Catapult Film Fund announces eleven documentary films as recipients of its Fall 2014 development grants. The films being supported tell a wide range of transformative human stories, with subject matter including the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, communities facing the legacy of nuclear waste in their own backyards, portraits of artists, activists and politicians, and poetic explorations of place. Grantees range from first-time filmmakers to veteran award winners. “All of these films are characteristically Catapult projects in that they are an eclectic bunch in terms of subject matter and approach. What they have in common is great access to interesting characters and extraordinary stories in the hands of the right storytellers,” says Lisa Kleiner Chanoff, Catapult Co-Founder.
“When you get involved this early with a project it’s always risky but the effect you can have at this stage is critical for the films to get off the ground. It’s gratifying to be able to stay involved with a project from the moment of first funding to watching the film premiere,” says Bonni Cohen, Catapult Co-Founder.
Catapult gives crucial early support to propel projects forward that hold the promise of a unique story that should be told in film.
Since Catapult launched in 2010, the fund has supported 57 films with development grants and mentorship. Of these, twelve have made it to completion to date and have screened in festivals and theaters around the world. As the 2014 awards season gets underway, tremendous buzz has built around several Catapult-supported films, including Art and Craft, directed by Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman, E-Team, directed by Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman, The Last Season, directed by Sara Dosa, The Overnighters, directed by Jesse Moss, and The Kill Team, directed by Dan Krauss. Catapult was the first funder for the film Tig, about the comedian Tig Notaro, which will be premiering at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
The following film projects were chosen for funding:
BLOCK SEVEN, Dir. Jordie Montevecchi
The most remarkable democracy on earth takes place in the most unlikely place. In one of Peru’s most notorious prisons, the inmates of Block Seven are running their own political elections. This is their story.
DREAM AWAY, Dir. Marouan Omara
Dream Away is a film about the surreal world of the Egyptian beach resort Sharm El Sheikh, where young people seek work in the tourist industry to live out their hopes and dreams for a western lifestyle with an unusual level of resourcefulness and dedication. The film presents a unique perspective of Egypt three years after the revolution.
NIGHT SCHOOL, Dir. Andrew Cohn
Five adults from inner-city Indianapolis must overcome a variety of obstacles in pursuit of their dream of earning a high school diploma and technical certification. Night School is not just a film about adult education, but an intimate and deeply personal look at the roadblocks many underprivileged individuals face as they attempt to move upward in society.
PIECES OF A MAN (W.T.), Dir. Orlando Bagwell
Pieces of a Man (W.T.) is the story of Gil Scott-Heron, a writer and recording artist who used his music to awaken public thinking and invite activism on a range of social issues — gun control, drug addiction, government corruption, apartheid. A global troubadour, his listeners depend on his music for his social critique as well as the promising image of what could be. Yet, Scott-Heron ignored his own warnings about drugs and addiction, placing his personal life at odds with his own words. Pieces of a Man is a personal story of a creative genius and his beliefs – a story of a profound messenger who failed to live his own words.
SARAH (W.T.), Dir. Tracy Droz Tragos
At 14, Sarah vowed she would have a life different from her mother, who had her first child in the tenth grade, dropped out of school, and eventually brought seven kids into the world all of whom she cares for on her own. But in rural Missouri, abstinence-only education isn’t very effective, birth control is unavailable, and Sarah was pregnant at 15. This long-form film explores Sarah’s path — from a young girl with ambition to a teenage mom and beyond. It follows her challenges, compromises, choices and options over the span of seven years, until her son Adrian starts kindergarten and Sarah turns 21.
SURVIVORS, Dirs. Banker White, Arthur Pratt
Through the lens of Sierra Leonean filmmaker Arthur Pratt, Survivors presents an unforgettable portrait of Sierra Leone’s heroes as they confront Ebola in the most acute public health emergency of modern time. Lives are torn apart as the disease, in his words, “attacks the fabric of what it means to be African.” Amid both catastrophe and remarkable resilience, Arthur shares his deepest fears and sincerest hopes for his newborn son, his community, country and continent.
THE HOLLY, Dir. Julian Rubinstein
A historic African American community in Denver becomes a microcosm of the national race crisis when a prominent former gang leader turned anti-violence activist shoots a gang member during a peace rally. As Terrance Roberts argues self-defense and the man he shot rises to power on the streets, the case rocks the city and their lives, dramatically illustrating the complex social, economic and political issues playing out across the nation.
THE REAGAN YEARS, Dir. Pacho Velez
Told entirely through a largely-unseen trove of archival footage, The Reagan Years will capture the pageantry, pathos, and charisma that followed the 40th President from Hollywood to the nation’s capital. This film is about a prolific actor’s defining role: Leader of the Free World.
UNTITLED MISSOURI FILM, Dir. Rebecca Cammisa
This documentary tells the story of two communities near St. Louis that are searching for answers. One community is adjacent to an underground landfill fire that could reach legacy nuclear waste from the Manhattan Project. The other community is experiencing high rates of rare cancers possibly due to ionizing radiation poisoning from that same nuclear waste source illegally dumped there for decades.
UNTITLED DOCUMENTARY, Dirs. Joshua Kriegman / Elyse Steinberg
WHEN GOD SLEEPS, Dir. Till Schauder
This depicts the journey of Iranian musician Shahin Najafi who is forced into hiding after hardline clerics issue a fatwa for his death. Najafi had released a rap song that focused on the oppression of women, sexism and human rights abuses. The film uses the fatwa to embark on Najafi’s journey: from his youth in Iran, where he was once a talented Koran reciter, to his current living condition as an outlaw-artist for whom each concert presents a risk to his life.
The grants announced today will allow the filmmakers to take crucial next steps in the development of their films, such as enabling a first shoot and editing pieces for production fundraising. In addition to the Catapult Film Fund grants, recipients have access to an informal mentorship program with Catapult’s co-founders, Bonni Cohen and Lisa Kleiner Chanoff, in areas including story development, production process, fundraising and distribution strategy.