Another Grantmaker Bets on Storytelling's Transformative Power

Boy, that was fast.

It seems like just yesterday that I wrote piece about the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund, yet another initiative that embraces storytelling as a means to drive social change. According to Carl Sagan and the Cosmic Calendar, it was a trillionth of a nanosecond ago, but in reality, it was late July, and here I am, a couple of months later, learning that the fund has awarded $195,000 (total) to 10 projects from its first incubator. 

Where does the time go?

Now, before looking at some of the winners, a bit of background is in order. As noted back in the summer, the fund aims to "empower and embolden new voices by bringing unique projects to life, connects selected applicants with prestigious artists, veteran executives, and successful entrepreneurs to further develop and produce their projects."

Indeed, the fund is based on the premise that sometimes a great idea isn't enough. Storytellers need a support network to bring their ideas to fruition. This idea isn't news, of course; we see it undergird other initiatives in the film space, including the Ford-financed Flex Fund (alliteration unavoidable), Sundance's Filmmaker Labs, and many others.

To that end, 18 projects were part of the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund's inaugural incubator, which included a robust mentorship program that centered around one-on-one consultancies from award-winning filmmakers; an intensive lab where fellows analyzed and improved their projects in partnership with established directors, producers and executives from all over the world; and Brain Trust Meetings where special industry guests led brainstorming sessions to try and solve project-specific challenges. 

At the conclusion of the incubation process, each fellow submitted a project proposal outlining a plan and details for production or additional development. An eight-member advisory committee then identified the projects to fund based on criteria evaluating creative merit, potential impact and practical feasibility including budgets, crews, equipment, etc. 

"The projects selected for funding are as provocative, surprising and diverse as Baltimore and its thriving artistic community. We're proud to continue to support these artists and look forward to our fruitful collaboration," said Roberto Busó-García, director of the Fund and the University’s Master of Arts in Film & Media program. (Indeed, one fund stipulation requires that all projects be produced in Baltimore. )

Here are two winning projects for your illumination:

  • Curvy Ballerina, by Barbara Asare-Bediako, is a documentary that follows Tyde-Courtney, a classically trained ballerina, as she fights colorism and body stereotyping to build a brand of dance where all women can feel graceful and sensual. Asare-Bediako is currently a student in the M.A. Film & Media Program at Johns Hopkins University and has written several plays and a short film.  
  • It's Not Who I Am, by Dean Radcliffe-Lynes is a full-length documentary that will closely follow the lives and experiences of three female ex-offenders over the period of a year. Finally released from prison, they are excited about the prospects of reuniting with their families and anxious to pursue the goals and dreams they had prior to incarceration. However, their feelings of excitement and hope are challenged when confronted by a closed and shaming social fabric. 

 Check out the 11 winning artists here