the area of arts and humanities that promote the White House's cultural agenda as well as those of the NEA, NEH and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The committee has been around since Reagan, who created it by executive order. There is an executive director, which is me; there is also a chair, and the First Lady is the honorary chair. Then there is a committee of anywhere between 20 and 40 people who are artists and architects and patrons of the arts, as well as actors and writers. All are a resource for the White House and the cultural agencies, NEA and NEH, to draw on to come up with special projects around the arts.

It is a somewhat flexible animal. It is a quasi-government agency, and so it is what every administration wants it to be. And we have a very strong mandate from this administration to expand it and engage in other areas. I sit in the same building as NEA and the NEH, and I see the chairs every day. There is this real sense of vitality and energy flowing into the arts and humanities world.

How did you get the job?

I was asked by the administration and some of the people who are going to be on the committee to take the job. There are people that I know from the campaign who know about my background as a lawyer and as a documentary filmmaker and in arts administration—I have run film festivals—and I was working for PBS at the time as well, directing a project for them. I was in production on a film that I have been working on for two years. So I really didn't think I would take [the job] because this film is sort of my baby, and the idea of handing this off to somebody else is like trying to get somebody else to raise your toddler.

Some independent film distributors have been pushing Washington to carve out more space for their content on TV, and have expressed concern that the online space could be dominated by the larger studios.

I feel passionately about independent content and how valuable it is. I think documentary [filmmaking] in many ways has taken over a lot of the burden from longform journalism, which doesn't have as many resources these days. But I don't know whether the right way to do that is through regulation or just making better content or through making your own Websites.

In addition to your independent films, you also have quite an extensive TV production background.

I started out as an international copyright lawyer, which I did for seven or eight years. Then I went to film school and started out again from the bottom. Then I started doing television. I did Dog the Bounty Hunter and [National Geographic's] Worlds Apart. I did nonfiction programming for Animal Planet, Discovery and PBS. I was also the programming director for the Impact Film Festival, which showed issue-oriented independent films at the Democratic and Republican national conventions last summer. And I was most recently the director for the Independent Digital Distribution Lab, which is an ITVS/PBS project about getting their independent films [Wide Angle, POV, Independent Lens] distributed on the PBS online platform.

What is your new
film about?

I am working on a documentary [working title God's House]
about Albanian Muslims who saved Jews during World War II. We are trying to
finish and edit it to make the Sundance application deadline. So it will do the
film festival circuit and then, ultimately, a theatrical release.

Are you going to
pitch that to cable?

I am not going to pitch it to anyone. I have stepped away. [PCAH]
is my full-time job. I will still be a consultant in the creative process of [the
film]. But I can't be involved in fund-raising or distributing. It is just
something that I will try to remain creatively involved in as it gets
finalized. But the business and distribution is all out of my hands now.

We note from your Internet Movie Database bio that
you had some TV acting credits as a kid, including a CBS Afternoon Playhouse in the early 1980s

Yes, I was a child actress for a while. I am a big ham, and
living in L.A.
as a child, it just kind of happened.

I got discovered by a manager when I was 11, as cliché as
that sounds. I got out of the business when I moved to Orange
but continued to act and work in production through college, working for a
Shakespeare repertory theater for five years there.

Your bio includes Onderduiken and now God's House. You and your husband's family share that
common experience of fleeing the Holocaust.

Julius' father came to America
escaping the Holocaust. My father and his family survived the war in hiding in Holland and moved to America
in the '50s. So we both have Holocaust survivors in our father's families.

Does your TV
background dovetail with your new duties?

The PCAH does a number of things. It supports and runs the National
Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal awards. It administers a program
that recognizes exemplary after-school arts and humanities programs. It has a
filmmaker exchange program in connection with AFI. We fund 10 films a year,
half international, half domestic at the AFI Festival in L.A. We send the American filmmakers abroad
to embassies in other countries, and we bring the international filmmakers here
to universities and small venues to do screenings and workshops.

My hope is that there will be a lot of overlap with my
background in film, but that is definitely a small piece of what the committee
is going to be doing.

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John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.