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Sundance Launches New Initiative to Spur Inventive Artistic Practices in Nonfiction Film

Sundance Launches New Initiative to Spur Inventive Artistic Practices in Nonfiction Film

READ MORE: Sundance Selects Picks Up Political Controversy Doc ‘Weiner’

Sundance’s Documentary Film Program (DFP), which awarded $2 million in grants to documentary projects in 2015, today is announcing a new "Art of Nonfiction" initiative.

The initiative, which is being financially backed by Cinereach, has been formed to find ways to creatively and financially support filmmakers "exploring inventive artistic practice in story, craft and form." The first fellows of the new program are Robert Greene ("Kate Plays Christine"), Margaret Brown ("The Great Invisible"),  and Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq ("These Birds Walk").

The initiative is unique for the DFP in the sense that they are backing filmmakers, rather than specific projects. The goal of the fellowship is to financially support filmmakers for 12 months and allow them the freedom to focus on their process and careers as artists, rather than being forced to take other work or compromise on the type of films they want to make. The fellowship is artist-led, with the filmmakers engaged in a dialogue with DFP’s staff about how Sundance can help their process as artists, including everything from financial workshops about maintaining career sustainability to an intense week-long exploration of how who they are as individuals informs their visual language as filmmakers.

"It’s really about the journey and what we did was to have a non-application application," DFP director Tabitha Jackson told Indiewire in a recent interview. "Instead of asking filmmakers to come jump through hoops we were just very interested in reaching out to people who demonstrated a thoughtfulness around the form and asking them the question of what would help their process across the year."

The fellowship is being unveiled today, but quietly began back in April. While the filmmakers selected eight months ago are not expected to make a film, during the fellowship Greene has gone from pre-production through post-production on "Kate Plays Christine," which will premiere at Sundance this week. For Jackson, the boundaries Greene pushes in "Kate" — a film about actress Kate Lyn Sheil preparing to play a real life television host Christine Chubbuck, who killed herself on live TV — are a perfect example of the type of work she hopes the initiative will encourage and support:

"Robert in his previous films, like ‘Actress,’ has been interested in this idea about performance in non-fiction, but in ‘Kate Plays Christine’ he takes those same ideas about performance and makes them that much more explicit. I’m really proud that the fellowship, through the conversations and activities, could help spur him to make such a bold work," Jackson said.

"The fellowship has been so deeply meaningful to me as I was making the movie," Greene told Indiewire. "It was the combination of the financial support, which gave me the courage to really go for it with this film, but also the group-moral-family-artist support, which kept pushing me. I would screen footage and talk to them about the project."

"A lot of times when you are working with a group you get those whispers of, ‘Well, maybe you need to rein it in,’ but this was the opposite — ‘Keep going, keep pushing’ — and the film is really a result of that encouragement," he added. "After my family and producers, they were the first people I called to share the news that ‘Kate’ got into Sundance."

The new initiative is yet another sign of the DFP’s new emphasis on cinematic expression in non-fiction filmmaking under the stewardship of Jackson, who is just beginning her third year as director.

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