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Toolkit | Get Money for Your Film! Meet the Tribeca Film Institute Grants Programmers

Indiewire By Brian Brooks | Indiewire October 7, 2011 at 4:57AM

To date, indieWIRE's Toolkit section has profiled a number of film festival programmers to provide insight into the methodology, philosophy and advice of those major annual events. Today, iW takes a look at a major funding organization, the Tribeca Film Institute (TFI), the non-profit component of the organization founded by Robert DeNiro, Jane Rosenthall and Craig Hatkoff.
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To date, indieWIRE's Toolkit section has profiled a number of film festival programmers to provide insight into the methodology, philosophy and advice of those major annual events. Today, iW takes a look at a major funding organization, the Tribeca Film Institute (TFI), the non-profit component of the organization founded by Robert DeNiro, Jane Rosenthall and Craig Hatkoff.

Today's profiles include insight from Tribeca Film Institute's Ryan Harrington and Tamir Muhammad who oversee the group's documentary and narrative grants programs, respectively. Harrington and Muhammad spearhead the programs, heading various committees evaluating applications under the direction of TFI's executive director Beth Janson. Below, Harrington and Muhammad give their insight on the programs and practical advice on how to get money - always a crucial resource for any filmmaker.

TFI annually supports filmmakers with grants and other support through various programs that annually provide over $1 million "to filmmakers and media artists in pursuit of their creative vision."

TFI's Mission Statement follows:

The Tribeca Film Institute is a 501(c)(3) year-round nonprofit arts organization that empowers working filmmakers through grants, professional development and resources, while also helping New York City students discover independent film and filmmaking.

Money is dispersed annually through TFI's various programs including those that follow:

The TFI New Media Fund is an innovative new program to fund and launch exceptional cross-platform media projects that address social issues and inequality. The Fund is made possible through a generous five-year commitment from the Ford Foundation.

Tribeca All Access promotes directors and screenwriters from diverse backgrounds by matching them with potential investors in one-on-one meetings during the Tribeca Film Festival. Year-round, TAA supports filmmakers in the field by offering use of free digital filmmaking and editing equipment; providing promotional support for completed films; and hosting work-in-progress screenings, educational workshops and fellowships. Made possible by Bloomberg, with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts, Time Warner, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and New York State Council on the Arts.

The TFI Documentary Fund offers $150,000 in grants to support exceptional character-driven documentaries.

The Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund provides $150,000 annually to feature-length documentaries which highlight and humanize issues of social importance from around the world. Funded films are driven by thoughtful and in-depth storytelling, bolstered by a compelling visual approach. Made possible by Gucci.

The TFI Sloan Filmmaker Fund provides $140,000 annually in support of innovative and compelling feature filmmaking that explores scientific, mathematical, and technological themes and storylines in fresh ways. Made possible by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The TFI Latin American Media Arts Fund provides $40,000 annually to innovative feature and documentary filmmakers working in Latin America. Supported by LAPTV, Heineken and Canacine.

Heineken Voces Grant: Supports Latin American artists living in the U.S. and working on feature-length narrative and documentary projects that offer new perspectives on their cultural experiences. Funding: Two $10,000 grants being awarded (for one feature narrative and one feature documentary).

The Reframe Collection is a unique online destination for filmmakers to sell and promote their films. Supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Applications for grants are currently being accepted by TFI through October 11.

indieWIRE's other Festival Programmer Profiles:

Toronto International Film Festival | Sundance Film Festival | SXSW | Tribeca | Los Angeles Film Festival | San Francisco International Film Festival | Woodstock Film Festival


Ryan Harrington - Director, Documentary Programming, Tribeca Film Institute

Going from A&E to TFI

I worked for A&E Television Networks for nearly a decade, and the last four of those years were spent managing production for A&E IndieFilms, their theatrical doc unit. I really cut my teeth on doc production and funding there, and was lucky enough to work with some of the most respected filmmakers working today. In 2007 Nancy Schafer, the Executive Director of the Tribeca Film Festival, introduced me to Beth Janson, the ED of TFI, and she hired me immediately to help build and launch the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund, which was our first documentary fund at TFI. Ever since then, Beth and I have worked together to create a very robust system for documentary funding and filmmaker support – which I am enormously proud of.

The doc programs include (grant deadline for these programs is October 10th):
TFI Documentary Fund: supports character-driven, non-fiction works-in-progress that sit outside of the social issue landscape
TFI Latin America Media Arts Fund: supports innovative film and video artists with documentary or mixed media forms who are living and working in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America.

Tribeca All Access: an innovative professional development program that supports filmmakers from traditionally underrepresented communities, and helps bring their artistic visions, cultural experiences, and previously unheard voices to the screen.

Heineken Voces: supports Latin American artists living in the U.S. and working on feature-length projects that offer new perspectives on their cultural experiences.

These submissions will open in Jan 2012:

Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund: funds feature-length story-driven films of social importance. And most recently the TFI New Media Fund, overseen by my colleague Ingrid Kopp: provides funding and support to non-fiction, social-issue media projects which go beyond traditional screens - integrating film with content across media platforms, from video games and mobile apps to social networks and interactive websites.

Insight on how Tribeca Film Institute evaluates grant applications

TFI has a very thorough evaluation system. Everything that is submitted is looked at by a select committee of reviewers at least three times. For us, it is about two variables: the story and the filmmaker telling that story. Across the board, we look for stories that are timely, untold, thoughtful and in-depth, bolstered by a compelling visual approach. Apart from unique access and compelling character portraits, we also pay attention to who is submitting proposals for funding. While we have funded some amazing documentary veterans (like Laura Poitras, Rachel Boynton, Marshall Curry, Stanley Nelson, the late St. Claire Bourne, Natalia Almada - supported through TAA), we like to discover emerging artists that we believe will have long-lasting careers in the field.

And advice...

Be sure to read all of our guidelines (on our website www.tribecafilminstitute.org) before you submit, and look at some of the other films we have funded to get a sense of the types of films and filmmakers we are drawn to. Also, don't be afraid to ask questions - we are a very accessible group of people and we are here to help you. Be realistic with the goals of your film and don't over-complicate your proposal - it should focus on story and give us a sense of the dramatic arc. And last but not least - know your audience and who you are making your film for.

Examples of past TFI grantees

"If A Tree Falls," "The Oath, Enemies of the People," "Donor Unknown," "Marathon Boy," "Give Up Tomorrow," "Monica and David," "Fixer: Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi," "The Redemption of General Butt Naked," "Making the Boys," "Off and Running," "Sons of Perdition."

These projects are all about access, character, story, and an entrance into worlds not often explored on film.

No limits...

I don't want to limit TFI and our funds to being topic-driven or having to fill a quota - we are very open. The best part of my job is to find that gem of a submission that focuses on a topic that I never thought existed, or that I thought I would never be personally drawn to. Actually…I'd like to pose that same question to potential future grantees when they submit proposals. I'm ready to be surprised!


Tamir Muhammad - Director, Feature Programming, Tribeca Film Institute

Going from NYU to Tribeca...

I grew up in Bridgeport, CT., a post-industrial town that reminds me a lot of Brooklyn so coming to study film at NYU was a natural fit. I first came to Tribeca when it was a production company but I was there when we hosted “Dinner Downtown” as a response to 9/11, which became the conversation leading into the launch of the Tribeca Film Festival.

After the first two years of the festival, I began holding positions at a few other festivals like Director of Operations at the New York Latino International Film Festival and working my way up in film production to eventually Production Managing. I was just wrapping up on a horror film "Dead Calling" when I overheard a set P.A stating how she went to school for sirecting but attributed her lack of jobs to her race, gender, and the type of stories she writes.

Whether that was the case or not, I began thinking back to a previous job, assisting the Directors Rep at a production company and I remembered the challenges we faced trying to get lucrative jobs that were outside of Hip Hop music videos for some of our skilled directors of color. I never thought there was necessarily anything wrong with the directors making the Hip Hop videos, but just felt socially disappointed that there was a lack of choice for those who sought to tell another story. In 2006, I returned to Tribeca and joined the staff on the Tribeca All Access program, one of the many programs I now oversee as the Director of Feature Programming at the Tribeca Film Institute.

Tell a good story...

It starts with telling a good story - does the filmmaker have a unique style; are they saying something fresh on a topic; or do they master a particular genre. We then look to see if the project and the strength of the filmmaker matches up well in terms of production scale of the project and the filmmakers ability to complete the project as it relates to their experience in that role(s). We then look to see how our grants, support, and industry connections would impact the project.

For the TFI Sloan Filmmaker Fund it’s about finding narrative projects that are scientifically relevant, authentic, and engaging through the plot, themes, or characters in the story. For Tribeca All Access one of the writers or directors attached in the crew has to self identify with a community that is statistically under-represented in the film industry, regardless of the content of the film. For the Heineken Voces Grant it’s about supporting Latin American artists living in the United States working on a feature-length narrative project that offers a new perspective on their cultural experience.

The pluses of timing and momentum...

Timing is everything; sometimes it takes the right point in your career and/or the right project to break through the competitive process. If you are established in your career this is much easier but if you are emerging sometimes it’s about submitting an exciting project you’ve done a few drafts on and submitting when there is momentum in your career.

Part of our support at TFI is to help introduce you to people that could move the project forward so don’t attach someone for the sake of having an attachment; make sure it makes sense for the project long term. Ask our staff or alumni questions; they’re a valuable resource. The process is competitive so often we pass on projects we genuinely have an interest in. It’s always worth it to keep working on the project and reapply if the timing is right.

TFI offers up funding and more...

The TFI Sloan Filmmaker Fund gives over $140,000 total each year in funding and Tribeca All Access last year introduced grants of over $100,000 total and additional grants available exclusively for the program alumni. Previous TAA alumni had benefited from several other components of the program including one-on-one meetings with industry, year round workshops and panel, access to free & discounted equipment, and specialized promotional support.

Cherien Dabis received a cash award for "Amreeka." Paola Mendoza and Gloria La Morte used some of TFI’s equipment to complete "Entre Nos" as did Tze Chun for "Children of Invention." Recently Rashaad Ernesto Greene utilized industry contacts at TAA as well as a promotional interview on BET for his film "Gun Hill Road." TFI Sloan Fund is helping Jenny Deller and Kristen Fairweather complete the upcoming film "Future Weather."

Finding a balance with stories...

We always look to have a balance selection for the industry to choose from. For the TFI Sloan Filmmaker Fund, we would love to see some contemporary stories with modest budgets to include with some of the historical stories we normally receive and support. For Tribeca All Access , the program is designed to promote inclusion of who gets to tell stories so the qualification is not on the content of the film but the crew behind it (at least one director or writer from a statistically under-represented community in the film industry must be attached).

Therefore we’re also looking for projects that are about tackling a genre like comedy, horror, animation even though race and gender may or may not be a pivotal point of the story. Heineken Voces Grant is a new and exciting grant so we’re looking for a Latin Filmmaker in the US who has something new and exciting to say.

Tribeca continues to grow in concert with the needs of filmmakers. As we look to grow new initiatives I continue to listen to the field at large so our program support has the greatest impact.





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