Ryan Coogler
Tommy Lau Ryan Coogler

Six features in various stages of production have won $300,000 in filmmaking grants from the San Francisco Film Society and the Kenneth Rainin Foundation. "The East County," "Fruitvale," "Los Valientes," "Ping Pong Summer," "Short Term 12" and "The Undeniable Charm of Sloppy Unruh" each landed funding for the next stage of their production. SFFS / KRF Filmmaking Grants are awarded twice a year to filmmakers for narrative features that will have serious economic or professional impact on the Bay Area filmmaking community. Nearly $2.5 million will be awarded between 2009 and 2013. (See details on the winning projects below.

With the help of this level of funding, indie filmmakers don't have to give away control of their projects. Five former grant recipients had films accepted at Sundance this year. Ryan Coogler's "Fruitvale" (US Dramatic Competition), Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson's "American Promise," Zachary Heinzerling's "Cutie and the Boxer," Jacob Kornbluth's "Inequality for All" and Shaul Schwarz's "Narco Cultura" (U.S. Documentary Competition. Three prior grant recipients went to Sundance: mideast gay romance "Circumstance," New Orleans Fox Searchlight pick-up "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and teen lesbian coming of age story "Mosquita y Mari."

Panelists Cheryl Dunye, writer-director and associate professor at California College of the Arts; Ted Hope, SFFS executive director; Jennifer Rainin, president, Kenneth Rainin Foundation; Rachel Rosen, SFFS director of programming; and Michele Turnure-Salleo, SFFS director of Filmmaker360, reviewed the thirteen finalists’ submissions and chose the winners.

They stated:

“This is an incredibly diverse group of films, featuring filmmakers who demonstrate a true focus towards their community and an eager willingness to collaborate. Throughout the review process, we were impressed by the brave choices made by these artists both in terms of emotional engagement and subject matter. It’s also deeply satisfying to attract such a wide range of high quality work from all over the country with these grants, and contribute to the expansion and development of the already robust filmmaking scene here in the Bay Area.”

In 2008 the Kenneth Rainin Foundation committed $3 million over five years. Australian producer-turned-SFFS-exec Michele Turnure-Salleo says the program often supports the same projects multiple times. They not only give grants, but have a film house residency program with from six months to a year of at a free production office in a 5000-square-foot space. And for Off the Page they bring actors and writer directors together to workshop scripts, to see if they're interested in working with each other.

"We get to know them quite early," says Turnure-Salleo, who looks at each project individually "to see how to help that filmmaker, that project and their team, make that film and have a sustainable career."

Grant finalist Ryan Coogler's film "Fruitvale" workshopped with SFFS-chosen actors Michael B. Jordan and Melanie Diaz; they later landed a $100,000 production grant. Coogler shot the film with those actors and Octavia Spencer in July; it's in post. "One of the goals with the grant moneys is to uplift the Bay Area economically and professionally," adds Turnure-Salleo. "That can happen in many different ways. We are looking for people to engage with the Bay Area somehow through the making of film. 'Beasts' was not shot here, but did post here. We'll give $35,000 (individual) and $50,000 (writer or producer) for the screenwriting grant; you have to move here to write."

This year's 167 submission was the most they've had to date. They have specific criteria:

Projects must explore—through plot, character, theme or setting—human and civil rights, discrimination, gender and sexual identity and other social issues of our time in order to qualify. Additionally, the grants support projects by filmmakers from anywhere in the world that will have a significant economic or professional impact on the Bay Area filmmaking community. The total amount disbursed from 2009 to 2013 will reach nearly $2.5 million. Winners of the fall 2012 SFFS/KRF Grants will be announced in early December.