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Points North Institute and CNN Films Award Emergency Grants for Doc Filmmakers

The inaugural American Stories Documentary Fund replaces the annual Camden/Tribeca Film Institute Filmmaker Retreat.

From top, left to right, Heidi Burkey ("Salt Sisters"), Isabel Castro ("Mija"), Jon-Sesrie Goff ("After Sherman"), Tonya Lewis Lee ("Aftershock"), Paula Eiselt ("Aftershock"), Jalena Keane-Lee ("Standing Above The Clouds")

From top, left to right, Heidi Burkey (“Salt Sisters”), Isabel Castro (“Mija”), Jon-Sesrie Goff (“After Sherman”), Tonya Lewis Lee (“Aftershock”), Paula Eiselt (“Aftershock”), Jalena Keane-Lee (“Standing Above The Clouds”)

Points North Institute

Points North Institute and CNN Films on Tuesday announced the recipients of a round of $50,000 in grants for five teams of documentary filmmakers. The money, which covers urgent production or post-production during the pandemic, is part of the inaugural American Stories Documentary Fund, which replaces the annual Camden/Tribeca Film Institute Filmmaker Retreat. The teams are each getting a $10,000 grant and also worked with additional funders, distributors, and creative partners during Points North Institute’s Camden International Film Festival in Maine, which wrapped October 12.

It’s the latest shift in the changing documentary and independent filmmaking world, in addition to being the next chapter in the collaboration between CNN Films and Points North Institute, which in 2015 established an annual Filmmaker Retreat with Tribeca Film Institute. TFI earlier this year indefinitely “paused” its operations. Another former TFI program, IF/Then Shorts, recently moved to Field of Vision as TFI wound down.

“While there is no question this has been a challenging year for independent filmmakers, there’s also no question that there has never been a more pivotal moment to support independent storytellers and stories that represent where America is today,” said Ben Fowlie, executive and artistic director of the Points North Institute, in an official statement. “We’re honored to have the opportunity to renew our partnership with CNN Films and Jose Rodriguez to recognize these five incredible projects, all of which are exploring an America grappling with its past, present and future in powerful and creative ways, and are grateful for CNN Films’ continued efforts to support independent filmmakers.”

As in previous years, filmmakers supported in this program are exploring “American Stories” in their work. “Over the past five years, CNN Films has been proud to work with Points North in establishing a retreat that provides a space for non-fiction filmmakers from all over the United States to come together creatively and demonstrate the power of storytelling. Today, the crises impacting the world have certainly made the challenging job of independent filmmaking even more difficult,” added Alexandra Hannibal, director for CNN Films, in her own statement. “We are delighted to support these essential stories of our time and for the opportunity to contribute in creating opportunities for talented filmmakers to flourish.”

Here are this year’s recipients:

“After Sherman”
Directed by Jon Sesrie-Goff
Produced by Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich & blair dorosh-walther

“After Sherman” is a story about inheritance and the tension that defines our collective American history. The director’s exploration of coastal South Carolina as a site of pride and racial trauma through Gullah cultural retention and land preservation is interrupted by the shootings at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.

“Aftershock”
Directed and Produced by Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee

Through one family’s tragic loss and fight for justice, “Aftershock” examines one of the most pressing and shameful national crises in America and the growing movement that surrounds it: the U.S. maternal-mortality crisis.

“Mija”
Directed by Isabel Castro
Produced by Tabs Breese

Doris Muñoz excels in discovering and successfully launching young musicians of color. While helping these artists navigate a treacherously competitive business, Doris also must support her immigrant family. Set against aggressive anti-immigration policy and a music industry in crisis, “Mija” tells the story of a young Chicana woman discovering herself through the hardships of what it means to succeed in the United States.

“Salt Sisters”
Directed by Heidi Burkey
Produced by Julie Hook

Off the coast of Maine, America’s addiction and environmental crises meet at a crossroads as Colleen Francke leads a team of women — in recovery from substance use disorder — who are building a seaweed farm in Casco Bay. Facing opposition from local fishermen, risking financial stability, and fighting through her own recovery journey, Colleen will discover what it takes to lead these women into a new coastal economy — rehabilitating both the water and themselves along the way.

“Standing Above the Clouds”
Directed by Jalena Keane-Lee
Produced by Amber Espinosa-Jones

“Standing Above the Clouds” is a story of the Mana Wahine o Mauna Kea (women warriors who are guardians of the mountain). The film follows three Native Hawaiian families who have become leaders in the global movement to prevent the construction of an 18-story, Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the last pristine section of Mauna Kea, on Hawai’i’s Big Island. As the documentary unfolds from the vision that started the movement in 2010 to eventual victory, our team follows Pua Case,  Leina’ala Sleightholm, Mehana Kihoi, and their families exploring what it’s like raising your children on the frontline, facing arrest while defending a sacred place, and sustaining a movement centered in ceremony and sacredness.

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