Rebecca Richman Cohen’s War Don Don takes a complex look at international justice.
In connection with the 2010 Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Cinereach presents its annual Cinereach Award to Rebecca Richman Cohen for her work as Director/Producer of War Don Don. The award, which includes a $5,000 prize, recognizes excellence in artful, vital storytelling.
In the film, Issa Sesay is tried in the “Special Court” of Sierre Leone, accused of committing war crimes during the country’s recent civil war. With unprecedented access to prosecutors, defense attorneys, victims, and, from behind bars, Sesay himself — War Don Don puts international justice on trial, finding that in some cases the past is not just painful, it is also opaque.
The Human Rights Watch Film Festival New York takes place from June 10-24. War Don Don will screen, with Rebecca Richman Cohen in attendance, at the Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center on:
June 12, 2010, 6:45PM *including panel discussion with co-council to Issa Sesay and others
June 13, 2010, 2:00PM
June 16, 2010, 4:00PM
Leading up to its Human Rights Watch Film Festival New York screenings, War Don Don was a selection of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, the Movies that Matter Festival in The Hague, the London International Documentary Film Festival, and the Human Rights Watch Film Festival London. It premiered, and won the Special Jury Prize, at SXSW 2010, and received the Karen Schmeer Award for Excellence in Documentary Editing at the Independent Film Festival Boston.
Spotlight on Documentaries participants will take part in one-on-one meetings with financiers, 25-minute micro-cinema pitch screenings, and be included in an Industry Video Library, roundtable discussions with festival programmers, and private events with buyers and programmers.
Spotlight on Documentaries is for U.S. filmmakers only (U.S.-born or living and able to work in the U.S.). Submissions should be feature length projects (50 minutes or longer) in production or post-production. They cannot be completed works, and work-in-progress material must be submitted.
Submit an online application here and mail in two DVD copies of your sample work to be considered.
National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has announced a new grant program called Bridging Culture through Film: International Topics which supports documentary film projects that examine international and transnational themes. More information is available here.
The application deadline is July 28th. Any U.S. nonprofit organization with IRS 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status is eligible, as are state and local governmental agencies. Individuals are not eligible to apply. Independent producers who wish to apply for NEH funding are advised to seek an eligible organization to sponsor the project and submit the application to NEH. Awards are for one to three years and for up to $75,000 (for development) and up to $800,000 (for production).
Applicants are encouraged to contact NEH program officers who will answer questions about the review process, supply samples of funded applications relevant to this grant program, and review preliminary drafts. Staff comments are not part of the formal review process and have no bearing on the final outcome of the application. Draft proposals should be sent as attachments to e-mail messages to [email protected].
Cinereach Intern Laura Elliott Interviewed the 2010 Reach Film Fellows. She summarizes their responses below.
Cinereach is now accepting applications for the 2011 Reach Film Fellowship. Leading up to the July 12, 2010 deadline, I thought it would be useful for current applicants and prospective fellows to hear about what to expect from the outgoing fellows, while the experience is fresh in their minds.
I interviewed the 2010 fellows via email and am sharing some of their responses here with those who might follow in their footsteps. Please don’t forget to also thoroughly read the RFF how to apply, program guidelines and FAQ sections of the Cinereach web site for all the official details.
Question 1: What stage was your project at when you applied for RFF and what was your approach to filling out the application?
For any habitual procrastinators out there, here’s a glimmer of hope: Courtney and Nadia both found out about RFF just two days before the deadline and were able to submit successful applications! On the other hand, if you’re reading this before July 10th please don’t wait. All of the 2010 fellows had put plenty of thought into their films before applying – even those who didn’t know they would be candidates.
Nadia knew she wanted to make a film inspired by the late-night-radio show “Lockdown Love.” The show featured shout-outs from women callers giving emotional messages to their incarcerated husbands and boyfriends and Nadia wanted to find some of the women and tell their stories. The show’s DJ Cherry Martinez would be the key window into the film, but Nadia had not asked her to participate yet. Before applying, Nadia says, “I quickly contacted Cherry Martinez and asked her if she would be interested. She got back to me right away. I then worked on the application for two days with my producer, Jamie-James Medina.”
Anthony writes “this was my second year applying for the Reach Fellowship. The first year I applied, I submitted a documentary that was a work in progress. It did not really fit the criteria and was not accepted (Surprise! Read the program guidelines!).” The second time around, Anthony applied with a film that was in early pre-production, the ideal stage for RFF candidates. He had located two potential documentary subjects, administrators of a school in the Bronx that serves young children diagnosed with autism, but had yet to figure out which children would be featured.
Courtney writes “I had a draft of the script for Wild Birds, had planned a fundraising party for later that summer, and had attached key [crew], but wasn’t really sure how I would actually fund the film. Learning about the Cinereach Fellowship, even so close to the deadline, was sort of a miracle. My producer and I stayed up until four am to complete the application, mailing it in just in time. Fortunately, most of the questions were topics I had already discussed with my producer and/or DP, or condensed versions of what I had written for the film’s prospectus. But it was still a crazy two days!”
Gabriel wrote his script for The Drawing (which was titled “Brothers” at the time) during his senior year of college at Cornell. Most of the time he spent on the RFF application was applied toward re-writes and crafting answers that focused on the Cinereach misson. “The information session that was held [at DCTV] a few weeks before the deadline helped me figure out how I should approach the application, said Gabriel. “My main takeaway from the event was the phrase ‘vital stories artfully told,’ which was how the Cinereach staff described the projects they were looking for. I made sure that my script was telling a story from a unique perspective, and was thus vital (I hoped), and I also made sure to articulate why I wanted to tell the story, hoping that this would indicate my ability to tell it artfully.” Gabe also asked a friend to draw some storyboards and concept art to help make his application visual. DCTV will host an RFF info session again this year on June 14th.
Each successful RFF application demonstrated that the filmmaker had a compelling and artful film to make, and was able, and determined, to complete it.
Question 2: When you were invited to interview, as a finalist, how did you prepare and what did you try to emphasize?
“I figured that since I’d made it to the interview stage, the staff thought the subject of my story fit with Cinereach’s socially conscious mission,” Gabriel recalls. “That meant I needed to [concentrate on] selling the staff on my storytelling ability” during the interview.
Anthony shares that he “prepared by going over my original application and by revisiting a classroom at the school where my film would be shot to be around the kids. This visit was crucial because in the interview itself I could focus on [conveying] what I was drawn to about my subject: the infectious energy of the students and the classroom.” He adds that he also tried to think of Cinereach staff he met not as interrogators, but as potential collaborators and “I was open about my questions/uncertainties for the project. It’s alright not to have all the answers.”
Nadia tried to be as relaxed as possible for her interview and, not knowing what to expect, was pleased to find that the Cinereach staff made her feel comfortable. “I tried to emphasize that although I didn’t have conventional film school training, I had a good amount of hands-on experience that would help me in the making of my film.”
Courtney was a little less thrilled with how her interview went (though Cinereach staff felt she did just fine – and may be critiquing herself too harshly). “I’m pretty sure my interview was not so good…but I wore a dress!” Courtney recalls. “I remember that. And I remember hoping Reva [the fellowships manager] would let my terrible interview slide because we both have our noses pierced.” (Reva assures me that was not the reason Courtney was selected). But, Courtney continues, “I would say interviewees should have someone practice-interview them based on what they wrote for their application, or practice telling yourself in the mirror why you want to make your film and why you care about the underlying issues it addresses.” She goes on “sometimes it’s much harder to express how you feel about your project aloud, or remember where those ideas came from after spending so much time translating them into words on a page.”
Question 3: How did your past experiences prepare you for what was required of you during the Reach Film Fellowship?
Each of the 2010 fellows had prior hands-on experience directing short films, as well as having gained experience working on other directors’ sets. At the same time, each was very eager and open for more experience writing/directing/producing with professional guidance.
Although Courtney had made other short films as a student at New York University, and seen them screen at festivals, she still felt like her knowledge of filmmaking was somewhat theoretical. “Having experience putting a shoot together helps to avoid problems you’ve encountered before. I definitely learned a whole lot from the Fellowship, though. I think I knew theoretically how to do so many things but the Fellowship helped me put those concepts into action. That was true for everything from script rewrites to audience building.”
Also a graduate of NYU with student films under his belt (fiction and nonfiction), Anthony applied after having gone through “an extended period of working as a production assistant on T.V. shows.” Doing that, Anthony found that it was very difficult to gain up-close exposure to professional filmmakers working in the industry. He began to “crave collaboration” over what he calls “the walkie-talkie cog life of a part-time PA.” Cinereach treats the fellows as peers, he says. “I was blown away by the access we’re given to working filmmakers – advisors who donate their time and come in to meet with us.”
Nadia didn’t have an academic film background, but had more hands-on industry experience than most of the other fellows because she had worked her way up from a Production Assistant to Camera Assistant to her current role as a Director of Photography for some of the most prominent documentary filmmakers working today. This experience gave her the confidence and skill to not just direct, but also shoot her own film, and capture it in a manner that was aesthetically and technically on par with the well-crafted feature docs she DPs.
Gabriel began RFF after having gained most of his experience from his senior thesis film, a 25-minute film he made in New York, using a professional crew. The crew of this production was much larger than his crew for his RFF film, The Drawing, and there were many more locations. “Making my thesis film gave me a good sense of what crew and equipment I needed and what I could do without,” he says. Gabriel also made a conscious effort to treat the workshops and meetings during RFF like he would have treated college seminars. “In order to get the most out of them, I tried to always come prepared—whether that meant taking notes and having questions ready or simply having my ideas organized in my head.”
Question 4: What were your major takeaways from the fellowship?
For Nadia, the biggest takeaway from the process was the experience of finishing a film in a very condensed period of time (fellowship films must be completed between September and April in order to screen at RFF’s culminating screening event, Reach Out). It was a big challenge but also left her with a great sense of accomplishment. “There was no time to procrastinate. Just do. Deadlines are very important to get me motivated.”
Courtney recalls “having a group of people from different professional backgrounds [DPs, producers, editors, composers, other writer/directors] help me through the project was incredibly useful. I think in film school, this connection isn’t really made. If you write a script for a screenwriting class, it’s rare to then analyze the [same] script for scheduling and budgetary purposes.”
Anthony adds that this opportunity was a chance to “surround yourself with people who are more talented than you. My crew [for this project was very skilled] and they made this project their own. In many ways I felt my role of a director was to get out of the way and let my crew do their work.”
For Gabriel, the Reach Film Fellowship experience reaffirmed that there is no substitute for experience. “Our mentors and advisors were able to help me along and point me in the right direction only because they’ve built up lots of their own experience making films.”
Question 5: What are you doing now? And where do you go from here?
We’re excited to report that Anthony’s film, Bye, has been licensed for broadcast (more details on that as we have them). He adds “right now, I’m working on distributing Bye and applying to film festivals. The fellowship has also exposed me to resources for documentary filmmakers, workshops and labs and I’m hoping to participate in some [of those] in the future. More than anything, I want to continue working in documentaries, as a PA, driver, anything. Wait, PA’s on documentaries don’t need walkies, right?
Courtney is writing a feature version of her RFF film, Wild Birds, and applying for grants to develop the project further. She is hoping to produce it next year. “One thing I know for sure is that Cinereach has given me some really amazing tools that I’ll be able to use on any future film endeavor,” she says.
Gabriel just announced that The Drawing will screen at Newfest in New York this June. He hopes it will continue to open doors for him and is currently working on making another short film and writing a feature script. He plans to follow the strategy of Tze Chun, an RFF advisor, who committed to making a short film every six months and writing a feature-length script every nine months in lieu of going to graduate school. Because of a successful short, Tze was able to finance his first low budget feature.
Nadia continues working as a DP and plans to devote her summer to festival submissions for Love Lockdown. She says, “my hope for Love Lockdown is that many people get to see it, that’s the real reward in filmmaking, sharing with others.” She adds that her next directing project may not be too far off. “If you want to be a director you have to direct films, in whatever capacity, so I see this as another stepping stone to achieving that goal.”
Question 6: Do you have any general advice for 2011 applicants and accepted fellows?
“The most important thing is to have a clear sense of the story you want to tell when you apply. Even though the script may change, it is critical to know what is at the heart of your story and why this is important to you,” Gabriel offers. “For accepted fellows, there are so many opportunities and so much information available to you through RFF that it is probably impossible to take advantage of it all. The more prepared and organized you are, the more you will get out of it.”
Nadia recommends “be realistic about the type of film you want to make, and try to make it whether or not you get the grant. [If you are accepted] be prepared to do a lot of writing, production is only half the battle.” By writing, Nadia is referring to the content fellows are required to create during the fellowship to supplement the making of their films and assist Cinereach in showcasing the filmmakers (via Cinereach.org, the Reach Out screening event, and blog posts that chronicle what each fellow is learning from mentors and advisors).
Anthony encourages applicants to put as much effort as possible into the application process. “Fight for it, he says. This opportunity is priceless.” He urges accepted fellows not to “force the process.” Be honest with yourself and Cinereach about your uncertainties and what is really driving you to produce your film.”
Courtney’s advice is “just keep making movies. Just keep writing, shooting and watching as many films as possible. As I learned from a Cinereach workshop, ‘You can’t be a filmmaker if you don’t make films,’ so keep at it!”
On May 5th The San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) announced its Golden Gate award winners and juried prize/grant recipients. Here’s the full announcement.
Two members of the Cinereach family have been awarded San Francisco Film Society/Kenneth Rainin Foundation Filmmaking Grants, which recognize narrative films that tackle social justices themes from unique, personal perspectives, and take an artistic approach.
Cinereach grantee Circumstance, a fiction feature film by Maryam Keshavarz, received $50,000 towards post-production. Set in Iran, Circumstance is about three childhood friends as they grapple with sexuality, love and friendship during a tumultuous adolescence.
Beasts of the Southern Wild, which Cinereach Productions is producing with New Orleans-based Court 13, also received $50,000. ‘Beasts’ draws inspiration from the dissolving bayou landscape and is driven by collaboration with communities living on the edge of the Louisiana Delta.
Cinereach Grantee Dragonslayer, a documentary film by Tristan Patterson, was under consideration to receive the SFFS/Film Arts Foundation grant, offered this year only (in honor of Film Arts Foundation’s 32-year legacy of support for nonfiction filmmaking) and received Honorable Mention.
In Entre Nos, adoring mother Mariana has toted her two children from Colombia to New York City to indulge her husband’s whim. But when he abruptly abandons the family, she’ll have to rely on her own imagination and the courage of her remarkable kids to survive insurmountable odds during their first summer in the United States.
Discounted tickets will be available at the Quad Cinemas for $8 to members of IFP, NALIP, & WMM. Please bring proof of membership to receive the discount.