Funds get doc filmmakers to finish line

Six honorees will receive financing from WIF

Doc filmmakers are filmmakers with a passion for their craft. And they are always scrambling for money. They max out on their credit cards. An ATM spits out that last “insufficient funds” slip. But there is still hope. The Women in Film Finishing Fund, a White Knight decked out in an armor of cash, gives support.

“The Finishing Fund allows filmmakers in the last stages of their films to get over the hump and finish up what they need to do,” says WIF president Jane Fleming. “Around 150 female applicants submit a rough cut. Most are looking for sound editing, post-production services or sound mixing to get their film ready for a festival or distributors.” This year’s six honorees will each receive $5,000.

Since its inception in 1985, the nonprofit has given away more than $2 million in cash and in-kind services to 170 films. Netflix has recently come along as a sponsor of the fund. “Netflix is an end distributor,” says Fleming. “They support independent filmmaking and they support women.”

This year, six filmmakers tap the Fund:

Heather Ross
“Girls on the Wall”

The teenage girls of Warrenville Prison write and stage a musical based on their lives.

“I spent nine months with these kids,” says Ross. “They had this combination of heat and bad attitude as well as a deep vulnerability. The first person we meet is Whitney, who looks like a thug. She does not want to open up, but by the end of the film, her story paints a picture of how one might go from being a little girl to committing a murder at the age of 14. And how her dad’s drug abuse paved the way for that calamity to happen. We see how Whitney goes from total disengagement to being one of the leaders of the group. A real example of how inside even the most hardened kid there’s still a kid — there’s still potential.”

Amanda Pope
“The Legend of Pancho Barnes”

Florence Lowe “Pancho” Barnes makes history as an aviation pioneer.

“I started out at the ABC doc unit and then went on. I’ve done a lot of crazy films,” says Pope. “I tell my students at USC to make documentaries and get a sense of what the real people are doing. Pancho Barnes was a Pasadena heiress who had all the money in the world and lost it. She kept reinventing herself. Pancho was a great aviator at time when there were very few women who were. I’m the director of this (film), but the prime mover is my partner, Nick Sparks, a former student, who believes Pancho Barnes is the embodiment of the kind of woman that WIF stands for.”

Roberta Grossman
“Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh”

Senesh parachutes into Nazi-occupied Europe to help save Hungary’s Jews only to be imprisoned alongside her mother.

“I read Hannah Senesh’s diary when I was in junior high and I was inspired by her courage,” says Grossman. “I tried all through my career to get a film about her off the ground. When I was finally able to put everything together not only was I in the right place in terms of my career but I was also a mother. And I realized that telling the story of Hannah Senesh as a heroic story was not that compelling. But telling the story of this young girl and a mother who has to watch her daughter follow her own path and ultimately give her own life for her ideals was a very compelling story. At $1.5 million it was an expensive film to make — substantial for a documentary.”

Lonnie Lardner
“Angel in the Hood”

Two troubled Latina gangster teens discover a source of hope in Disney’s Tinker Bell.

“About 15 years ago, I started an inner-city kids program to reform gangsters when I met these two girls — tough girls but they had a softer side,” says Lardner. “As I got to know Ashley and Noemi, I found out that they were obsessed with Tinker Bell. Ashley discovered Tinker Bell in the seventh grade when her abusive father started giving her trouble. Noemi’s parents were drug dealers. The girls were frequent users of drugs. When they got into fights at school, they would come home and they, at least, had someone to talk to. Tinker Bell was their guardian angel, their confident. The girls grow up right before our eyes on film. Noemi is going for a nursing degree and Ashley wants to be a kindergarten teacher.”

Rebecca Schanberg
“Do No Harm”

When two men in a small Georgia town try to open up a small clinic, they are shut down by the hospital.

“These two guys in Southwest Georgia found out that the hospital had incredible amounts of money and was behaving in an unethical way. They decided to look at other hospitals and see if this was a pattern. It was. It became a much bigger story. Our biggest challenge was how to visually tell the story in an interesting way. The complexity threw us. Learning as you go is a huge challenge. You are constantly worrying that you’ve missed something, especially with a story as complex as this one. I didn’t think that hard about it. And if I had I might not have had the guts to do it.”

Jessica Gerstle
“Travels With My Dad”

When her father becomes quadriplegic, Jessica discovers hope in the controversial world of stem cells.

“My background is as a network news producer,” says Gerstle. “I decided to leave and do this project with my dad after he was injured in a bicycle accident. When you hear about spinal cord injuries, you quickly hear about stem cells — the promise of stem cells and how politicized this area of science is. And I wanted to do a story about it. My dad had been a surgeon, an ophthalmologist. We went out in search of an understanding of the science and the politics. I had not really understood how powerful the rhetoric is on this issue. My father is my correspondent. He conducted all the interviews. It is through his eyes that you learn about the science. The film is a call to action — to make people understand that we’re all going to be patients one day.”

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