“Semper Fi,” “Leone Stars” get Sundance grants

Projects receiving grants in the latest round of the Sundance Institute's Documentary Film Program include Oscar-shortlisted doc Semper Fi: Always Faithful, TIFF-winner Leone Stars (pictured) and Hot Docs Forum pitches A Whole Lott More and Gideon's Army.
November 23, 2011

The Sundance Institute has selected 29 feature-length documentaries to receive US$582,000 in grants from its Documentary Film Program (DFP), including two films selected to receive grants from the Cinereach Project at Sundance Institute and one Time Warner Foundation Fellow.

Among the projects receiving support are Semper Fi: Always Faithful, which was Oscar shortlisted last week; TIFF-winning Canadian copro doc Leone Stars (pictured above); Josh Fox’s Oscar-nominated doc Gasland; Jason Osder’s Let the Fire Burn, which won top spot at the 2010 Realscreen Summit’s So You Think You Can Pitch competition; and A Whole Lott More, How To Survive a Plague and Gideon’s Army, all of which pitched at the 2011 Hot Docs Forum in Toronto earlier this year.

The awards come with the DFP set to celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2012. Since its inception it has awarded grants to more than 300 documentary filmmakers in 61 countries.

“For many of these filmmakers, receiving a grant will be just the beginning of our relationship with them,” said Cara Mertes, director of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program. “These filmmakers are also eligible for year-round creative support through our programs, including Creative Labs, work-in-progress screenings, and events and activities at the Sundance Creative Producing Summit and Sundance Film Festival.

“We welcome these filmmakers to our community and look forward to working with them to further support and develop their unique visions.”

Proposals for the DFP are accepted twice a year. Visit in January for information about the Spring 2012 round of funding.

The full list of projects, including their stage of production and a description of the title provided by Sundance, follows below:

Development projects:

The Bill (U.S. / Philippines)
Director: Ramona Diaz

A political firestorm hits the Philippines when “The Bill,” a reproductive health bill that could legalize birth control in the world’s 12th most populous nation, pits tradition against reform and brings the culture war into the streets and churches.

Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield (U.S.)
Director: Richard Rowley

Reporting from the battlefields of the war on terror, journalist Jeremy Scahill investigates the wars waged by and against an empire, and constructs a global picture of asymmetric warfare today.

Leone Stars (Canada / Sierra Leone)
Directors: Ngardy Conteh and Allan Tong

Surviving war, poverty and prejudice, the Sierra Leone amputee soccer team dreams of victory at the 2012 world championships. Can victims become champions?

The Mouse That Roared (U.S. / Iceland)
Director: Judith Ehrlich

A great struggle for free speech in the 21st century will be fought online, and the first volley has been fired in Iceland. This film follows Birgitta Jónsdóttir, trailblazing Icelandic Parliamentarian and former WikiLeaks leader, as she takes us inside the global fight for Internet freedom.

The New Black (U.S.)
Director: Yoruba Richen

The New Black is a documentary that uncovers the complicated and often combative histories of the African-American and gay civil-rights movements.

The Reckoning With Torture Project (U.S.)
Director: Doug Liman

Reading from secret documents chronicling the United States’ post-9/11 torture program, Americans from all walks of life join with leading cultural figures and former military and civilian officials to create a rolling, national performance.

Projects in production:

A Whole Lott More (U.S.)
Director: Victor Buhler

Lott Industries, outside of Detroit, employs more than 1200 workers, all with developmental disabilities. For decades the workers excelled at assembling car parts. However, the decline of the auto industry has pushed this unique workplace to the brink of survival.

Cooked (U.S.)
Director: Judith Helfand

Cooked is a story about extreme heat, poverty and the politics of “disaster”; Whoever gets to declare “disaster” also gets to determine when it started, when it’s over and how to fix it.

Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare (U.S.)
Directors: Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke

Escape Fire exposes the perverse nature of American healthcare, contrasting the powerful forces opposing change with the creative solutions and compelling stories of pioneering leaders and the patients they seek to help. The film is about finding a way out, and about saving the health of a nation.

These Birds Walk (U.S. / Pakistan)
Directors: Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq

A portrait of contemporary Pakistan is created through the eyes of an ambulance driver and a runaway boy who call a humanitarian and his mission-based organization home.

Gideon’s Army (U.S.)
Director: Dawn Porter

In the deepest South a group of dedicated lawyers is determined to find a way to represent the poor. But with large caseloads, long hours, low pay and harsh sentences can they honor their intentions?

Gulabi (India / Norway)
Director: Nishtha Jain

In Bundelkhand, India, a revolution is in the making among the poorest of the poor, as Sampat Pal and the fiery women of her Gulabi Gang empower themselves and take up the fight against gender violence, caste oppression and widespread corruption.

The History Of The Universe As Told By Wonder Woman (U.S.) 
Director: Kristy Guevara-Flanagan

Through the fascinating journey of the beloved superhero, Wonder Woman, the film explores the evolution of heroic women in American pop culture from the birth of the comic book in the 1940s, to TV action heroes of the ’60s and ’70s, and, finally, the big screen blockbusters of today.

How To Survive a Plague (U.S.)
Director: David France

Highlighting a small group of activists that exploded into a mass social movement over a 10-year period, How to Survive a Plague uncovers the little known story of how AIDS stopped being a death sentence.

Invisible War (U.S.)
Director: Kirby Dick

The Invisible War is an investigative and powerfully emotional documentary about the under-reported epidemic of sexual assault in our U.S. military, and its startling and profound personal and social consequences.

Let The Fire Burn (U.S.)
Director: Jason Osder

Philadelphia, 1985: tensions between the radical African American group MOVE and the city police spiral out of control, resulting in a fire that claims eleven lives and destroys sixty-one homes in a forgotten national tragedy that still resonates today.

Nuclear Underground (U.S.)
Directors: Peter Galison and Robb Moss

How can humankind dispose of and live with nuclear waste, a material that remains dangerous for a period as far into the future as we are from the Ice Age?

Noces Rouges (Red Wedding) (Cambodia)
Directors: Lida Chan and Guillaume P. Suon

Between 1975 and 1979, at least 250,000 women were forced into marriages by the Khmer Rouge. Noces Rouges (Red Wedding) is the story of one of its victims, Pen Sochan, who pits her humanity against an ideology and a system designed to annihilate people like her.

Strong Island (U.S.)
Director: Yance Ford

Set in the suburbs of the black middle class, Strong Island chronicles the director’s investigation into her brother’s violent death 20 years ago.

Untitled: 1971 (U.S.)
Director: Johanna Hamilton

Filmmaker Johanna Hamilton continues her exploration of social movements and the limits of dissent, this time turning her lens to domestic contradictions in North America.

Who Is Dayani Cristal? (UK/Mexico)
Director: Marc Silver

A man is found dead at the U.S./Mexico border. An investigation uncovers a tale of family and faith, discovered by tracing his body’s only identifying feature; a tattoo reading “Dayani Cristal”.

Audience Engagement grants:

Crime After Crime (U.S.)
Director: Yoav Potash

Two attorneys fight for the freedom of Deborah Peagler, 20 years into her life sentence for the murder of the man who abused her. The audience engagement campaign will partner with policy makers, legislative organizations, and legal education groups to inform other states about the successful California law allowing incarcerated survivors of domestic violence to petition for their freedom.

Fix Food (U.S.)
Director: Robert Kenner

Building on Oscar-nominated Food, Inc., Fix Food is a cross-media film and social action project using viral videos, an interactive website and community engagement to activate a mainstream audience to help transform the food system, which over time can lead to broader social change.

Gasland (U.S.)
Director: Josh Fox

It is happening all across America; rural landowners wake up one day to find a lucrative offer from an energy company wanting to lease their property. Reason? The company hopes to tap into a reservoir dubbed the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas.” The audience engagement award will support Fox’s ongoing effort to educate potentially vulnerable communities to the dangers of fracking; inspire political engagement around unregulated drilling; and bring together state and local grassroots efforts nationwide.

Our School (Romania / U.S.)
Director: Mona Nicoara

Shot over four years, Our School follows three Roma children in a small Transylvanian town who are among the pioneer participants in an initiative to integrate the ethnically segregated Romanian schools. The audience engagement award will support targeted screenings in the human rights community internationally, as well as mobilize new energies at a moment that is ripe for change, when Europe has its own Brown vs. Board of Education moment.

Semper Fi: Always Faithful (U.S.)
Directors: Rachel Libert and Tony Hardmon

When Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger’s young daughter dies from a rare type of leukemia, his search for the cause leads him to the shocking discovery of one of the largest water contaminations in U.S. history. The audience engagement award will support the effort to help notify families who may be affected by contaminated water on military bases, and help support screenings for legislators interested in health care for affected veterans.

Cinereach Project at Sundance Institute

The Kill Team (U.S.)
Director: Dan Kraus

The Kill Team tells the story of an American soldier who attempted to thwart U.S. war crimes even more heinous than Abu Ghraib, and who himself is now standing trial for murder.

The Shadow World (U.S.)
Director: Johan Grimonprez

The Shadow World explores the arms industry: a business in which profits are calculated in the tens of millions of dollars, while losses are counted in human lives.

The Time Warner Foundation

The Silence of Others (U.S. / Spain)
Director: Almudena Carracedo

After decades of silence, children stolen during Franco’s brutal dictatorship begin the search to find loved ones and to confront the perpetrators. The Silence of Others will be a deeply personal account of Spain’s transition from dictatorship to democracy.

About The Author
Senior staff writer Frederick Blichert comes to realscreen with a background as a journalist and freelance film critic. He has previously written for VICE, Paste Magazine, Senses of Cinema, Xtra, Canadian Cinematographer and elsewhere. He holds a Master of Arts in film studies from Carleton University and a Master of Journalism from the University of British Columbia.