Rooftop Films, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that champions independent cinema, has announced recipients of its 2020 filmmaker fund grants.

The awards, consisting of 20 cash and service grants to independent filmmakers, were supported by the James Levine Foundation. Among the honorees, Lucy Walker (“Bring Your Own Brigade”) and Ben Mullinkosson (“The Last Year of Darkness”) were given then Rooftop Films Water Tower Feature Film Grants and will each receive $15,000 toward their respective feature-length documentaries.

“We are thrilled to honor all of our alumni grantees this year, and are especially proud to note that our grantee awards recognize eleven projects directed or co-directed by women and seven directed or co-directed by filmmakers of color,” said Rooftop Films senior programmer Dominic Davis.

Past Rooftop Filmmaker Fund grantees include Eliza Hittman’s “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” Kirsten Johnson’s documentary “Dick Johnson Is Dead” and Bill and Turner Ross’ “Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets.”

“Rooftop Films is proud to be able to support the work of independent filmmakers during these times,”  said Rooftop Films executive director Nadine Goellner. “With the generous support of our partners, including the James Levine Foundation, and new production service grants from elkind Lighting & Camera and Irving Harvey, we are offering critical resources to our filmmakers that will serve as a catalyst for moving their work forward. Congratulations to all of our award recipients.”

Rooftop Films recently partnered with the New York Film Festival and other New York-based institutions to offer drive-in screenings in Brooklyn and Queens during the pandemic.

See the complete list of grantees below:


Rooftop Films Water Tower Feature Film Grants

Ben Mullinkosson, The Last Year of Darkness

Five partygoers relentlessly search for themselves in the night, trying to savor the last moments of anonymity before the Chinese government shuts down their underground sanctuaries and pulls them out of the darkness forever.

Lucy Walker, Untitled Wild Fire Documentary

Told through dramatically riveting and emotional characters-drive vertié, this feature documentary is a combination of dynamic investigation into our landscape’s hidden fire stories and on-the-ground experiences of firefighters and residents struggling through hellish and deadly fires gripping the world.

Rooftop Films and Technological Cinevideo Services Camera Grant

Luke Lorentzen, Untitled Spiritual Care Documentary

Hospitals are seen as places of medicine, science and technology, but there is a little known story of how chaplains within these institutions tend to spiritual needs. Working with people of all religious affiliations, as well as those who follow no faith tradition, a spiritual care team sits at the emotional core of a hospital. As a source of support and solace – and sometimes just a sympathetic ear – chaplains help people experience some of the most challenging and distressing moments of their lives.

Rooftop Films and Eastern Effects Equipment Grant

Nikyatu Jusu, NANNY

Aisha is an undocumented nanny caring for a privileged child on the Upper East Side of New York. As she prepares for the arrival of the son she left behind in her native country, a violent supernatural presence invades her reality, threatening the “American Dream” she’s painstakingly pieced together.

Rooftop Films and Red Hook Post Sound Mix Grant

Nicholas Bruckman, Not Going Quietly

When Ady Barkan is given four years to live, he embarks on a tour of America, using his final breaths to crusade for healthcare justice.

Rooftop Films and NYCEDC Production Office Grants

Jean Pesce, Cuttlefish

A broke, bumbling dog-groomer discovers a money-laundering scheme and soon finds herself on the run with a beautiful mobster.

Sierra Pettengill, RIOTSVILLE, USA

1968: Massive civil unrest, followed by a rare chance for justice. Riotsville, USA is the untold story of
what we did instead. Told through a series of all-archival chapters chronicling forgotten and increasingly bizarre events, the film reveals the mechanism by which a nation declares war against its own.

Rooftop Films and Edgeworx Post-Production Grant

Michal Palmieri and Donal Mosher, Untitled Justin Vivian Bond Project

Part verité documentary, part musical, all glam-camp fever dream, Untitled Justin Vivian Bond Project is a celebration of one of America’s most beloved living stage icons: Justin Vivian Bond. Bond’s first-ever solo feature-length concert film, the project will document so much more than live performance, featuring a once-in-a-lifetime immersive cabaret and attempting to capture and communicate the enigmatic essence of the one and only Mx Bond.

Rooftop Films and elkind Lighting & Camera Grant

Jing Wang, Ride With Delivery Workers

Ride with Delivery Workers is a feature-length documentary about E-bike immigrant delivery workers who, facing unjust hyper-policing while riding their electric bikes, form an advocacy community to fight back.

Rooftop Films and Irving Harvey Color Correction Grant

Sami Khan & Michael Gassert, The Last Out

Three young Cuban baseball players leave their families and risk exile to train in Central America and chase their dreams of playing in the Major Leagues. Premiered at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival where Sami Khan and Michael Gassert received Best New Documentary Director Special Jury Mention. Screened with Rooftop Films at the Queens Drive-In.

Rooftop Films and Adrienne Shelly Foundation Grant For Women

Laura Moss, birth/rebirth

‘birth/rebirth’ is a psychological horror film about motherhood and creation, inspired by Mary Shelley’s
Frankenstein. The film is centered around two female protagonists, a single mother and a childless morgue technician who are bound together by their relationship to a re-animated little girl.


Rooftop Films and DCTV Equipment & Services Grants

Joey Garfield, Carolynn’s Fingers

Carolynn is a marionette puppeteer who is so mesmerizing at her craft that no one notices her when she performs. Realizing this, she does what anyone would do when they find out they are practically invisible. She robs a bank.

Hannah McSwiggen & Russell Sheaffer, Such a Nice Girl Too

In the Alaskan Klondike of 1898, only men were allowed to mine gold; women survived by learning to mine the miners. One of the most skilled and mysterious miners of men was the remarkable Cad Wilson. Drawing entirely from contemporaneous sources, this stop-motion animated, hybrid documentary tells the story of Wilson’s 11 months in Dawson, over which time her salty humor, risqué vaudeville acts, and performances of the song “Such a Nice Girl Too” won the miners’ hearts (and wallets), earning her the nickname “the Klondike Queen.”

Rooftop Filmmakers Fund Short Film Grants

Isabelle Aspin & Brian Smee, I Envy the Dead

The sun sets one final time on the year 2050. In the city of Los Angeles: a father and daughter’s reunion
is postponed indefinitely; a 200 year old coyote encounters an evil bubble; the first Olympic Surf Stadium does not appear out of thin air, as planned; a spider’s bite conjures up visions of court proceedings and vigil lights.

James Burns, Solitary

A documentary hybrid about solitary confinement, following three people who have spent a combined nine years in solitary, one of whom co-directed the film.

Elizabeth Lo, Untitled Documentary Project

Nathan Truesdell & Jessica Kingdon, It’s Coming!

The future is here! Well, almost.

Rooftop Films Kayla Thomas Filmmaker Grants

Horatio Baltz, Martin & Hector

A murderous East Los Angeles gangbanger reflects on his violent lifestyle after the untimely death of his
beloved pet cat.

Stephen Irwin, Wood Child and Hidden Forest Mother

Deep in the forest, a hunter encounters a strange creature he cannot kill. Premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Screened with Rooftop Films in 2020 at the Queens Drive-In.

Malika Zouhali-Worrall, Video Visit

Un upcoming short documentary from filmmaker Malika Zouhali-Worrall.