The artist development program fellowship supports independent documentary filmmakers who, from diverse points of view, are exploring themes unique to American experiences. The five filmmaking teams named as this year’s fellowship recipients include Ameha Molla and Rajal Pitroda; Gabriela Díaz 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 have costs covered to attend an immersive week-long working retreat that runs concomitantly with the annual Camden International Film Festival (CIFF) in Maine. The retreat includes feedback sessions, workshops and individual as well as group discussions with veteran filmmakers and industry professionals.
Each of the 2022 filmmaking teams were chosen from 200 applicants from across the U.S. with selected directors working in Nevada, California, Georgia and New York.
“CNN Films has been proud to partner with Points North Institute to establish an enduring program that provides developmental opportunities and practical skills coaching for nonfiction filmmakers, with a goal to foster creative collaboration through powerful storytelling. Today, the ongoing impact of the pandemic has made the challenging job of independent filmmaking even more so,” said Alexandra Hannibal, senior director for CNN Films, on behalf of CNN. “We are delighted to enthusiastically support these creatives and help them thrive.”
The winning projects include director Ameha Molla and producer Rajal Pitroda’s Higher 15, which unravels a long-held family secret about Molla’s uncle, a former Ethiopian revolutionary who escaped from prison and fled to the United States, and director Gabriela Díaz Arp and producer Karla Claudio Betancourt’s Matininó, which follows the Villanueva-Rodriguez family, a multi-generational family of Puerto Rican women transforming their experience of domestic violence into a science fiction film.
Director Paige Bethmann and producer Jessica Epstein’s doc Remaining Native is a story about the 18-year-old Kutoven, who dreams of leaving his reservation and becoming an elite runner but lacks the resources needed to compete. But when thousands of Native children’s remains are discovered, his family’s painful history is unearthed, and he learns to navigate how to run toward his past instead of away from it.
The remaining selected grantees include the team behind the doc The Voice of Democracy — directed by Jordan Lord and produced by Abby Sun — which sees Lord recount 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 promising to make Little People taller, but in doing so, threatens the very community it claims to serve. The film sees director Julie Wyman confront her own diagnosis of dwarfism while exploring 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 documentary and this year is no exception. These five new projects and 11 filmmakers represent a myriad of approaches and perspectives and accentuate 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 serves as an expansion of the American Stories Documentary Fund, which was launched in 2020 and aimed to support filmmakers with projects that were in production and impacted 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.
Mentors for the program currently include creative producer Andrea Meditch (Buck; Fathom); award-winning filmmakers Assia Boundaoui (The Feeling Of Being Watched) and Nadia Hallgren (Becoming); 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 sales, production and distribution company for documentary films.
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 since supported 70 filmmakers creating 40 nonfiction features with nearly two-thirds of those projects completed and several going on to premiere and win awards at major festivals.