MacArthur's Surprising Picks for Their Documentary Film Grants

The MacArthur Foundation just released a list of 18 documentary film projects they've chosen to grant $2 million in support, many of which cover subjects not typically on the forefront of the mainstream cultural radar, which could spell hope for those journalists and documentarians who are addressing issues that may not always make the headlines.

These 18 projects highlight issues such as the genocide trial of former Guatemalan President General Efraín Ríos Montt, the experiences of native Hawaiian inmates sent to a private penitentiary in Arizona, and the process of reconciliation among survivors of Cambodia’s killing fields. There are also a number of hot-button topics that received support as well, like films on the subjects of health care, carbon trading, and the drug war (as well as a couple of "multi-platform" projects), but overall these awards—ranging from $50,000 to $225,000—represent a wide range of issues that may not always get the exposure they deserve.

As MacArthur President Robert Gallucci said at the time of the announcement, "MacArthur’s media grantmaking supports work that combines exceptional storytelling with high quality journalism about under-reported but important social issues. This year’s documentaries illuminate serious issues in approachable, creative, and engaging ways."

The Foundation regularly holds open calls for documentary submissions and selected these 18 winners out of nearly 500 proposals. As MacArthur’s Director of Media, Culture, and Special Initiatives, Kathy Im explained, "We continue to be heartened and amazed by the creative energy, journalistic integrity, and commitment to bringing issues to light that filmmakers demonstrate during each open call."

The winners are as follows:

  • 500 Years - examines the impact of the genocide trial of former Guatemalan President General Efraín Ríos Montt in Guatemala ($225,000).
  • The Arrivals - the intimate story of two undocumented immigrants in dogged pursuit of their own “American dream" ($150,000).
  • The Big Battle - about the nationwide fight to define a new immigration policy and what it means to be American, in Congress and beyond ($100,000).
  • Carbon Trade-Off - about the promise and challenges facing carbon trading in California and Mexico ($100,000).
  • Care - about the challenges facing home-based elder care providers ($100,000).
  • Cocaine Prison - about the drug trade and the price paid by those at its lowest echelons ($50,000).
  • Freedom Fighters - about a group of exonerated men who start a detective agency to overturn wrongful convictions ($150,000).
  • Hazing - about the cultural practice of hazing ($50,000).
  • Immigrant Nation - a multi-platform project that explores the interconnectedness of U.S. immigrants, past and present ($50,000).
  • In the Game - about the experiences and aspirations of Latina adolescents and the role of soccer in their lives ($100,000).
  • Map Your World - an interactive web platform enabling global youth to map their communities’ assets and challenges, and create media to catalyze positive change ($100,000).
  • Out of State - about the experiences of native Hawaiian inmates sent to a private penitentiary in Arizona ($75,000).
  • Peacekeepers - about an all-female Bangladeshi UN peacekeeping troop deployed to Haiti ($100,000).
  • Saving Mes Aynak - about preserving archaeological treasures found in Afghanistan at a site made available by the government for mining by a Chinese company ($100,000).
  • The Schools Project - which examines the affects of the 2013 closing of 47 public schools in Chicago ($125,000).
  • Trapped - about the lack of accessible reproductive health care for low-income and African American women in the American South ($125,000).
  • Voting Wars - which examines the recent debates and changes to voting requirements in the United States ($200,000).
  • Wounds We Carry - about the process of reconciliation among survivors of Cambodia’s killing fields ($100,000).

You can view more about MacArthur's grantmaking in this area by visiting their profile in our GrantFinder section here.