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A&E IndieFilms, Sundance Institute Announce First Recipients of Documentary Film Grants (EXCLUSIVE)

A&E IndieFilms and Sundance Institute have selected four recipients for their inaugural “Brave Storytellers Award,” an honor that is intended to provide financial support for documentary filmmakers. The winners are Cecilia Aldarondo, Jameka Autry, Margaret Brown, and Yoruba Richen.

Each honoree will receive $25,000 in seed funding, as well as year-round mentorship from staff of the Sundance Institute, a non-profit filmmaking organization. A&E IndieFilms will then work with Sundance Institute to support the recipients’ projects through development, production and distribution.

The projects being supported by the grants cover a range of subjects. Richen’s “American Reckoning” will grapple with the FBI’s recent series of investigations into hundreds of unsolved civil rights era murders. Autry’s “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” examines the prosecution of the jazz singer on drug charges. And Aldarondo’s “You Were My First Boyfriend” reexamines life in high school.

Brown’s project doesn’t have a title and she isn’t sharing any additional information about the topic of the film.

The two organizations announced the grant program at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. A&E IndieFilms is the feature documentary division of A&E Network. The channel has been very active in the non-fiction film space in recent years, fielding such acclaimed works as “City of Ghosts,” “Cartel Land,” “Studio 54,” and “Life Animated.” In most cases, the company partners with a theatrical distributor such as Magnolia or the Orchard to oversee the movies’ releases. Recent A&E IndieFilms releases include Alexis Bloom’s “Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes” and “Meeting Gorbachev,” which was co-directed by Werner Herzog and Andre Singer.

“We consider the Brave Storytellers Award a fire-starter grant for documentary filmmakers. The grant can be used by the recipients to take an idea they have been developing, shoot for a few days and determine if they have enough to make a film,” said Molly Thompson, head of documentary films, A+E Networks. “We are thrilled to recognize Margaret Brown, Yoruba Richen, Jameka Autry and Cecilia Aldarondo with this award. We loved their ideas and hope this is the first step to securing financing and distribution for their films.”

“The early stages of development on a film are notoriously the hardest to fund, and so we are delighted to join with A&E IndieFilms to provide support for this messy exploratory part of the creative process,” said Tabitha Jackson, Director of Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program. “Making nonfiction films these days is in itself a brave endeavor in many ways. These four filmmakers share an approach to the form or the subject matter that requires a certain amount of courage. We feel very lucky to be able to play a part in supporting them”

Here’s some more info on the recipients:

American Reckoning

Director: Yoruba Richen

Congress recently re-authorized the FBI to investigate and prosecute hundreds of unsolved civil rights era murders under the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act but despite spending over $100 million there have been almost no prosecutions. An examination of one such case –the bombing of a Natchez, Mississippi NAACP leader by a white supremacist group — reveals a story of black defiance and armed resistance that our traditional Civil Rights narrative has long overlooked.

Yoruba Richen is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose short and long-form work has been featured on PBS, Frontline Digital, The Cut, The Atlantic, Field of Vision and The New York Times. Her latest feature film The Green Book: Guide to Freedom will be broadcast on the Smithsonian Channel in February.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Director: Jameka Autry

The unmatched cat-and-mouse ruse between Billie Holiday and Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics, which launched the first “War on Drugs.”

Jameka Autry is a New York based director and creative producer. In 2017, she was named an Impact Partners Creative Producers Fellow and she is also a 2018-19 Associate of the Investigative Reporting Program at the UC Berkeley School of Journalism. She previously produced Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing (HBO), In My Father’s House (Showtime), MATANGI/MAYA/M.I.A. (2018 Sundance Film Festival) and consulted on We The Animals (2018 Sundance Film Festival) and Love, Gilda (CNN). Most recently, she was selected for DOC NYC’s inaugural 40 Under 40 list.

You Were My First Boyfriend

Director: Cecilia Aldarondo

A documentary for anyone who survived high school.

Cecilia Aldarondo’s feature documentary Memories of a Penitent Heart debuted at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival and was broadcast nationally on public television in 2017. She is a 2017 Women at Sundance Fellow and was one of Filmmaker Magazine’s ’25 New Faces of Independent Film’ in 2015. Her work has been supported by grants from the MacDowell Colony, Sundance Institute, Jerome Foundation, New York State Council for the Arts, Ford Foundation, and many others. She currently works Assistant Professor of Film at Skidmore College.

Untitled Margaret Brown Documentary

Director: Margaret Brown

Margaret Brown’s films are Be Here To Love Me: Townes Van Zandt, The Order of Myths, The Great Invisible and The Black Belt. For these films, she has won a Peabody Award, an Independent Spirit Award, and SXSW Documentary Competition. She lives in Los Angeles, California and Austin, Texas.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Jameka Autry’s name. We apologize for the error.

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