A Closer Look At Ford and Sloan's Niche Funding Priorities (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Stereotyping)

"Yes, they're stereotypes, there must be more to life," Blur's Damon Alban sings in their memorable tune "Stereotypes," and he has a point. Resorting to stereotypes suggests a rather off-putting kind of intellectual laziness. But sometimes it makes sense—especially in the world of arts fundraising.

Let me explain by briefly summarizing two filmmaking funds.

First up is the Sloan Filmmaker Fund, which provides grants and professional guidance in support of "innovative and compelling narrative features that offer a fresh take on scientific, mathematic and technological themes." Grants range from $10,000 to $75,000, and are available for films at any stage, based anywhere. (For more analysis on how Sloan is working to bring science into the mainstream, click here.)

The Tribeca Film Institute announced the four winners, who will receive a collective total of $150,000 in grants. One winner is the film Picking Cotton, a true story of rape survivor Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton, whom she had wrongfully identified as her rapist. After 11 years in prison, DNA evidence cleared Ronald of the crime. Jennifer and Ronald are now friends and activists, improving the criminal justice system.

Then there's JustFilms, the Ford Foundation's film and digital storytelling initiative, which is committed to addressing issues of social justice. Four of its films were recently selected for this year's Tribeca Film Festival. One winner, Among the Believers, presents "firebrand cleric Maulana Aziz, an ISIS supporter and Taliban ally," who is "is waging jihad against the Pakistani government, and two of his young students' lives hang in the balance."

JustFilms complements another Ford Foundation program also devoted to social justice—its TFI New Media Fund, which uses "new media platforms and modern storytelling techniques to engage audiences around issues of inequality and social justice."

All of which brings us back to the wisdom of Britpop demigod Mr. Albarn. At the expense of resorting to stereotypes, the filmmaking funding landscape remains Balkanized. Certain funders love documentaries (e.g., MacArthur). Others like films that tackle scientific themes (e.g., Sloan). Still others embrace social justice (e.g., Ford). These are the facts. And trying to be all things to all people—namely, vying for funding from most major foundations while ignoring what they're actually looking for—is nothing short of madness! Madness, I tell you! There are only so many hours in the day.

Bottom line? As lame as it may sound, be aware of what "box" your film falls into and direct your fundraising efforts accordingly. Embrace the stereotype.