Cal Humanities

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more when it is in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

A grid of images from four films.


For over 40 years California Humanities has been the leading funder of documentaries by, for, and about Californians. We currently support film, audio, and digital media projects that explore California in all its complexity through the California Documentary Project (CDP) grant program. As we look toward the next CDP grant deadline on November 1, 2022, we want to take a moment to celebrate some of our grantees’ activities and accomplishments over the past year. Despite the continuing impact of COVID-19, it was a year full of new grants, exciting premieres, and awards. We want to congratulate all our CDP grantees for continuing to engage audiences throughout California and the nation with important and insightful nonfiction films, podcasts, and interactive media projects.


In April, California Humanities awarded funding to 16 new documentary media projects through the CDP grant program. These projects reflect a broad range of topics, approaches, and perspectives—from a film about the Yurok Tribe’s use of fire to heal land and people, to the coming-of-age story of a Cambodian American high school basketball star, to a portrait of African American actor and civil rights activist Canada Lee—and will inform and engage audiences both statewide and nationally. Read more about the CDP 2022 grantees here.

A black and white photo of a group of reporters are surrounding a man.


Several CDP projects premiered in 2022, including three films at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival—FREE CHOL SOO LEE (CDP 2016 & 2017), MIJA (CDP 2021), and I DIDN’T SEE YOU THERE (CDP 2021). FREE CHOL SOO LEE, by co-directors Julie Ha and Eugene Yi, follows a 20-year-old Korean immigrant who was wrongfully convicted of murder in San Francisco’s Chinatown and the resulting Asian American community’s fight for justice. Set against the backdrop of aggressive anti-immigration policy, Isabel Castro’s MIJA tells the story of 26-year-old Doris Muñoz who helped create a Chincanx sound in independent music as an artist’s manager. I DIDN’T SEE YOU THERE is an essayistic portrayal of disability told from filmmaker Reid Davenport’s perspective and won the Directing Award in Sundance’s US Documentary competition. BLACK MOTHERS LOVE & RESIST (CDP 2021), a film directed by Débora Souza Silva about the national network of mothers working for racial justice and accountability, premiered at the 2022 SFFILM Festival. Also premiering at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival were CDP grantees Rodrigo Reyes’ SANSON AND ME (CDP 2015) and Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s BODY PARTS (CDP 2018).

Promotional poster for film of a woman with her hand raised and wearing headphones
FANNY poster


The OTHER CALIFORNIA (CDP 2021), an 11-part podcast series from KVPR Valley Public Radio that launched in March, brings listeners to small rural towns in the San Joaquin Valley that are rich with stories and unique histories but that are often overlooked in the California narrative. TRY HARDER! (CDP 2015 & 2017), Debbie Lum’s film about San Francisco’s Lowell High School, was broadcast nationally on the PBS series Independent Lens in May. It’s now available for streaming online. After two-years of community screenings and educational distribution, CHINATOWN RISING (CDP 2018) from CDP grantees Harry and Josh Chuck aired nationally on the PBS series America Reframed in May.

A promotional poster for a podcast with green mountains on top and gold fields on the bottom
Promotional poster for a film with protestors on top and a filmmaker on the bottom

GEOGRAPHIES OF KINSHIP (CDP 2014), Deann Borshay Liem’s film about transnational Korean adoption, also was broadcast nationally in May on America Reframed. After its 2022 Sundance Film Festival premiere, FREE CHOL SOO LEE opened at 150 theaters throughout the United States in August and the film is now available for streaming. FANNY: THE RIGHT TO ROCK (CDP 2019), the focus of a recent New York Times profile, opened in theaters across the country this summer, as did MIJA. EXPOSING MUYBRIDGE (CDP 2013) is a film about trailblazing 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge that screened at the Mendocino Film Festival, the Sonoma Film Festival, and Doclands. Through its social impact campaign, FRUITS OF LABOR (CDP 2019) hosted a summer tour of outdoor screenings for mixed-status families and farm workers in partnership with immigrant, Indigenous, and workers’ rights organizations. Finally, SONG OF SALT (CDP 2020), a film about the small desert town of Trona, California by co-directors Emma Baiada and Nicolas Snyder, was featured in a sneak-peak screening for the local community in March.

A group of people sitting outside on bleachers at night are laughing
SONG OF SALT community screening, Trona, CA, March 2022

Check out the trailers for these CDP films:


With support from the National Endowment for the Arts we are now helping to bring films and filmmakers to new audiences across the state through the CDP screening series. Over the past year we co-presented the Oscar-nominated film CRIP CAMP with San Diego City College and UC Riverside’s UCR ARTS, after which students talked with co-director Jim LeBrecht about his role in producing the film and the origins of the Disability Rights movement. In May, Los Angeles City College presented NO STRAIGHT LINES: THE RISE OF QUEER COMICS with filmmaker Vivian Kleiman and comic artist Jennifer Camper joining students for a discussion about the film, Queer art and identity, and the role of comics as an art form. Phillip Rodriguez also shared his documentary RUBEN SALAZAR: MAN IN THE MIDDLE with journalism students and faculty at LA City College and we partnered with City College of San Francisco to host a screening of AGENTS OF CHANGE with filmmakers Frank Dawson and Abby Ginzberg. We look forward to bringing more CDP films and filmmakers to audiences throughout the state this fall—keep an eye out for announcements of upcoming screenings in your area!

Promotional poster for film screening with comic book characters on the left and a cartoonist on the right
LACC No Straight Lines screening poster


Are you a mediamaker working on a California story? We invite applications for the next round of CDP grants in support of film, audio, or digital media projects that document California subjects and issues; use the humanities to provide context, depth, and perspective; and have the potential to reach and engage audiences statewide and nationally through multiple means.

Funding is available in two categories:

  • Research and Development Grants up to $15,000 (new amount for 2023)
  • Production Grants up to $50,000


This year’s application deadline is Tuesday, November 1, 2022, 5 pm PT.

Register HERE for a free CDP grant application informational webinar on September 15 at 10-11 am PDT.

Visit the California Documentary Project grants page for guidelines, application instructions, a list of previously awarded projects, and to register for a free informational webinar. Click HERE to apply.

For more information, contact Director of Media & Journalism Programs, John Lightfoot at


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