NEH pandemic relief grants boost indie filmmakers

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The Independent Television Service and Firelight Media are among grantees that received funding Monday from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The funding is part of NEH’s Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan, which aims to support artists and institutions adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

ITVS, which produces Independent Lens, received $1.7 million to launch the ITVS Humanities Documentary Development Fellowship. The fellowship “will help pandemic-affected independent documentary filmmakers develop high-potential projects that increase the diversity, urgency, and relevance of the nation’s humanities-centered documentary pipeline,” according to a news release.

“Our hope is that this fellowship will provide needed support to documentary filmmakers greatly affected by the pandemic while also amplifying and strengthening humanities stories, particularly stories by makers who are traditionally underrepresented in the humanities documentary pipeline for public television,” said Keri Archer Brown, ITVS director of content and initiatives. “Not only can we support filmmakers, but NEH funding allows us to strengthen a critical link between filmmakers and expert humanities advisors that is needed to succeed in deepening the power of their stories.”

The ITVS fellowship will be led by Tamara Gould, head of international co-productions and strategic partnerships. The application period for the program opens Oct. 15. Twenty fellows will be selected.

Firelight Media, an organization co-founded by filmmakers Stanley Nelson and Marcia Smith, received $2.2 million for two programs. It got $2 million for Spark Fund, a grant program that supports 36 filmmakers of color whose work on historical or humanities-focused documentaries was disrupted by the pandemic. Firelight’s Beyond Resilience, a masterclass for filmmakers, received $200,000 to help retain five positions for instructors and scholars. Smith will lead both projects.

Appalshop Inc., which owns WMMT in Whitesburg, Ky., received $155,285 to preserve and improve access to archives about the history and culture of the Appalachian region.

The Sundance Institute, which has given support to filmmakers who work in public broadcasting, also received $1.5 million to help filmmakers who faced financial challenges due to the pandemic.

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