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List of California Documentary Project Grants

GRANTS AWARDED IN 2020

PRODUCTION GRANTS

Still from CITY LIGHTS.
CITY LIGHTS
Project Director: Starr Sutherland
Sponsor Organization: Media Process Educational Films
One scrappy independent bookstore has survived the changing tides of the publishing world for seven decades—City Lights. A mainstay of San Francisco’s bohemian North Beach neighborhood since 1953, it is among the nation’s oldest independent bookstores and an icon in the industry. It also holds a special place in American literature as the rebellious publisher of unique voices, from the Beat poets of the 1950s to US Poet Laureates and a new generation of artists, poets, and activists keeping the City Lights spirit alive today.
DOG WALK HOME
Project Director: Vicki Topaz
Sponsor Organization: International Documentary Association
Set in Northern California, DOG WALK HOME tells the story of three US military veteran families struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the highly trained service dogs that help alleviate its symptoms. Within the context of an ongoing national crisis in veterans’ mental health care, the film explores how alternative treatments such as canine therapy can provide an unexpected and meaningful solution to the legacy of PTSD. 
Still from DOG WALK HOME.
Still from HOW TO ESCAPE FROM PRISON.
HOW TO ESCAPE FROM PRISON
Project Director: Elizabeth Mirzaei
Sponsor Organization: Film Independent
Each year thousands of California prisoners serving life sentences fight to get parole; one resolute Dominican nun has made it her mission to see them succeed through a training course of mock hearings and self-critique. HOW TO ESCAPE FROM PRISON traces the threads of four interwoven lives as they navigate California’s fractured criminal justice system. Through these stories, the film amplifies the often-unheard voices in the conversation on recidivism, restorative justice, and prison reform.
LUSO-FORNIA
Project Director: David Grabias
Sponsor Organization: Filmforum, Inc.
Set in California’s Central Valley, LUSO-FORNIA takes an impressionistic view of the relationship between humanity, nature, and spirituality. The film focuses on generations of immigrants in an isolated town who turn to their Portuguese heritage to find meaning and community through an annual religious and cultural celebration that culminates in a “bloodless” bullfight. LUSO-FORNIA documents and celebrates California’s dairy lands and the often-overlooked beauty of its residents’ lives.
Still from LUSO-FORNIA.
NOVEMBER IN MY SOUL
Project Director: Lee Romney
Sponsor Organization: Independent Arts & Media
November In My Soul is a ten-part podcast series told through the voices of people who are incarcerated or civilly committed due to mental illness and their families, experts, and scholars. Grounded in legal, medical, cultural, and social history, the series contextualizes one of the greatest philosophical dilemmas and public policy challenges in California and throughout the US.
OH HAPPY DAY!
Project Director: Krystal Tingle
Sponsor Organization: International Documentary Association
The gospel music mega-hit “Oh Happy Day!” made international history when its joyous sound broke into mainstream radio in 1969, the first gospel song to achieve such heights. Behind the record’s meteoric rise is a little-known story about the Hawkins family and their unassuming youth gospel choir from Oakland, California, who first recorded the hit. At the height of the civil rights movement, the teenage choir shattered walls of racism, religion, and homophobia and revolutionized gospel music.
THE OTHER CALIFORNIA PODCAST
Project Director: Alice Daniel
Sponsor Organization: Valley Public Radio
This seven-part podcast and broadcast series features in-depth audio storytelling about the people and culture of the San Joaquin Valley. Through reported pieces, interviews, and first-person narratives from each of the seven counties served by Valley Public Radio, the series brings listeners stories of life in a part of California that is at times overlooked by other media outlets. The station will conduct community engagement sessions for the series, and each episode will feature a segment driven by the voices of local youth.
Still from SONG OF SALT.
SONG OF SALT
Project Director: Emma Baiada
Sponsor Organization: Center for Independent Documentary
This 90-minute film is a haunting yet hopeful glimpse into the everyday life of a small California desert town as it grapples with economic despair, isolation, and recovery following a series of powerful earthquakes. A microcosm of contemporary rural America, the town of Trona, California reflects the complexities, hardships, and small beauties that are revealed when we look beyond prevailing stereotypes to more closely observe a community’s struggles and celebrations. 
THE STANLEY HAYAMI VIRTUAL REALITY PROJECT
Project Director: Nonny de la Peña
Sponsor Organization: The Alliance for Media Arts + Culture
Using cutting-edge, immersive media, this virtual reality project brings to life the story of Japanese American teenager Stanley Hayami. Told through his letters, wartime diary, and personal artworks, the project traces his journey from home in the San Gabriel Valley to life in a concentration camp and military service during World War II. The interactive exhibit will on display at the Japanese American National Museum and online.
THE STOOP
Project Director: Leila Day
Sponsor Organization: Left of Center Gallery
THE STOOP is a podcast and radio series featuring stories from across the Black Diaspora that explore issues of identity, race, and questions that both African American and black immigrant communities are curious about. Using a combination of journalism, storytelling, music, on-location interviews, and creative sound design, THE STOOP is hosted by two black women journalists—an African American, and an African immigrant—based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Still from THIRD ACT. Photo courtesy of Robert Nakamura.
THIRD ACT
Project Director: Tadashi Nakamura
Sponsor Organization: LTSC Community Development Corporation
THIRD ACT is a documentary about 83-year-old filmmaker Robert (Bob) A. Nakamura, “the Godfather of Asian American film,” as he reflects on his influential 50-year career, the intergenerational trauma and psychological wounds resulting from his family’s incarceration during World War II, and his recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. Directed by his son Tadashi, the film poses a question at once personal and universal: how can a father and son say goodbye? 

 

VIVIEN’S WILD RIDE
Project Director: Vivien Hillgrove
Sponsor Organization: Swell Cinema
When veteran film editor Vivien Hillgrove starts to lose her eyesight, she embarks on an unconventional endeavor to create her own documentary memoir. Beginning in a home for unwed mothers in the era before Roe v. Wade, Hillgrove careens through San Francisco in the 1960s and reflects on her adventures as an editor and 50 years of Bay Area filmmaking. On her personal odyssey, she redefines kinship, conjures ghosts, develops a sensory survival manual, finds her artistic voice, and reminds us that disabilities can also open doors.
Still from VIVIEN’S WILD RIDE.

 

RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT GRANTS

Still from BLACK MOTHERS.
BLACK MOTHERS
Project Director: Debora Souza Silva
Sponsor Organization: Kovno Communications, Inc.
BLACK MOTHERS is the first feature-length documentary to examine the “Mothers of the Movement”, a growing, nationwide network of mothers whose children have been victims of racist violence. With unprecedented access, the film follows the journeys of women working to disrupt the cycle of violence, including Wanda Johnson, a California mother who channels the pain of the murder of her child, Oscar Grant, into organizing for justice and accountability.
DELIVERING JUSTICE: A MOVEMENT IS BORN
Project Director: Jen Gilomen
Sponsor Organization: The Performance Zone, Inc
In the US, more and more women, especially women of color, die in childbirth each year. This feature documentary will investigate why, following women from all walks of life—pregnant mothers, midwives, researchers, and leaders—who are building a movement to achieve “birth equity.”
Still from DELIVERING JUSTICE
LIVE AT THE DEAF CLUB
Project Director: Delbert Whetter
Sponsor Organization: Film Independent
This documentary tells the story of how fledgling punk rockers in the late 1970s, desperate for a friendly venue at which to play their then-nascent punk rock, found an unlikely partner in the perpetually cash-strapped San Francisco Deaf Club. Faced with their surprising commonalities, the two marginalized groups work together to reinvent their lives and cultures. 
NEW WAVE
Project Director: Elizabeth Ai
Sponsor Organization: Women Make Movies
NEW WAVE is an historical coming-of-age documentary about displaced Vietnamese refugee youth who fled their country by boat and then in the 1980s redefined their identities in suburban Orange County, California, through New Wave music. Through intimate accounts from Southern Californian Vietnamese music industry veterans, viewers will learn of how they healed and transformed by building a raucous music scene that the Vietnamese diaspora and fans worldwide still celebrates today, nearly 40 years later.

 

 

GRANTS AWARDED IN 2019

PRODUCTION GRANTS

The Asian Americans
Sponsor Organization: Center for Asian American Media
Project Director: Donald Young
The Asian Americans is a public media initiative that examines ways in which the US Asian experience illuminates the larger American story. With California figuring centrally in the narrative, the series will explore the role Asian Americans have played in the evolution of American identity in the context of migration, diversity, and global connectedness.

Coming Round: The Kashia Pomo Struggle for Homeland
Sponsor Organization: Fort Ross Conservancy
Project Director: J Mitchell Johnson
Coming Round chronicles the unique history of California’s Kashia Pomo tribe. In their creation story, the Kashia walked from the ocean onto solid ground 12,000 years ago at Danaka (now Stewart’s Point, CA).  Now, more than 150 years after being forcibly removed, the Kashia are unexpectedly regaining access and ownership to their tribal lands and setting a model for other displaced Native American tribes.

Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen
Sponsor Organization: International Documentary Association
Project Director: Sam Feder
Disclosure is an unprecedented look at Hollywood’s role in creating and perpetuating historical stereotypes of trans people. More than 100 years of footage from A Florida Enchantment (1914) to Pose (2018) is woven together with the personal stories of prominent media figures like Laverne Cox, revealing how Hollywood has simultaneously reflected and manufactured our deepest anxieties about gender.

FANNY: The Right to Rock
Sponsor Organization: Moving Train Inc.
Project Director: Bobbi Jo Hart
Part road trip, part inquiry, part political, social, and cultural mirror, FANNY: The Right to Rock reveals the untold story of the Filipina American California rock band Fanny, the first female band to release an LP with a major record label (Warner Music/1970). Adored by David Bowie, the groundbreaking impact of these women of color has been lost in the mists of time… until now.

Fruits of Labor/La Bendita Fresa
Sponsor Organization: International Documentary Association
Project Director: Emily Cohen Ibañez
Fruits of Labor is a portrait of Ashley, a seasonal strawberry picker and factory worker in California, who dreams of graduating from high school and going to college. But in this coming-of-age tale, tensions build as Ashley’s family struggles with poverty and the threat of family separation due to increased deportations in her community.

The Third Act (formerly: Living in the Layers: Upending Ageism in the Golden State)
Sponsor Organization: International Media Project
Project Director: Tina Antolini
Living in the Layers is an audio series that takes on one of the most socially accepted forms of prejudice: ageism. By combining narrative storytelling with elders’ audio diaries, the project challenges the stereotypes that plague many Californians over age 65, the state’s fastest growing demographic.

Movement
Sponsor Organization: Intersection for the Arts
Project Directors: Meklit Hadero
Movement is a podcast and live show that tells stories of global migration through music. Hosted by Ethiopian-American singer Meklit Hadero, it features the stories of an LA-based Indian-American Grammy-nominated songwriter, an undocumented singer in San Francisco on a long-awaited trip back to Mexico, and more, blending songs and stories in a meditation on what it means to be American.

Return to Oaxacalifornia
Sponsor Organization: International Documentary Association
Project Director: Trisha Ziff
Return to Oaxacalifornia tells the story of three generations of one Mexican American family over 25 years and reflects on the complexity of transnational migration between Mexico and the US. Set in Fresno, California, the film explores questions of family and assimilation, what remains important and what is lost.

Untitled Dwarfism Project
Sponsor Organization: Women Make Movies Inc.
Project Director: Julie Wyman
Untitled Dwarfism Project follows filmmaker Julie Wyman’s personal exploration of dwarfism in her family during a moment when genetic research is promising new pharmaceutical treatments for dwarfism.

Untitled Oral History of Jerry Brown’s California Political Career
Sponsor Organization: KQED
Project Director: Scott Shafer
Through exclusive interviews with former Governor Jerry Brown, KQED political journalists will produce a series of programs for radio broadcast and podcast that weave Brown’s reflections on his experiences as California’s longest-serving governor with context and insight from journalists, scholars, and peers.

RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT GRANTS

Acting Like Women: Performance Art and The Woman’s Building
Sponsor Organization: Chimaera Project
Project Director: Cheri Gaulke
Acting Like Women revisits the California feminist art movement of the 1970s and examines its influence on today’s art and social movements. The film will focus on the Woman’s Building in Los Angeles as an incubator for new art forms and practices and as a model and inspiration for women artists all over the country.

The Dressmaker Strike of 1933
Sponsor Organization: International Documentary Association
Project Director: Mylene Moreno
The Dressmaker Strike of 1933 documents a little-known strike during the Great Depression by Mexicana women that brought the downtown Los Angeles garment industry to a halt. The film will bring hidden voices and perspectives in California history to life and situate the strikers at the center of a pivotal year for labor activism throughout California’s fields and factories.

On the Edge of Tomorrow
Sponsor Organization: International Documentary Association
Project Director: William Versaci
On the Edge of Tomorrow examines the confluence of people, environment, and technology that enabled modern architecture to develop in Southern California in the first half of the 20th century. Through the stories of the architects, their clients, and an experimental building industry, the film focuses on the participants and their roles as much as the buildings themselves.

Third Act
Sponsor Organization: LTSC Community Development Corporation
Project Director: Tadashi Nakamura
Third Act is a look into the life and work of pioneering filmmaker Robert A. Nakamura, considered the “Godfather of Asian American media,” as he reflects on his 50-year career and the psychological wounds from his family’s incarceration during WWII. Told by his son Tadashi, the film examines questions of trauma, memory, and historical amnesia.

GRANTS AWARDED IN 2018

PRODUCTION GRANT AWARDS

Chinatown Rising
Project Director: Harry Chuck
Organization: Cameron House
Set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement, between 1965 and 1985 a young film student from San Francisco Chinatown documented his community’s struggles for self-determination. Now forty-five years later, this unreleased film material uncovers the history of a community in transition and reveals the perspectives of young Chinatown residents on the front lines of the Asian-American movement.

Crip Camp
Project Director: Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham

Organization: Center for Independent Documentary
From a 1970s ramshackle summer camp for disabled teenagers to the birth of disability rights activism in Berkeley, Crip Camp traces the emergence of a new and powerful movement towards inclusion. The 90 minute film is told from the point of view of former camper Jim LeBrecht who, with a group of other young people with disabilities, relocated to Berkeley in the 1970s and went on to spark a revolution for the disabled.

Dreams of Dust
Project Director: Sarah Craig

Organization: Sustainable Markets Foundation
This multimedia radio, photography and interactive project documents stories of climate migration due to drought as groundwater levels continue to drop in in many areas of California’s Central Valley. This project will tell the stories of people who are left without water or without work, and explore how water stress begets instability and reflects historical patterns of migration and inequality.

KCET Artbound 
Project Director: Juan Devis
Organization: KCET
Artbound is KCET’s award-winning multi-platform journalism program dedicated to exploring cultural issues reflective of California’s diverse and complex communities. The series brings humanities-based content and analysis to each documentary by exploring the intersections of art, culture, history, society and geography. The documentaries are supported with online content that is varied and topical with a constant stream of videos and supporting articles published on the Artbound website.

Sign My Name to Freedom
Project Director: Bryan Gibel

Organization: International Documentary Association
96-year-old Betty Reid Soskin is America’s oldest park ranger, famous for defying old age and tirelessly advocating for civil rights in California. In the 1960s and ‘70s Betty was also a singer/songwriter with a voice like Billie Holiday. Four decades later, this film follows Betty as she teams up with composer Marcus Shelby and a young band to perform new arrangements of her songs, sparking an autobiographical journey through the black experience by three generations of California musicians.

Unladylike: Unsung Californian Women of the Progressive Era
Project Director: Charlotte Mangin
Organization: The Futuro Media Group
Honoring the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020, UNLADYLIKE is a multimedia series featuring unsung American “s/heroes” from the early years of feminism. Through 31 five-minute animated documentary shorts for each day of Women’s History Month, the series profiles female trailblazers from the Progressive Era who changed America, including five powerful Californians: a desegregation activist, botanist, newspaper editor, painter, and polar explorer. Through community and educational outreach and online distribution, the series will offer audiences a nuanced, inclusive understanding of women’s history and the role these Californians played in it.

Untitled McCloskey Project
Project Director:
Alix Blair
Organization: San Francisco Film Society
Untitled McCloskey Project is a feature documentary about the unconventional relationship between Helen, a passionately independent 63-year-old woman, and her husband Pete McCloskey, an iconic California Republican Congressman thirty years her senior. Told from Helen’s perspective, this film captures a fiery political couple forced to evaluate their contribution to American politics and explores the burdens a public spotlight puts on private lives.

Untitled Oxnard Project
Project Director: Robin Rosenthal and Bill Yahraus 
Organization: International Documentary Association
This documentary explores the lives and experiences of Mexican-born Mixtec, Zapotec and Purépecha teens living in Oxnard, the Strawberry Capital of the World. The film takes an intimate look at the unique challenges they face, both individually and together, as they navigate economic necessity, access to higher education, cultural preservation, and the social and environmental justice needs of their indigenous farmworker community.

The World According to Sound
Project Directors: Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett

Organization: International Media Project
This podcast and live performance series produced in partnership with LightHouse Center for the Blind examines the world through our ears instead of our eyes. The sound-focused format will explore the lives and experiences of visually impaired people living in California, and with them as guides, will gather recordings and create evocative soundscapes that will be featured on public radio, in a touring performance, and in an archive, allowing anyone to listen to what California sounded like in 2018.

RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT GRANT AWARDS

3G Tattoo Project
Project Director: Cathy R. Fischer
Organization: The Film Collaborative
The 3G Tattoo Project is a character-driven film featuring three individuals who have made the provocative decision to tattoo their grandparents’ concentration camp numbers on their own bodies. The film explores questions about the reenactment of trauma, healing, and historical remembrance as an essential part of engaging with the critical social issues of today.

Body Parts
Project Directors:
Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and Helen Hood Scheer
Organization: The Film Collaborative
Body Parts is a documentary film exploring the female body as the site of a cultural battle in Hollywood media. Interweaving film and television clips with reenactments and interviews, this essay film traces how the female body––from pre-production through distribution–– is the locus of fraught, often public, negotiation.

Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen 
Project Director: Sam Feder
Organization: International Documentary Association
At a time of increasing visibility for trans characters and actors in the media, this film explores and analyzes Hollywood’s role in creating and perpetuating historical stereotypes of trans people and images. Through interviews with actors and scholars and with illuminating excerpts from popular film and television, Disclosure will deconstruct and critique stubbornly persistent tropes and highlight occasional breakthroughs in which trans creatives take control.

My Uncle the Fugitive
Project Director:
Kathy Huang
Organization: Catticus Corporation
When an American-born filmmaker looks into her estranged uncle’s political past in Taiwan, she uncovers a tale of corruption, political intrigue, and a host of family secrets. Her uncle, living in exile in Orange County, is the key to understanding a family history that her immigrant Taiwanese parents always avoided talking about.

Radius: Stories of Asian Americans and Immigration
Project Director: Erica Mu
Organization: Visual Communications
Radius is a podcast series that illuminates the contours of Asian American identity. Dealing with topics from the mundane to mayhem, the series visits parachute kids, the American Air Force, the Chinese Army, refugees in Orange County, restaurateurs, wedding crashers, and more, to shed light on the Asian American experience through powerful narrative stories. Through immersive, documentary-style storytelling, Radius carefully humanizes Asian American journeys, from Asia, to California, and back.

View a list of California Documentary Project grants from 2009–2017.