"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Indeed, it's one of the most overused phrases in the English language, and actually, we're surprised we haven't used it sooner. But that's because we were waiting for just the right opportunity and now Charles Dickens's quote provides a conveniently pithy explanation of the current state of documentary filmmaking in America.
Cara Mertes, former director of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and Fund, has been named as the successor of Orlando Bagwell for the Ford Foundation's JustFlms program. Bagwell was the inaugural director of Ford's documentary film program and in his short tenure he's risen the program to great heights of accomplishment, including a recent Oscar nomination. The highly experienced Mertes is well positioned to lead JustFilms to even greater heights.
The Manuel Rivera-Ortiz Foundation is run by President and Founder Manuel Rivera-Ortiz himself. As a photographer from the shantytowns of Peurto Rico, his focus has always been on documenting the living conditions and social issues of underdeveloped countries. The foundation he started in 2010 is meant to support other photographers and filmmakers who are pursuing similar goals. The foundation awards $5,000 grants to short films and documentaries as well as $5,000 photography grants to work that documents "pressing social issues."
The San Francisco Film Society is the backbone of the longest-running film festival in the Americas, the San Francisco International Film Festival. But they also offer an array of support to individual filmmakers, screenwriters, and producers through their Filmmaker360 program, including help with project development, residencies, and a number of different grants. Their grant program alone has contributed over $1.8 million since 2009 in support of what they consider "innovative and exceptional" filmmaking.
"Helping Stories Take Flight" is the tagline of New York based Fledgling Fund. Its ethos is that film can "inspire a better world," and the fund's goal is to do this by supporting innovative media projects that address social ills and effect some sort of positive, tangible change. It does this through its own funding and through partnerships with other foundations. Grants range anywhere from $300 to $50,000, but average around $10,000 to $35,000.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is one of the nation's largest independent foundations. It is a multi-billion dollar organization that awards around $230 million in grants annually. It issues grants and loans through four general programs: International Programs, U.S. Programs, the MacArthur Fellows Program, and Media, Culture & Special Initiatives. The MacArthur Foundation's grantmaking in public interest media projects is its longest-running program, probably the most visible, and the one many people associate with the Foundation.