Funding a documentary is no small feat. Credit card debt, favors and missing paychecks for months (maybe years) are all variables in the equation. Bridge loans and crowd-funding are both popular financing methods, but the most prestigious support comes in the way of grants from organizations like the Sundance Institute, the Ford Foundation and the NEA.
In 2007 the Tribeca Film Institute became another key player in the grant game when it launched the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund. Providing finishing coin for feature-length docs that highlight social issues, the fund has increased from an annual $80,000 to $150,000 since its launch, with six to 15 films per year benefiting from grants ranging from $10,000 to $25,000.
“We receive between 500 and 700 applications a year,” says Ryan Harrington, TFI’s VP of artist programs. “We want to support as many good projects as we can.”
Since its launch the fund has helped 47 docs find finishing money, including those of Oscar winner Roger Ross Williams (“God Loves Uganda”), cinema verite pioneer D.A. Pennebaker (“Unlocking the Cage”), as well as newbies Rachel Beth Anderson (“First to Fall”) and Ben Cotner and Ryan White (“The Case Against 8”).
“We are able to support established filmmakers, but at the same time we really try and balance that with helping emerging filmmakers from around the globe,” Harrington says. “We have supported first-time filmmakers from India, Pakistan and all throughout Europe.”
This year four Gucci funded projects — “The Case Against 8,” “E-Team” and “Web Junkie, and “Sepodeh: Reaching for the Stars” — premiered at Sundance, while Marshall Curry’s “Point and Shoot” and James Spione’s “Silenced” will debut at Tribeca.
“Regardless of where (our films) are premiering, we are always looking at ways to highlight and raise the profile of the project,” Harrington says. “It’s our goal to make sure that the films (we help) connect with audiences in some way, shape or form.”