The San Francisco Film Society is strengthening its documentary programs by adding two new board members and expanding its documentary film fund. New SFFS executive director Noah Cowan is bringing in veteran documentary producer and funders Julie Parker Benello and Lisa Kleiner Chanoff to join the Board of Directors. And the SFFS has secured funding for a minimum of three years from Jennifer Battat and the Jenerosity Foundation for its Doc Film Fund cash grants, which are given to feature filmmakers for post-production.
While the society had held conversations with Benello and Chanoff, Cowan made the final push to bring them aboard. He believes that the Golden Age of documentary cinema “continues to roll on and as only just begun,” and is hoping to boost the grants that go to American documentarians going forward, he told me in a phone interview. “There are so many exciting developments in documentary filmmaking in the U.S. San Francisco feels like a natural place for the next phase of this incredible run of American docs to take flight and create new opportunities for these filmmakers.”
“Right now there are a lot of extraordinary foundations related to social action in the Bay Area,” he continued, “who are looking for partners in media. We can be an effective conduit for those funders to the greatest documentary filmmakers working today.”
Julie Parker Benello cofounded Chicken & Egg Pictures with Judith Helfand and Wendy Ettinger in 2005 to match strategically timed grants with mentoring and and collaborating with women documentary filmmakers. Benello is Founder and Managing Director of a new equity fund, Gamechanger Films, that is investing in a slate of independent narrative films by women directors.
Lisa Kleiner Chanoff is cofounder of Catapult Film Fund, which provides development grants for documentary films early in the production process. Chanoff and filmmaker Bonni Cohen started Catapult in 2010. Chanoff is also an investor in narrative and documentary films and a philanthropist deeply involved in education and the arts.
Since its launch in 2011, the SFFS Documentary Film Fund has distributed more than $375,000 to advance new work by non-fiction filmmakers nationwide. Their films include Zachary Heinzerling’s “Cutie and the Boxer,” which won Sundance’s Directing Award for documentary, was released by RADiUS-TWC and nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature; Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson’s “American Promise,” which premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and won the festival’s Special Jury Prize in the documentary category; and Shaul Schwarz’s Sundance hit “Narco Cultura.”
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The application period for the next round of SFFS Documentary Film Fund grants opens November 10. Finalists will be announced in late January 2015; winners in early March. SFFS Documentary Film Fund grants are awarded once each year. Exact amounts of individual grants and the number of grants made are determined on an annual basis. As with all Film Society grants, in addition to the cash awards, recipients will gain access to numerous benefits through Filmmaker360, the Film Society’s comprehensive and dynamic filmmaker services program. Filmmaker360 is a leader in the field of nonprofit support of cinema and offers unparalleled assistance and opportunities designed to foster creativity and further the careers of independent filmmakers nationwide. Filmmaker360 oversees one of the largest film grant programs in the country, which disperses nearly $1 million annually to incubate and support innovative and exceptional films at every stage of production. Other elements of Filmmaker360 include project development consultation and fiscal sponsorship, FilmHouse residencies, Off the Page screenplay workshops, information resources and a membership program with various discounts and benefits. For information visit sffs.org/filmmaker360.