The National Geographic All Roads Film Project sprung up six years ago when the National Geographic Society decided to expand from conservation and natural sciences into culture. Fast forward six years and the All Roads project has provided a solid space for Indigenous and under-represented minorities to shine in photography and films. With an advisory board that includes Spike Lee, Forest Whitaker and Kiefer Sutherland, the festival and grant program wrapped up 2008 with more seed grant recipients and bigger audience numbers than ever.
Francene Blythe, festival director, says that the festival has been growing. The festival, which opens in Los Angeles, then D.C. and then Santa Fe, is complemented by an All Roads On the Road traveling strand of the festival, which brings photography, film, or both, to another city, venue or festival.
In 2008 the project awarded the largest number of seed grant recipients in any given year – 17 recipients at approximately $10,000 each. Grant recipients are not limited to a U.S. homebase, as the grant is open to global filmmakers and photographers. Audience numbers were at an all time high. ‘We had some great films, mostly documentaries. The Linguist, As We Forgive, What was Promised, Welcome to Enurmino! and La Americana all did very well and have gone on now to either having secured PBS broadcasting or are in the works of it,’ says Blythe.
2009 brings numerous new things to the project. The website was recently relaunched with a revamp to make it more interactive. ‘We’re planning on working with other organizations to put on Indigenous content through our audio carousal on the web and we’re going to look at video streaming,’ she says. Accompanying the website relaunch is the opening of the call for submissions. They’ll be open until March 31 for the festival and people can apply through Without A Box. Information on the seed grant is also online. Filmmakers from around the world can apply year round. ‘We’re primarily looking for films that are stories from either filmmakers from within the community or stories of culture that just resonate, not necessarily social issues but a topic that is really relevant to that region, that country or a global topic,’ says Blythe.
Additionally, the New Year will see new festival dates, with the event moving out of the fall season and into the summer. Los Angeles’ event runs July 17 to the 19, comes to D.C. for July 24 to 26, and on to Santa Fe. On the photography side they’re going to do a retrospective of work over the past five years in the exhibit.
National Geographic Channel International will also broadcast an All Roads television special called New Voices All Roads Filmmakers in the spring. The two-hour television special will profile 11 artists from the All Roads film festival.
The project also delves into Oscar awards territory, due to a partnership with the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences. At All Roads headquarters, the Best Foreign Language Film category of films will screen a week before the Academy Awards are announced, in a program called Global Glimpses.