Documentary grants

Sundance Institute announces 16 projects to benefit, plus details of new cash to aid distribution.

by Amber Wilkinson

The Sundance Institute Documentary Film Programme has announced the 16 film projects to receive financial and creative support from the Sundance Documentary Fund.

Out of 325 applications working in more than 52 countries, the feature-length documentary films selected will receive a total of $512,500 in support for emerging and established filmmakers.

There is also new support for filmmakers in the form of engagement grants - cash to aid distribution of films previously funded by the programme.

Among those recieving cash are existing documentarians, such as Laura Poitras, who is working on her follow up to Iraq exploration My Country, My Country and Janet Goldwater, whose previous film, Rosita, screened as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival last year.

Director of the programme, Cara Mertes, said: "The films funded in this round reflect the Sundance Documentary Film Program’s continuing commitment to identifying and supporting global storytellers.

"From China, Kyrgyzstan, Indonesia, Iran and the United States, the Documentary Film Program considered our most international docket yet.

"With this round we also introduce Engagement grants which are designed to extend the continuum of support the Fund offers by providing seed money for innovative distribution strategies for films that have received Sundance DFP funding previously."

The Sundance Institute Documentary Fund is a central element of Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program, which provides year-round creative support to nonfiction filmmakers through creative labs, work-in-progress screenings, and activities related to the distinct stages of the filmmaking process.

Grants are announced twice a year and submissions are judged on their approach to storytelling, artistic treatment and innovation, subject relevance and potential for social engagement. The Sundance Institute Documentary Program considers projects in the Development and Production/Post-Production phases.

Films funded in this round tell stories of the emotional impact of the death penalty, artists in exile from Burma, the largest annual migration of Chinese in the world, and Muslims in a post-9/11 world.


All That Glitters (Dir: Tomáš Kudrna; Kyrgyzstan/Czech Republic) - In a remote village in Kyrgyzstan, the discovery of gold by an international mining company offers life-changing benefits - and threats - to the community and the environment.

Burma Soldier (Dir: Nic Dunlop; Burma/Thailand/US) - Myo Myint's dramatic transformation from a soldier of Burma's junta to a pro-democracy activist; from a tortured political prisoner to a refugee making a new life in America, tells the story of modern Burma today.

¿Dónde Están? The Disappeared Children of El Salvador (Dir: Maria Teresa Rodriguez; US/El Salvador) - Margarita Zamora, an investigator and a survivor of the civil war in El Salvador, tracks down disappeared children and reunites them with their families. Miguel Morales and Jenny Wolf - two disappeared children now residing in the US - represent the war's legacy of unemployment, violence and migration, a legacy that civil society - both here and there – is struggling to address.

Image: Democracy (Dir: Amlan Datta; India) - India's 350 million citizens must each receive a photo identity card prior to the 2009 elections in the world's largest democracy. Many have never been photographed in their entire life, and the process is creating a new image for modern India.

A Tale of Three Sisters (Dir: Bishnu Dev Halder; India) - Two sisters from a remote Indian village leave tradition behind and migrate to the city, New Delhi, for a new life while the third sister awaits her turn in this contemporary, coming-of-age story.

Position Of The Stars (Dir: Leonard Retel Helmrich; Indonesia/Netherlands) - From the director of Eye Of The Day and Shape Of The Moon comes a third film in a trilogy following the life of the Sjamsudin family in Indonesia since the fall of President Suharto.


Camp Victory: Afghanistan (Dir: Carol Dysinger; US) - The US National Guard has been deployed to Afghanistan to train the Afghan National Army. This film follows several soldiers — Afghan and American — who across the divide of language, culture and religion must accomplish a near impossible task: crafting a modern army to serve a struggling nation.

Family: The First Circle (Dir: Heather Rae; US/Native American) - Looks at the Foster Care system and the challenges now faced due to methamphetamines. The film follows families struggling to heal, administrators working for change, and the isolation of a western landscape responsible for both the manufacturing of and liberation from addiction.

Give Up Tomorrow (Dir: Michael Collins; US/Philippines) - A high-profile miscarriage of justice landed a young man on death row in the Philippines. Tireless grass-roots campaigning sets off a chain of events that resulted in historic outcome and the abolition of the death penalty.

Goundo's Daughter (Dir: Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater; US) If Goundo is deported to Mali from Philadelphia, her two-year-old daughter will almost certainly be forced to endure female genital mutilation — performed on 92 per cent of the female population in Mali. Goundo's Daughter is the story of Goundo's fight for political asylum in the US and her desperation to protect her daughter and stop the cycle of FGM.

Last Train Home (Lixin Fan; China) - China experiences the largest internal migration in the world as rural workers travel to cities for jobs. The Zhang family has been torn apart by years of separation in the era of "labor export" and urban migration. They save all year to travel home each Chinese New Year, along with over 100 million other migrant workers, hoping to salvage their relationship with their teenaged daughter.

New Muslim Cool (Dir: Jennifer Maytorena Taylor; US) - Jason “Hamza” Perez is a Puerto Rican American and ex-gang member who has converted to Islam. Over the course of three years he struggles to maintain his family, faith and artistic pursuits in contemporary, post 9/11 America.

On The Way To School (Dir: Orhan Eskiköy and Özgür Dogan; Turkey) - Since the 1920s, Kurds in Turkey have resisted the official ban on speaking or writing Kurdish. Made by a Turkish and Kurdish filmmaker, the film follows a year in the life of a Turkish teacher teaching Kurdish children in eastern Turkey, revealing the reality of Turkish policy in the lives of remote Kurdish villagers with intimacy and compassion.

Release (Dir: Laura Poitras; US/Yemen) - This is the second documentary in a trilogy titled The New American Century about America post 9/11. The first film in the trilogy, My Country, My Country, documented the occupation of Iraq. Filmed in Yemen, Release follows the stories of men released from Guantanamo Bay prison and returning home. The final film will focus on domestic surveillance and warrentless wiretapping in the United States.

The Other Chelsea (Dir: Jakob Preuss; Germany) - Alexei and Nikolai, two middle-aged Ukrainian miners are trying to keep pace with the political and economical changes in their home country. Discordant worlds, soviet culture and oligarch capitalism, come together in their favourite place: the football stadium. A serious and humorous approach to post-soviet reality.

Virtual Freedom (Dir: Gef Senz; Australia) - Part animation, part documentary, Virtual Freedom is an innovative portrayal of contemporary Burma via the internet, as seen through the eyes of charismatic Burmese exile, animator, chef and political activist, Maung Maung Aye.

Women In Shroud (Dir: Farid Haerinejad and Mohammad Reza Kazemi; Iran/Canada) - A dedicated group of Iranian lawyers and activists work together to counter the injustice of the death penalty. In Tehran, this means risking everything to mount "Stop Stoning Forever," a campaign to end the practice of execution by public stoning, and to lessen this practice's impact on women in Iran.


State Of Fear (Dir: Pamela Yates; US/Peru) - A gripping story of repression and resistance as Peruvian leaders used the threat of terrorism to gut the democracy, making Peru a virtual dictatorship. In 2001 a new democratic government established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and granted Skylight Pictures access to bring this timely story to an international audience. The Audience Engagement grant will support the film's first screenings in the Quechua language. The screenings will be part of a multi-platform outreach strategy that uses Google mapping to create a truth and justice hub for Peru. The site will receive live news feeds of the Fujimori trials, facilitate human rights social networks, use Twitter to post cellphone text messages from the field, and support ongoing work with the Quechua version of State of Fear.

Trouble The Water (Tia Lessin and Carl Deal; US) - An aspiring rap artist and her streetwise husband show what survival is all about when they are trapped in New Orleans by deadly floodwaters and then seize a chance for a new beginning. The Audience Engagement grant will support the filmmakers as they move beyond their theatrical and DVD release to a national youth engagement campaign in partnership with music industry creative executives and national and New Orleans based recording artists.

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