The Redford Center, the nonprofit environmental media organization co-founded in 2005 by Robert Redford and his son James Redford, is going big on funding environmental documentaries this year. Today, it announced early-stage funding of a record 22 feature-length films committed to telling stories of environmental justice and solutions. Made through the Redford Center’s biennial Grants Program, it represents a tripling of the number of films funded in its previous cycle.
“The Redford Center mandate is really to drive mass participation in the movement towards environmental justice, protection and repair, and we are scaling up right now,” Redford Center executive director Jill Tidman tells The Hollywood Reporter. She says the center felt it was urgent to increase funding given events of 2020. “The open call happened right when shelter-in-place really started in a big way in this country. We decided given the state of the film industry and production and the uncertainty of it, we really wanted to make sure we would help get some content created,” says Tidman. “We decided we’d do a big fundraising blitz this summer and bring on as many projects as we could possibly fund.”
The Grants Program operates on a two-year cycle. Sixteen of the selected films will receive $20,000 cash grants and a suite of GoPro gear, while six mini-grant winners each will receive $1,000 cash grants. All of the filmmaking teams get wrap-around support from the Redford Center, including networking and partnership opportunities, guidance on creating impact campaigns around their films, and promotional support. Films are also eligible to receive additional funds during year two to bring projects across the finish line. “We typically stick with the projects through the project life. We see them as part of our work,” says Tidman. “Year two is when we try to build that community around them, shepherd it along and work on that impact strategy.”
This year’s crop of grantees includes projects that focus on a wide variety of issues, including food security, climate solutions, environmental toxins, community health, racial justice, civic participation, indigenous wisdom and rights, and endangered habitat and species protection.
“We’re trying to expose the intersectionality of environmental justice, racial justice, economic justice and gender justice. And the films we’ve selected this year do a lot of that work,” says Tidman. “They meet people where the impacts happen in their communities and in their lives. And that’s probably the most exciting thing for me about the group this year.” The films, she says, represent an opportunity to invite in “far more people and a more diverse group of people into the movement.”
The slate of films is set in such diverse locales as Puerto Rico (post-Hurricane Maria); West Virginia; Florida (on the trail of the state’s threatened panther population); California (suffering wildfire devastation); the American Southwest (where old uranium mines have contaminated the Navajo Reservation); Maine (documenting the building of a seaweed farm) and Borneo (home to one of three species of orangutans, all of which are critically endangered.)
The lead funder of the center’s Grants Program is the The New York Community Trust. Additional support comes from KindHumans and GoPro For A Cause and additional production funding in 2020 comes from Janice and Matthew Barger, Shari and Dan Plummer and the Pisces Foundation. The Grants Program was started in 2016, giving funding to six projects, with another seven receiving funds in 2018, including the film Inventing Tomorrow which was the recipient of a 2019 Peabody Award. The Center also runs a storytelling project for middle-school students, The Stories Project, and produces its own original films, which have included 2008’s Fighting Goliath: Texas Coal Wars, 2012’s Watershed, and 2017’s Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution.
Tidman’s hope is that the films they are helping fund can inspire others to become active in the movement to improve the life and health of the planet. “We do narrative intervention work,” she says. “The way we do storytelling is trying to insert a progress story into the narrative, whether through impact partnerships, educational curriculum or community screenings.”
She adds that, “The data show that more people than ever are concerned about what’s going on with the planet. At the same time, most people don’t know what to do about it. I think the environmental communications to date have been very overwhelming and create a lot of paralysis. I have a whole document of doom-y headlines that are basically we’ve hit the point of no return. No wonder there’s a hopelessness. That’s the core of why we haven’t been able to make some of these shifts. It’s actually a problem of culture change. So we have to create the will to make the right policies and elect the right leadership. Our focus as a storytelling organization is always to both present the issue at hand and also present the solutions and a pathway for action.”
The full list of 2020 grant recipients follows:
Food for the Rest of Us
Tiffany Ayalik (Producer, Writer), Caroline Cox (Director)
Food for the Rest of Us will examine how getting back to the land is tied to other movements such as Black Lives Matter, Idle No More and Times Up.
Stage: Post Production
We Still Here / Aquí Estamos
Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi (Director)
In response to the government’s disregard and poor relief management during Hurricane Maria, young residents from Comerio, Puerto Rico activate themselves by taking control and transforming not only their lives but their community.
Meg Griffiths and Scott Faris (Directors)
Impossible Town is the story of unlikely heroine Dr. Ayne Amjad and her quest to relocate the 250 residents of Minden, West Virginia, to her own remote property so they can live free of the toxic contamination that threatens their community with extinction. It is a mission her father began 30 years ago, and in light of his untimely passing, one that she must complete in the face of infighting, pandemic, and overwhelming odds.
Untitled Annie Mae Aquash Documentary
Amy Kaufman (Producer), Yvonne Russo (Director)
Indigenous activist Annie Mae Aquash is one of the thousands who make up the staggering number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. An unprecedented investigation into her murder becomes a critical focus in examining the continuing fight for Indigenous sovereignty as well as effects of centuries of colonization on Indigenous women and girls.
Fork in the Road
Vivian Sorenson and Jonathan Nastasi (Directors)
What we eat matters. Fork in the Road is a documentary about mitigating climate change through our culinary choices. We follow the stories of renegade farmers who use regenerative growing practices and visionary chefs who are creating a new climate cuisine — the heroes who are forging a resilient and delicious future of food.
Path of the Panther
Carlton Ward, Jr. (Cinematographer), Tori Linder (Impact Producer), Eric Bendick (Director)
Path of the Panther is an epic tale of nature and humanity at a crossroads. Through the eyes of the Florida panther, we discover the beating heart of a lost wilderness. Yet the guardians of this species are in a desperate struggle. The abyss of extinction beckons — and time is running out. Walking this path reveals both hope and heartbreak — a timeless battle waged between forces of renewal and destruction. Lines drawn. Territory marked. But whose dominion is this? The future of the Panther, and of our planet, may rest on the answer.
Stage: Post Production
Natalie Baszile and Hyacinth Parker (Directors)
Harvest, a character-driven docuseries, focuses on the unique circumstances and passions of farmers around the globe, and offers an intimate look at their lives and realities. Taking the lens that is usually trained on chefs and foodies, Harvest celebrates the beauty and artistry of farming and the people who act as stewards of the land at a pivotal moment when mankind is grappling with our food sources and re-examining our relationship to the earth.
Stage: Early Development
The Last Fire Keepers
Jacob Thomas (Producer), Benjamin Huguet (Director)
Every year California is devastated by gigantic wildfires as the effects of global warming increase, but the re-emergence of an ancient indigenous practice offers hope of a solution.
Police in our Climate
Khari Slaughter and William Tyner (Directors)
This film follows the lives of four families who live at the intersection of environmental and police violence. From their collective wisdom, the film will explore ways to build climate-resilient communities free of police violence and brutality.
Stage: Early Development
Razing Liberty Square
Katja Esson (Director)
Razing Liberty Square is a feature-length documentary that addresses climate gentrification by following the redevelopment of a historic African American public housing project in Miami and its impact on long-time residents.
Stage: Post Production
Alex J. Bledsoe (Director)
In Oakland, California — where lead poisoning rates are higher than Flint, Michigan — families fight to protect their children from their own homes and schools, confronting over a century of environmental racism.
To The End
Sabrina Schmidt Gordon (Producer), Rachel Lears (Director)
At this critical and volatile moment in our history, stopping climate change is a question of political courage, and the clock is ticking. To the End will follow the Green New Deal from an obscure idea to a political touchstone of a generation, through the interwoven narratives of four young women of color who are grappling with challenges of leadership and power that they have never encountered before.
Shannon Post, Evan Mascagni (Director)
The story of a vision to transform coal country into farm country, Appalachian Spring follows a group of Kentuckians on a journey to create a sustainable future for a spirited community in economic decline.
Stage: Early Production
Dr. Tommy Rock (Co-Writer), Hadley Austin (Director)
Demon Mineral documents life in the radioactive desert on the Navajo Reservation. Spanning across a landscape perforated by orphaned uranium mines in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, the film follows a group of indigenous scientists, elders, and activists as they work to protect a vital living space on contaminated land.
Stage: Early Production
Monique Walton (Producer), Chachi Hauser (Producer), Jolene Pinder (Producer), Kira Akerman (Director)
Louisiana through the eyes of three young women coming-of-age at different points along the Mississippi River. Here, the river is at record flood stages, hurricanes are occurring earlier each year, and the coast is losing over a football field of land an hour. The young women’s journey reveals that flooding and land loss often do not occur arbitrarily, but as the result of intentional decisions that value profit over people. As they learn about how the Mississippi River has been managed and controlled, Mekenzie, Annabelle, and Tanielma come to identify with the river and their individual search for identity and meaning becomes connected to their new climate reality.
Stage: Rough Cut
Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust
Ann Kaneko (Director/Producer) Jin Yoo-Kim (Producer)
From the majestic peaks of the snow-capped Sierras to the now parched Eastern California valley of Payahuunadü, “the land of flowing water,” Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust poetically weaves together memories and insights of intergenerational women from three communities. Native Americans, Japanese American World War II incarcerees, and environmentalists form an unexpected alliance to defend their land and water from the insatiable thirst of Los Angeles.
Stage: Post production: rough/fine cut
CURRENT 2020 MINI-GRANT RECIPIENTS:
Sergio & Elena Rapu (Directors)
A small farm in Hawaii leverages its unique relationship with a resort to create a new model of local agriculture in a state that is heavily reliant on imported foods.
Lindsay Ofrias and Gordon Roecker (Directors)
When a group of Amazonian villagers set out to remedy one of the largest oil spills in history, they never expected to face charges of organized crime in the United States for their action. RICO is the untold story of how, after winning a landmark multibillion-dollar lawsuit, these villagers and their international allies became legally branded as part of a conspiratorial plot against a major U.S. corporation. As the story unfolds in real time, RICO shows precedent in the making that has serious implications for democracy, the environment, and communities across the world.
Heidi Burkey (Director)
Off the coast of Maine, America’s environmental and addiction crises meet at a crossroads as Colleen Francke leads a team of women in recovery from substance-use disorder building a seaweed farm in Casco Bay. Facing opposition from local fishermen, risking financial stability, and fighting through her own recovery journey, Colleen will discover what it takes to lead these women into a new coastal economy — rehabilitating both the water and themselves along the way.
Toby Gad (Director)
She was believed missing in the Bornean jungle when 25-year-old UCLA graduate Biruté began what will soon be the longest primate study by an individual in human history. “Love and grief, heartbreak and triumph, journey with Biruté deep into the heart of the rainforest, and discover the disappearing Eden she has devoted her life to defending.”
A Park in Brooklyn
Kurt Vincent and Irene Kim Chin (Directors)
A nature film about human nature, A Park In Brooklyn is a meditative portrait of one of America’s greatest city parks, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York. Through the intimate stories of people whose daily lives intersect with the Park, the film illuminates how diversity makes an ecosystem stronger and healthier.
Jennifer Akana Sturla (Director)
The unknown story behind the Hawaiian singer whose cover medley “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” is known around the world.