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Media & the Humanities: Recent Highlights from the California Documentary Project

Since 2003, California Humanities has awarded over $6.5 million through the California Documentary Project (CDP) grant program to film, audio, and interactive media projects that document California in all its complexity.

Despite almost twenty months of disrupted production schedules, delayed premieres, and the overall anxiety of a global pandemic, our California Documentary Project grantees have nevertheless been very busy. Their films, podcasts, and interactive media projects continued to engage audiences, win awards, and help us better understand who we are, where we live, and where we come from. In anticipation of the upcoming November 1, 2021, California Documentary Project grant deadline, we want to take the opportunity to celebrate our CDP grantees and share some of their recent activities, highlights, and accolades.

FANNY: THE RIGHT TO ROCK, a film directed by Bobbi Jo Hart that tells the story of the all-female 1970’s rock band FANNY, premiered this June in the Bay Area at a special drive-in screening as part of the Frameline Film Festival. In August, FANNY also screened as the closing night film at OUTFEST, LA’s LGBTQIA+ festival, followed by a live performance from the band at the Orpheum Theater. Earlier in the year, the band and the film were profiled in Rolling Stone Magazine: Joe Elliott, Bonnie Raitt, Cherie Currie Talk Fanny’s Influence in New Doc. FANNY continues to screen at festivals internationally and will be shown as part of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival on October 1, 2021, followed by a Q&A with the band. View the trailer and more information here.

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WHAT FIRE REVEALS: STORIES FROM THE CZU AUGUST LIGHTNING COMPLEX FIRES, a new project from audio producers, the Kitchen Sisters, launched in August 2021 with an excerpt airing nationally on NPR’s Morning Edition and the release of the 40-minute podcast. Timed to coincide with the first anniversary of wildfires in the Santa Cruz Mountains that destroyed some 900 homes and 86,000 acres, the podcast features residents reflecting on what is lost and what is revealed by fire. In association with the podcast, The Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH) hosted Out of the Ashes, an exhibition of photographer Shmuel Thaler’s documentation of artifacts that survived the fires. WHAT FIRE REVEALS is available through the Kitchen Sisters’ website.

FRUITS OF LABOR by Director Emily Cohen Ibañez premiered at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival and will air nationally on PBS’ POV series on October 4, 2021 (and stream for free for 30 days afterward). The film profiles Ashley, a Mexican American teenager in the Salinas Valley who dreams of going to college but is forced to become her family’s breadwinner by working in the strawberry fields. “My hope is that viewers can re-imagine work and value people who do the essential labor of picking and processing our fruits and vegetables,” says Cohen Ibañez.

A LIFE IN PIECES: THE DIARY AND LETTERS OF STANLEY HAYAMI, an interactive 360-degree video and immersive Virtual Reality installation created by Nonny de la Peña and Sharon Yamato in collaboration with the Japanese American National Museum, premiered in June at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. The project brings to life the wartime diary of Japanese American teenager Stanley Hayami. From his family’s imprisonment during WWII to his death at age 19, 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 is currently on display at the Japanese American National Museum. Learn more here.

Independent producer Lisa Morehouse recently launched the third season of her podcast and radio series CALIFORNIA  FOODWAYS. She’s traveling through California county by county, telling stories about food, agriculture, and the people that A person stands behind the kitchen counter. The stove is behind them and red and green baskets sit on top of the counter. make both possible. The stories air on KQED’s The California Report Magazine and nationally syndicated radio shows like All Things Considered, Here and Now, The World, and The Splendid Table, as well as on the California Foodways podcast. Episodes released this past year include a look at the role birds play in an organic farm’s ecosystem, and a retrospective look at the lives and legacies of California food pioneers.

After premiering at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival in June 2021, NO STRAIGHT LINES: THE RISE OF QUEER COMICS has screened at over 30 festivals internationally. Directed by Vivian Kleiman, NO STRAIGHT LINES tells the story of five scrappy and pioneering cartoonists who depicted everything from the AIDS crisis, coming out, and same-sex marriage, to themes of race, gender, and disability. They tackled the humor in queer lives in a changing world and the everyday pursuits of love, sex, and community. In August, NO STRAIGHT LINES won the award for Best Documentary Feature at LA’s OUTFEST.

TRY HARDER! by Director Debbie Lum premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and will be broadcast nationally on the PBS series Independent Lens in May 2022. The film chronicles the intense academic pressures of senior year for students at San Francisco’s prestigious Lowell High School. To date, TRY HARDER has screened at over 25 festivals nationally was selected by the Center for Asian American Media as the opening night film of CAAMFest 2021.

After premiering at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, the Academy Awards nominated CRIP CAMP by Directors Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht for Best Documentary Feature. The film traces the origins of the disability rights movement. Through online screenings, workshops, and high-profile media coverage, the documentary increased visibility and greater awareness of disability history and disability rights. CRIP CAMP received a 2021 Peabody Award in the documentary category and is currently streaming on Netflix.

Also honored with a 2021 Peabody Award, the five-hour PBS series ASIAN AMERICANS broadcast nationally starting in spring 2020. The series chronicles the contributions, and challenges of Asian Americans, the fastest-growing ethnic group in America, and combines personal histories and new academic research to cast a fresh lens on U.S. history and the role Asian Americans have played in it. “There is a deeply embedded idea that Asian Americans are either the Model Minority or the perpetual foreigner,” says Series Producer Renee Tajima-Peña. “We wanted to tell the American story from an Asian American point of view.”

UNLADYLIKE2020: UNSUNG WOMEN WHO CHANGED AMERICA from co-producers Charlotte Mangin and Sandra Rattley is a series of 26 short films and a one-hour documentary profiling diverse and little-known American women from the turn of the 20th century and contemporary women who follow in their footsteps. UNLADYLIKE2020 was the most-watched online series in the history of PBS’ American Masters and is distributed internationally and won multiple awards. The series was also the centerpiece for Where Are the Women? A national summit in February 2021 to address why women are vastly underrepresented in U.S. history and social studies classrooms and provide teachers and parents access to the educational support they need to reverse this trend.

2021 California Documentary Project Grants

Do you have a California story to tell? To continue building a complex and growing portrait of California, we invite applications to the 2021 California Documentary Project grant round. We seek documentary projects for the November 1, 2021 deadline that bring new and previously unheard perspectives to light; reflect a broad cross-section of Californians’ stories; and help reveal the breadth and range of California’s cultures, peoples, and histories.

Visit the California Documentary Project grants page for guidelines, application instructions, and a list of previously awarded projects. For more information, contact Senior Program Officer John Lightfoot at cdp@calhum.org.

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