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Finalists Announced for $15,000 SFFS / Hearst Screenwriting Grant (Cheryl Dunye, Lanre Olabisi, Andrew Burrows-Trotman)

Finalists Announced for $15,000 SFFS / Hearst Screenwriting Grant (Cheryl Dunye, Lanre Olabisi, Andrew Burrows-Trotman)

Here are the 8 finalists competing for the San Francisco Film Society’s 7th annual SFFS / Hearst $15,000 Screenwriting Grant – an award presented to a screenwriter with at least 5 years of experience in the craft, and a minimum of one feature screenplay to their credit.

And if a previous short or feature screenplay you’ve written has been produced as an actual film, you become an even more attractive candidate.

The below finalists were selected from submissions received in response to a nationwide call for entries (which we shared on this blog). The winner will be announced in mid-October.

“The SFFS / Hearst Screenwriting Grant is always a great pleasure to work on, since we have the privilege of being there at the start of so many great ideas,” said Michele Turnure-Salleo, Director of Filmmaker360. “With this program we get the chance to champion great projects in their earliest stages, and only now — six years into the process — are the first films we supported with this grant nearing completion. Being in the home stretch with early Hearst recipients like ‘The Fixer,’ which we are hoping to see onscreen in the months to come, is particularly satisfying. That long creative process, from the inception of an idea in a screenwriter’s mind to the projection of a finished product in front of an audience, is what drives us forward in Filmmaker360. We can’t wait to see all the talented folks in this group of finalists realize their visions.”

Past recipients who’ve gone on to even further success include Ryan Coogler’s debut feature “Fruitvale Station;” Benh Zeitlin’s debut feature “Beasts of the Southern Wild;” and several others.

This year’s finalists include a few names readers of this blog will be familiar with, like Cheryl Dunye, Maris Curran, Lanre Olabisi and Andrew Burrows-Trotman.

The list of 8 follows:


– Andrew Burrows-Trotman (writer/director) — “If We Left”
Inspired by the events that led to the creation of the Residential Care For the Elderly Reform Act, If We Left tells the story of a cook and a janitor who stay without pay to care for abandoned senior residents when their assisted-living home is shut down in Castro Valley, CA. 

– Christina Choe (writer/director) — “Seed War”
When a teenage girl discovers her mission to save an agricultural Noah’s ark, she embarks on a dangerous quest to save humanity. Seed War is a story set in a dystopian future about the endangerment of our food supply, the ethics of genetic engineering, and the fate of a seed bank.

– Maris Curran (writer/director) — “Selene”
Selene fears she has laryngitis again. On a routine doctor visit to get antibiotics, she is diagnosed with a rare condition that leaves her permanently voiceless. As her world turns upside down and she struggles to communicate and adapt, she discovers that this new limitation leads to the opening of a new world.

– Cheryl Dunye (writer/director) and Marc Smolowitz (producer) — “Black is Blue”
Black Is Blue is a chilling dramatic tale inspired by the 2013 murder-suicide of a trans woman who shot and killed a trans man before turning the gun on herself. Using characters from the award-winning short film of the same title, this feature follows two queer people of color who struggle to find home in their bodies and in the ever-changing city of Oakland.

– Rob Epstein (writer/director) — “Dogpatch”
Jake, a successful, funny, smart and handsome filmmaker in his 50s, lives alone in a funky Victorian in San Francisco. Jake’s lover — the love of his life — died of AIDS 25 years ago along with all of Jake’s friends from his younger days. Jake has never quite gotten over this, nor has he ever truly dealt with his grief…that is, until the ghosts of his dead friends visit to set him free. 

– Brent Green (co-writer/director) and Thyra Heder (co-writer) — “Over The Eaves”
In this stop-motion animated film, a young boy begins inventing strange, hand-made machines to ease his mother’s hard labor and bring joy to her monotonous life. When his most daring invention backfires and changes life on Earth forever, his neighbors struggle to understand whether he has done them harm or shown them what they have been missing. 

– Natalia Leite and Alexandra Roxo (co-writer/directors) — “Seeds”
After a complicated abortion that leaves her infertile, June decides to visit a “psychic surgeon” in the Brazilian desert with her estranged friend, Camila, only to get caught in the middle of a sexual abuse scandal. 

– Lanre Olabisi (writer/director) — “Highway to Nowhere”
One border tells three intersecting stories: one about a young teen trying to cross it in search of his father; another about a young man trying to impress his father by controlling both sides of it; and the last about a grizzled US border patrol officer whose life is thrown into upheaval when he is assigned to protect it. 

As with all Film Society grants, in addition to the cash awards, recipients gain access to numerous benefits through Filmmaker360, the Film Society’s comprehensive and dynamic filmmaker services program, which offers assistance and opportunities designed to foster creativity and further the careers of independent filmmakers worldwide. It 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, FilmHouse Residencies, Off the Page screenwriting workshops, fiscal sponsorship and information resources. 

For more information on the SFFS / Hearst Screenwriting Grant and the other Film Society grant programs, visit

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