Berkeley FILM Foundation awards $150,000 in grants

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The Berkeley FILM Foundation awarded a combined $150,000 in grants on July 26 to 23 local filmmakers, including five students and one UC Berkeley alumna.

The grants — funded by the city of Berkeley, Wareham Development and the Saul Zaentz Company along with fundraised donations — aim to assist the filmmakers in any stage of their films’ production and to provide the films with the credibility and recognition necessary to succeed.

“We’re trying not only to sustain and help out documentary filmmakers, but also to assist new filmmakers and create an interest in documentary filmmaking anyway we can,” said Barbara Hillman, film commissioner and treasurer of the foundation.

Hillman also said the application pool increased from a little more than 35 last year to 62 this year, as the foundation did more outreach and expanded the geographical restrictions to include the entire East Bay corridor including Richmond, El Cerrito and Emeryville. Hillman said the foundation would like to see more applicants from the campus in the future.

This year, one of the student winners was Emily Bender, a recent graduate from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, who was awarded a grant for her film “Half Full” about the struggle of a woman with a rare genetic disorder causing her to eat everything in her sight.

Last year, the foundation added a section of grants exclusively for students, as they wanted to create a system where the students could be fairly evaluated against each other, as opposed to being compared to more experienced, professional filmmakers, said Abby Ginzberg, president of the foundation’s board of directors.

One of the student grant recipients, Rob Fatal — a graduate student at the California College of the Arts whose film titled “La Bamba 2: Hell is a Drag” is self-described as a “drag, avant-garde, unauthorized parody/sequel” to the 1987 film “La Bamba” — said in an email that grants intended just for students are critical, as students walk the line between the amateur and the professional.

“Students speak to experiences and with diverse voices that are sometimes stifled in the professional world and not yet developed in the amateur world,” Fatal said in an email, adding that he feels “so overwhelmingly honored to have been given this gift in return for my self expression.”

Although not a student, the winner of the largest Saul Zaentz grant of $20,000 was Jacob Kornbluth for his economic documentary, “Inequality for All,” which has strong ties to the campus as well as the city of Berkeley. Kornbluth, who lives and works in Berkeley, worked on his film with UC Berkeley professor of public policy Robert Reich and shot the film largely in the Berkeley area and on campus.

Kornbluth said the film advocates for the sort of progressive social change to which Berkeley is historically linked.

For Kornbluth, while the grant money will go towards crucial functional, editing and shooting costs, simply receiving the prestigious Saul Zaentz Award holds significance.

“It’s an honor to be given a grant that’s associated with (Saul Zaentz) and the community I live and work in,” Kornbluth said. “To show you have institutional support is incredibly helpful for raising the profile of the project. It sort of lets everybody know its a credible project and helps us immeasurably in raising other money.”

On Oct. 18, the foundation will hold a fundraising gala to honor the grant-winners, talk about past foundation awards and acknowledge the sponsors that have supported the foundation.

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