Sundance, NEH launch pandemic-relief program for non-fiction mediamakers

The Sundance Institute has partnered with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) on a new initiative to support non-fiction mediamakers whose work and careers have been drastically affected by ...
May 12, 2022

The Sundance Institute has partnered with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) on a new initiative to support non-fiction mediamakers whose work and careers have been drastically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Funded by the NEH, the Humanities Sustainability Fellowship will provide 20 under-resourced non-fiction storytellers with a direct stipend of US$60,000 each (to be paid in installments throughout 12 months, from April 2022 to March 2023) to supplement their income. The financial support will be complemented by mentorship, project advice, and other professional development opportunities throughout the granting term.

The program’s funding is being provided by the NEH through its American Rescue Plan, an emergency relief program designed to support organizations and individuals working in the humanities whose core activities have been adversely affected by the pandemic. In addition to the Sundance Institute initiative, the NEH is also underwriting Firelight Media’s Spark Fund granting program and the Humanities Documentary Development Fellowship run by ITVS.

“This fellowship is a bold rethinking of what supporting artistic practice can look like, and we are so honored to be one of three non-profit organizations selected by the National Endowment for the Humanities in piloting it,” said Carrie Lozano, director of documentary film and artist programs at the Sundance Institute. “While project-based funding will always remain core to our work, direct individual support is another element in our mission to expand the community we serve and explore new ways to serve mediamakers.

“Two years into the pandemic, there’s been a shift in the national consciousness that recognizes personal stability is deeply intertwined with innovation at work,” Lozano continued. “[The] Sundance Institute has had a front-row seat to witnessing the challenges those within the non-fiction space have faced in sustaining their creative practice, and as such it’s thrilling to roll out a new funding model for a group of exemplary mediamakers whose careers we want to champion.”

For the first cohort of grantees, the fellowship’s selection committee chose individuals at all phases of their careers who are producing and/or directing humanities-focused feature-length documentary films or non-fiction work in new media. The fellows are based in New York, California, Wisconsin, Puerto Rico, Illinois and Missouri, and at the time of application 55% stated that their current projects were in production, while 30% were in development and 15% were in post-production.

In terms of demographics, 70% of the selected grantees identify as female, 15% as male and 15% as non-binary. Ten percent of the cohort are African American, 15% Asian, 15% biracial, 25% Caucasian, 5% Latino, 15% Middle Eastern, and 10% Indigenous.

The fellows selected for the 2022 Sundance Institute Humanities Sustainability Fellowship are listed below, with biographies provided by the Institute:

Elizabeth Ai is a director, producer and writer. She’s a fellow of Berlinale Talents, Center for Asian American Media, Film Independent, Firelight Media, and Sundance Institute. Elizabeth and her team are currently in production with New Wave, and are simultaneously developing the dramatic series adaptation.

Nesa Azimi is an independent filmmaker living in New York City. She has worked on staff as a director and producer for Rain Media, PBS’ ‘Frontline’, Al Jazeera’s ‘Fault Lines’, National Geographic and the Ciné Institute of Haiti. Driver will be her first feature film.

Stephanie Black is an award-winning filmmaker whose credits include the feature-length documentaries H-2 Worker, Life & Debt and Africa Unite.

Shirley Bruno is an alumna of Le Fresnoy and London Film School whose work screens internationally at film festivals, museums and galleries. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn, and support for her work includes Creative Capital, Jerome Foundation, NYFA and NYSCA.

Zaina Bseiso is a filmmaker and curator working in documentary and experimental cinema whose practice traverses Egypt, Palestine, Cuba and the U.S.

William D. Caballero is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker, multimedia storyteller, 2018 Guggenheim Fellow and 2021 Creative Capital Award recipient. His animated documentaries have debuted at the 2022 and 2017 Sundance Film Festival, 2013 Slamdance Film Festival, the Museum of Modern Art, and on major networks such as HBO, PBS and Univision.

Amber Fares is an award-winning director, producer and cinematographer. She directed and produced Speed Sisters (2015), co-directed Convergence (2021), was cinematographer on Boycott (2021) and co-produced The Judge (2017), which won a Peabody Award. Amber is a Sundance Momentum Fellow (2019) and Sundance Editing + Story Lab Fellow (2014).

Ro Haber is a writer and director who works in narrative and doc. They are working on a cyberfeminist horror retelling of the Frankenstein story,, which is being produced by Seaview, and the SFFILM Rainin winner Since I Laid My Burden Down, by Brontez Purnell and Savannah Knoop.

Kathy Huang is a documentary filmmaker based in Los Angeles whose work explores issues of identity and belonging around the world, from transgender women searching for love in Indonesia to African migrants making their way in China. My Uncle the Fugitive is her first foray into personal, investigative storytelling.

Immy Humes is an Oscar-nominated filmmaker who explores social and political issues of race, gender and class through the prism of real stories about unconventional and complicated people. A native and lifelong New Yorker, she is currently working on a portrait of the late, great NYC filmmaker Shirley Clarke.

Christine Mladic Janney is an award-winning filmmaker and media anthropologist. A sociocultural anthropology PhD, she has conducted research in and about Peru for more than 10 years. Her latest project is a film about Nora de Izcue, Peru’s first woman film director, and her influence on Peruvian and Latin American cinema.

Zack Khalil is a filmmaker and artist from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, currently based in Brooklyn. His work centers Indigenous narratives in the present — and looks towards the future — through the use of innovative non-fiction forms. He is a core contributor to New Red Order, a public-secret society dedicated to expanding Indigenous agency.

Jackson Kroopf is a filmmaker and educator from Los Angeles. His films explore auto-mythology, healing through creative expression and radical approaches to collaboration. He works in both scripted and documentary, but usually somewhere in between. He is currently at work on his debut, hybrid feature on the art of survival.

Marlene McCurtis is a documentary producer and director who has directed series for A&E, the Discovery Channel and Nat Geo. Wednesdays in Mississippi is her first documentary feature film. Marlene has directed several short films and is an alum fellow of the Firelight Media Documentary Lab.

Carmen Oquendo-Villar studied film at NYU and at Harvard University, where she also obtained a PhD in Romance languages and literatures. Her filmography includes, Boquita, Mizery, Camil, Carmelo and The Needle, all of which engage with transgender communities in Latin America. She is currently completing her latest documentary project, Todas Las Flores.

Marlo Poras is a documentary filmmaker whose work has aired on HBO and PBS. Her films Mai’s America, Run Granny Run, and The Mosuo Sisters have traveled to festivals worldwide and won numerous awards, including two audience awards for feature documentary at SXSW and best feature documentary from the IDA.

Ainslee Alem Robson is an award-winning Ethiopian-American director, writer and media artist, and current Sundance ‘Art of Practice’ fellow. Her directorial debut, Ferenj: A Graphic Memoir in VR (2020), premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Tsanavi Spoonhunter is a Northern Arapaho and Northern Paiute non-fiction film director, producer and writer. Spoonhunter holds a master of journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley, focusing on documentary film. She is a First People’s Fund Fellow and an SFFilm FilmHouse Resident.

Yuko Torihara is a Tokyo-born filmmaker, actor, photographer, producer based in NYC.

Kevin D. Wong is a Bay Area–based director, editor and producer. He was a 2016 BAVC National Media Maker fellow and is currently an SFFilm Filmhouse resident. His shorts have won several awards (including the Loni Ding award for social justice documentary), played at numerous festivals and been distributed by PBS.

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