The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has invested more money in social issue films and digital media projects this year than any other year, totaling nearly $2.5 Million. With this year's massive round of new grants given by MacArthur, the total number of documentary films supported by the foundation since 1985 is now more than 300.
This year's 19 projects were picked out of 500 submissions. Collectively, they address a range of timely issues, including the Syrian refugee crisis, race relations and inequality in the United States, mental illness, police relations and environmental pollution.
"MacArthur remains committed to deep and insightful journalism and media in the public interest; supporting documentary films is one way we support excellent and original nonfiction storytelling on issues that matter to our society," said Kathy Im, MacArthur’s Director of Journalism and Media. "The projects selected for funding include a mix of documentary forms, underscoring the importance of supporting both proven and new ways to tell stories that engage audiences and spark conversations."
The following 19 films will receive the MacArthur grant this year. Synopses provided by the MacArthur Foundation.
The film follows the struggles and triumphs of two Syrian families living in a Jordanian refugee camp as they contemplate an uncertain future, directed by Ellen Martinez and Steph Ching, After Spring LLC ($140,000).
"Angels are Made of Light"
Which follows the daily struggles and inner lives of students and teachers at a school in Kabul, Afghanistan, during the closing years of America’s longest war, directed by James Longley, Angels are Made of Light ($100,000).
A virtual reality journey to the land of indigenous elder Nyarri Morgan, whose first contact with Western culture comes via a dramatic collision between his traditional world view and the cutting edge of nuclear weapons technology, directed by Lynette Wallworth, The Strongheart Group ($100,000).
A multi-platform series inviting local citizens to help craft new and surprising stories from their community, produced by Sue Schardt, Teresa Gorman, and Adriana Gallardo, AIR ($200,000).
Which tracks the lives of people suffering from mental illness over the course of three years as they search for sanity, directed by Kenneth Rosenberg, Upper East Films LLC ($100,000).
"Quest: The Fury and the Sound"
Follows the experiences of an African American family who, despite being victimized by gun violence, continue to embrace their community. directed by Jonathan Olshefski, Quest Fury Sound LLC ($100,000).
Which explores both the personal and political turmoil that the Ebola outbreak exposes in Sierra Leone through the eyes of a local filmmaker, directed by Banker White, Anna Fitch, and Arthur Pratt, WeOwnTV ($200,000).
A series of six short films that will serve as a catalyst for dialogue on the deep racial tension and polarization that exists in U.S. communities, directed by Joe Brewster, Blair Foster, Geeta Gandbhir, Perri Peltz, Michèle Stephenson, The Conversation LLC ($75,000).
"The Fire and the Bird's Nest"
A film about a young mother who fights to save her homeland from a hydro dam and illegal logging that threatens to destroy the natural and spiritual heritage of her ancestors, directed by Kalyanee Mam, Migrant Films ($100,000).
Which looks at the experiences of Iraqi and Afghan interpreters, and the American veterans they worked with, as they seek to rebuild their lives, directed by Sofian Khan and Andres Caballero, Capital K Pictures ($125,000).
"The Oakland Police Project"
Which follows the Oakland, California Police Department as it works to rebuild trust within the community, directed by Peter Nicks, Open’hood ($120,000).
Which follows four friends seeking a college education after the state of Georgia bans undocumented students from its top universities, Directed by Heather Courtney and Anayansi Prado, ¡Presente! Films ($125,000).
"To Bridge the Divide"
Which explores the efforts of a suburban high school to address racial equity and academic achievement, directed by Steve James, OPRF Film Inc./Kartemquin Educational Films ($200,000).
Which exposes the criminal underground that allows American companies to profit from workers held as modern day slaves in the United States, directed by Daffodil Altan and Andrés Cediel, Investigative Reporting Productions, Inc. ($150,000).
Which follows two tribal court judges who strive to reduce incarceration rates and heal their people through restorative justice practices, directed by Anne Makepeace, Makepeace Productions ($75,000).
"Untitled Missouri Film"
Which reveals the history of St. Louis, Missouri’s atomic weapons past and the health consequences of illegal dumping of uranium and thorium in suburban neighborhoods, directed by Rebecca Cammisa, Subsurface Smoldering Event, LLC ($100,000).
A multi-platform, interactive project that explores the role of whiteness in the American racial paradigm, directed by Whitney D. Dow, Feral Films Inc. ($100,000).
Which follows the residents, activists, and leaders of Ferguson, Missouri in the ongoing struggle for racial justice, directed by Sabaah Jordan and Damon Davis, Whose Streets? LLC ($150,000).
"Working in America"
A multi-platform documentary project chronicling the everyday challenges, triumphs and realities of working, inspired by the 40th anniversary of Studs Terkel’s influential publication Working, directed by Jane M. Saks, Project& ($100,000).