JENNIFER GRAUSMAN received funding for Pressure Cooker, a feature-length documentary that chronicles the senior year of several inner city public high school students as they are transformed by a teacher and her kitchen. Their unorthodox teacher is Wilma Stephenson, a 37-year veteran of Frankford High School. With high expectations, a borderline-ecclesiastical devotion to her students and a boot-camp styled approach, she pushes her students to grow, mature and aspire-both inside and outside the kitchen. Her distinctive personal approach pays off-last year her seniors won over $500,000 in scholarships. And this year she is hoping they earn even more. Pressure Cooker is a coming-of-age story about the slow, sometimes painful, process of learning and becoming. The film speaks to the essence of education.
LANRE OLABISI received support for August the First, a feature narrative whose story begins on a promising day. Preparations are wrapping up for a graduation party celebrating a principal character's educational achievement. Friends and family have agreed to reunite on the one day in his honor. As people arrive and the party begins, a dark history begins to unfold with the return of a surprise guest. Unfortunately, the reunion brings turmoil as secrets are revealed, old wounds are reopened, and bad habits are revived. Actions or inactions in the face of life's hardships etch a family dynamic, which is captured in the history of this African-American family.
MARYAM KESHAVARZ received support for a feature-length documentary called Persian Fashionistas: A New Generation of Revolutionaries. The film looks into the lives of a select group of Tehrani youth struggling to attain freedom under the conservative watch of the Iranian government. These youth represent a generation that has grown tired of restriction and is using fashion as a form of political resistance.
A grant was awarded to CHERIEN DABIS for Make a Wish a short narrative personal journey that follows Mariam, a young Palestinian girl, on the day of her late father's birthday. While the film does not specifically indicate how the father died, it does make political references that indicate it is related to the current political turmoil. The theme is the devastating impact of political conflict and war: love, loss and grief on a deep, personal level. The film is both a celebration of life and a work of mourning.
LUCI WESTPHAL was awarded support for All's Well and Fair, an hour-long documentary that gives a unique perspective on growth and identity, choice and consequence, through portraying three punk rock mothers and their children over a ten-year interval of life on the fringes of society. Giving voice to the three mothers as well as to their five children, All's Well and Fair questions the stereotypes of welfare moms and alternative culture. It also examines the pitfalls of capitalism and mass market culture and living on the cusp of poverty. Do these women lead lives of integrity outside of the mainstream system, or have they just subjected themselves and their children to living in poverty and feeding off the system? And did they actually have a choice? The documentary ultimately focuses on the idea of knowing and being yourself.
A grant was awarded to EMILY and SARAH KUNSTLER for Disturbing the Universe: Radical Lawyer William Kunstler, a documentary about William Kunstler's transformation from smalltime divorce lawyer to larger-than-life defender of equal rights and justice in America, as told by his daughters. In this 90-minute documentary, the co-directors will explore their father's life, from middle-class family man, to movement lawyer, to the most hated lawyer in America (New York Times), in order to understand his political development and his role in the social change movements of which he was a part.
MITCH DEOUDES was awarded support for The Death of Doctor Island, an experimental 35mm narrative that tells the story of a mentally ill boy trapped on what appears to be a deserted island, told as a cycle of seven installments. According to Deoudes, the film is an experiment in immersion and persistence in cinema, which touches on themes of morality, socialization, and sacrifice.
A grant was awarded to LOVISA INSERRA for BUSTER, a super-8 feature-length experimental narrative about a man named Buster who spends all his time provoking strangers into fights, then refuses to defend himself as they pummel him until they grow bored. BUSTER is a grifter, sucking his brother dry, and a cancer, sabotaging his brother's relationship with his girlfriend. Think of him as the patron saint of passive aggression, the don of all losers, or maybe just a regular guy who lost his mind trying to avoid growing up. This is also the story of the people who don't run away from Buster.
KEITH BEARDEN received a grant for Train Town, a experimental narrative film that will center on two middle-aged men in a small American town who attempt to live out their fantasies of a perfect world through the creation of an elaborate realistic model train diorama. The idyllic happenings in the totally controlled miniature town will be inter-cut with their own sharply contrasting real lives: one, a schoolteacher with contempt for his students, little connection to his own children and a strained relationship with his ex-wife; the other, a paranoid reactionary who shelters himself in pre-60's nostalgia and sees enemies of the American Dream in every immigrant, progressive or libertine. Train Town will examine themes of male fantasy, obsession, non-communication, fear of age and death, and the role sexual/emotional frustration plays in the seeds of fascism.
SUZI YOONESSI received support for Dear Lemon Lima, a narrative film that looks at a spell of misguided parenting that pulls together a 13-year-old Yu'pik (Western Eskimo) girl with a vivid imagination, an underdeveloped military enthusiast and a girl who has legally changed her name to the pronoun Nothing. The film thrives off the notion that life is a time to come together and celebrate common traits and differences, inspiring kindness, individuality and equality.