CNN Films and Points North Institute have announced the five recipients of the American Stories Documentary Fellowship for 2022.
The Artist Development Program fellowship supports independent documentary filmmakers who explore themes unique to American experiences from various points of view. The five film teams named this year’s fellowship recipients include Ameha Molla and Rajal Pitroda; Gabriela Diaz Arp and Karla Claudio Betancourt; Paige Bethmann and Jessica Epstein; Jordan Lord and Abby Sun; and Julie Wyman, Lindsey Dryden, and Jonna McKone.
The fellows will each receive a $10,000 production grant, and the costs will be covered to attend a week-long immersive work retreat that coincides with the annual Camden International Film Festival (CIFF) in Maine. The retreat includes feedback sessions, workshops, and individual and group discussions with experienced filmmakers and industry professionals.
Each of the 2022 film teams was chosen from 200 applicants from across the US, with select directors working in Nevada, California, Georgia and New York.
“CNN Films is proud to partner with Points North Institute to create a sustainable program that provides development opportunities and practical skills coaching for nonfiction filmmakers, with the goal of fostering creative collaboration through powerful storytelling. Today, the ongoing impact of the pandemic has made the challenging task of independent filmmaking even greater,” said Alexandra Hannibal, senior director for CNN Films, on behalf of CNN. “We are excited to enthusiastically support and help these creatives thrive.”
The winning projects include director Ameha Molla and producer Rajal Pitroda’s Higher 15who uncovers a long-held family secret about Molla’s uncle, a former Ethiopian revolutionary who escaped prison and fled to the United States, and director Gabriela Díaz Arp and producer Karla Claudio Betancourt’s Matininowhich follows the Villanueva-Rodriguez family, a multi-generational family of Puerto Rican women who turn their experience of domestic violence into a science fiction film.
Documentary from director Paige Bethmann and producer Jessica Epstein stay native is a story about 18-year-old Kutoven, who dreams of leaving his reservation to become an elite runner, but lacks the resources to compete. But when thousands of Indigenous children’s remains are discovered, his family’s painful history comes to light and he learns to navigate into his past instead of running from it.
The other selected beneficiaries are the team behind the document The Voice of Democracy – directed by Jordan Lord and produced by Abby Sun – in which Lord tells of winning the $30,000 patriotic “audio essay” contest and exploring what American democracy sounds like, as well as director Julie Wyman and producers Lindsey Dryden and Jonna McKone’s Untitled Dwarfism Project about a new drug that promises to make Little People bigger, but in so doing threatens the community it claims to serve. In the film, director Julie Wyman faces her own diagnosis of dwarfism as she explores Little People’s legacy of hypervisibility and the representation of disabled lives, bodies, and stories.
“Over the past eight years, our ever-evolving partnership with CNN Films has supported some of the most powerful films and exciting new voices in documentaries, and this year is no exception. These five new projects and 11 filmmakers represent a wide range of approaches and perspectives, highlighting the artistry and urgency of the stories being developed in America,” said Ben Fowlie, executive and artistic director of the Points North Institute, in a statement.
The American Stories Documentary Fellowship is an extension of the American Stories Documentary Fund, which launched in 2020 and aims to support filmmakers with projects in production affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The fund replaced the Camden/TFI Retreat presented by CNN Films and Points North Institute, which ran for four years between 2015 and 2019.
The program’s mentors currently include creative producer Andrea Meditch (Buck; fathom); award-winning filmmakers Assia Bundaoui (The feeling of being watched) and Nadia Hallgren (Become); director and editor Maya Daisy Hawke (Navalny, Cave of Forgotten Dreams); Reid Davenport and Keith Wilson (I didn’t see you there); and Josh Braun, owner of Submarine Entertainment, a major documentaries sales, production and distribution company.
The entire program was first launched in 2015 under the leadership of Amy Entelis, executive vice president of talent and content development for CNN Worldwide, and Courtney Sexton, senior vice president for CNN Films. It has has since supported 70 filmmakers in the making of 40 non-fiction films, with nearly two-thirds of these projects completed and several premiering and winning awards at major festivals.