Points North Institute, CNN Films reveal inaugural American Stories Doc Fund grantees

Non-fiction creative hub the Points North Institute and CNN Films have unveiled the inaugural grant recipients of the American Stories Documentary Fund. The program, which replaces the annual Camden/TFI Filmmaker Retreat, ...
October 19, 2020

Non-fiction creative hub the Points North Institute and CNN Films have unveiled the inaugural grant recipients of the American Stories Documentary Fund.

The program, which replaces the annual Camden/TFI Filmmaker Retreat, offers a total of US$50,000 in emergency grants to five filmmaking teams from underrepresented backgrounds to continue production or post-production through the enduring COVID-19 pandemic.

Each documentary team will receive a $10,000 grant while working alongside additional funders, distributors and creative partners during Points North Institute’s 16th Camden International Film Festival, which wrapped up on Oct. 12.

The American Stories Documentary Fund, formerly known as Camden/TFI Retreat, was established in 2015 between CNN Films, the Points North Institute and the Tribeca Film Institute. The initiative has helped nurture a new crop of American filmmakers through its week-long filmmaker retreat which incorporates project feedback sessions and mentorship support.

However, the Tribeca Film Institute in May pressed pause on its operations and began winding down programming and staff amid fundraising challenges resulting from the pandemic.

As a result, Points North Institute and CNN Films shifted their program into an emergency fund to support those working to sustain the production or post- production of feature documentary projects from emerging filmmakers. As in previous years, filmmakers supported in this program are exploring “American Stories” in their work.

“While there is no question this has been a challenging year for independent filmmakers, there’s also no question that there has never been a more pivotal moment to support independent storytellers and stories that represent where America is today,” said Ben Fowlie, executive and artistic director of the Points North Institute, in a statement.

“Over the past five years, CNN Films has been proud to work with Points North in establishing a retreat that provides a space for non-fiction filmmakers from all over the United States to come together creatively and demonstrate the power of storytelling. Today, the crises impacting the world have certainly made the challenging job of independent filmmaking even more difficult,” added Alexandra Hannibal, director for CNN Films. “We are delighted to support these essential stories of our time and for the opportunity to contribute in creating opportunities for talented filmmakers to flourish.”

Recipients of the inaugural American Stories Documentary Fund follow below, with descriptions courtesy of the Points North Institute and CNN Films:

Directed by Jon Sesrie-Goff
Produced by Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich & blair dorosh-walther

After Sherman is a story about inheritance and the tension that defines our collective American history. The director’s exploration of coastal South Carolina as a site of pride and racial trauma through Gullah cultural retention and land preservation is interrupted by the shootings at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.”

Directed and Produced by Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee

“Through one family’s tragic loss and fight for justice, Aftershock examines one of the most pressing and shameful national crises in America and the growing movement that surrounds it: the U.S. maternal-mortality crisis.”

Directed by Isabel Castro
Produced by Tabs Breese

“Doris Muñoz excels in discovering and successfully launching young musicians of color. While helping these artists navigate a treacherously competitive business, Doris also must support her immigrant family. Set against aggressive anti-immigration policy and a music industry in crisis, Mija tells the story of a young Chicana woman discovering herself through the hardships of what it means to succeed in the United States.”

Directed by Heidi Burkey
Produced by Julie Hook

“Off the coast of Maine, America’s addiction and environmental crises meet at a crossroads as Colleen Francke leads a team of women – in recovery from substance use disorder – who are building a seaweed farm in Casco Bay. Facing opposition from local fishermen, risking financial stability, and fighting through her own recovery journey, Colleen will discover what it takes to lead these women into a new coastal economy — rehabilitating both the water and themselves along the way.”

Directed by Jalena Keane-Lee
Produced by Amber Espinosa-Jones

Standing Above the Clouds is a story of the Mana Wahine o Mauna Kea (women warriors who are guardians of the mountain). The film follows three Native Hawaiian families who have become leaders in the global movement to prevent the construction of an 18-story, Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the last pristine section of Mauna Kea, on Hawai’i’s Big Island. As the documentary unfolds from the vision that started the movement in 2010 to eventual victory, our team follows Pua Case, Leina’ala Sleightholm, Mehana Kihoi, and their families exploring what it’s like raising your children on the frontline, facing arrest while defending a sacred place, and sustaining a movement centered in ceremony and sacredness.”

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