Besides being based in reality, it’s hard to imagine that Oriana Zill and Marco Williams’ documentary about racial cleansing in America has anything in common with Diane Bernard’s fantastical tale about one man’s quest to build the world’s first science fiction theme park. Yet follow the money trail and both end up at the Anthony Radziwill Documentary Fund, along with three other docs: Marlo Poras’ Gambian Marriage, about older Western women marrying young African men; Judith Helfand’s Heat Wave: An Unnatural Disaster, which will do for urban environmental issues what Blue Vinyl did for plastic siding; and Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern’s The Trials of Darryl Hunt, about a young black teen wrongly convicted of murder and rape.
The Independent Feature Project revamped the Anthony Radziwill Fund in January. Founded in 2000 by the New York-based non-profit in memory of the Emmy-winning doc producer, the Fund originally recognized outstanding achievement by awarding US$10,000 once a year to an emerging New York filmmaker for a completed work. In its new form, it provides $10,000 each in seed funding to 10 docs. The grants are awarded bi-annually to five docs in June, and five in January. ‘It was originally a three year commitment, but our ability to fund the award was still there,’ says Fund manager Milton Tabbot, of the decision to rewrite the grant’s mandate. ‘So [we asked], ‘Do we want to continue the award in this way, or do we want to change it?”
After consulting the factual community, it became clear that raising money for development is tricky business, and that the ifp could help fill the gap. ‘The idea of the grant is seed money in the most ideal circumstance, which is someone with a well-developed proposal that hasn’t yet shot anything,’ says Tabbot. Given this, the first step of the application process asks only for a written proposal. These are evaluated by a media panel that then decides which projects will advance for further consideration. Only the semi-finalists submit samples of their previous work. The final recipients are chosen from this group by a panel of professionals that changes every grant cycle.
For projects to qualify, either the producer or director applying to the Fund must be a u.s. resident. Projects must also be feature-length and intended for a wide audience. They needn’t be surefire commercial hits, but they should contribute to the documentary form. Says Tabbot, ‘Besides an important subject, it needs originality.’
The Fund is the IFP’s first such initiative, and the inaugural round of submissions exceeded expectations – anticipating 300 applicants, the IFP actually received 602 proposals. As a result, the process took longer then expected and the grantees that were supposed to be announced in June were instead revealed in August. ‘I think anybody who had a project in the works submitted it because this is a new grant,’ says Tabbot. ‘But there were no fly-by-night proposals that came in – the top 100 of the 600 were very strong.’
Though the awarded filmmakers are free to spend the grant as they see fit, the fate of the docs themselves will be tracked by the IFP, including where they broadcast and how many festivals they play. ‘It’s information for potential people to get involved in fundraising,’ explains Tabbot.
Though he won’t say how full the coffers are, Tabbot notes that the Fund is flush enough to sustain the annual $100,000 payout for several years. However, he’s not about to tempt fate. ‘We’re well aware of other funds that start and stop, go on hiatus or do alternate years,’ he says. ‘We want to keep going.’ In other words, check please.
Info at a glance
The Anthony Radziwill Doc Fund www.ifp.org/docfund
Mandate: To support feature docs by providing development funds Dollars: Up to $10,000 per project is awarded to five docs in each grant cycle Grant cycle deadlines: March 1 and September 1 Grantees announced: June and January Eligibility: Applicant – either the producer or director – must be a U.S. resident, but the project can be an international coproduction Good to know: Unsuccessful applicants can reapply in subsequent grant cycles, and the IFP is open to advising these filmmakers on how to improve their odds