The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (See MacArthur Foundation: Grants for Journalism) recently announced nine grants for documentary and investigative films totalling over $1 million as part of its Media, Culture & Special Initiatives program. The nine films were chosen out of a field of nearly 400 proposals in response to its most recent open call for independent documentary film proposals.
MacArthur is a famous long-time supporter of broadcast television institutions like PBS NewsHour and Frontline, but since around 2000 its grant making has grown to encompass support of investigative journalism and deep reporting by smaller organizations and individuals, not just on television, but in film, radio, the web and other forms of new media.
MacArthur’s Director for Media, Culture, and Special Initiatives, Kathy Im, said at the time of the announcement, "This year's film grantees tackle long-term and difficult issues through in-depth and compelling storytelling, illuminating under-reported domestic and international issues and creating empathy for various points of view." (Read Kathy Im's IP profile)
Among the projects that received the money was the documentary film The Betrayal of the American Dream, which explores America’s widening income gap and its impact on the middle class which recieved $250,000. The film is based on the book of the same name, written by longtime investigative journalists Don Barlett and Jim Steele, and co-developed with the Investigative Reporting Workshop, which MacArthur has supported since 2009.
The other films span subjects ranging from the impact of lithium extraction in Bolivia, to a youth orchestra in Paraguay whose instruments are created from recycled trash, to an alternative high school in rural North Carolina with a focus on digital technology.
Kathy Im further explained MacArthur's aim by saying, "MacArthur’s media grantmaking supports work that explores contemporary social issues with high quality reporting intended to inform, educate, and inspire reflection and action."
The foundation holds open calls for documentary film proposals regularly. If you're seeking a MacArthur grant in this area, it's best to familiarize yourself with the Media Grant Guidelines, then sign up for its newsletter, and check the website regularly.
Being one of the nation's largest independent foundations, MacArthur is of course highly selective in its process (Read vice president Elspeth Revere's IP profile), but it is a strong supporter of journalism and independent reporting and is definitely a great organization to have behind you in this field.