Jewish Film Institute Announces 2022 Completion Grant Recipients

The Jewish Film Institute (JFI), the San Francisco-based nonprofit media arts organization and presenter of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF), announced its third cycle of JFI Completion Grants today, with $75,000 in funding distributed to six independent film projects probing nuanced and surprising corners of Jewish life, history, culture, and identity. JFI, which champions bold films and filmmakers that expand and evolve the Jewish story for audiences everywhere, has distributed $250,000 to 19 projects since launching the grants in 2020.

JFI Completion Grants provide critical resources for filmmakers to accelerate the final stages of their films as the funding landscape for independent filmmakers — particularly those seeking to reflect the full spectrum of Jewish experiences — becomes ever more challenging. Launched in 2020 to mark the organization’s 40th anniversary and to address the growing need for Jewish film funders nationally and internationally, the grants advocate for films that challenge stereotypes and conventions, spark impactful conversations about Jewish life, and innovate storytelling forms.

The third round of JFI Completion Grants announced today celebrates a diverse slate of documentary projects selected from a national applicant pool — the largest in the program’s history. Recipients include: Ain’t No Back to a Merry-Go-Round (Ilana Trachtman); I Like It Here (Ralph Arlyck); A Photographic Memory (Rachel Elizabeth Seed); The Return from the Other Planet (Asaf Lapid); and What We Carry (Cady Voge). A Photographic Memory also received this year’s Albert and Judith Goldberg Award recognizing films focusing on Jewish arts and culture. A sixth project, Red Herring, directed by 2022 JFI Filmmaker in Residence, Kit Vincent, was awarded a discretionary grant by the Jewish Film Institute, supporting innovative projects at a critical juncture. More details about each supported project are available below and online at www.jfi.org/grants.

The JFI Completion Grants are a signature piece of JFI’s continuum of support for filmmakers from incubation through exhibition. Emerging and established filmmakers benefit from peer-to-peer and industry-leading mentorship and workshops in JFI’s annual Filmmaker Residency, the only national residency of its kind, while JFI’s vast live and online exhibition platforms, including the annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, deliver finished works to audiences throughout the Bay Area and United States.

“These captivating stories are both extraordinarily intimate and universally understood,” noted Marcia Jarmel, JFI Director of Filmmaker Services. “JFI is honored to support this slate of films and filmmakers whose deeply moving work expands understanding of Jewish identity and doesn’t shy away from difficult topics that need to be addressed head-on. At this inflection point in our national conversation, when we need to be reminded of possibility, we look to films like these to challenge, inspire and educate us.”

The selection jury for the 2022 Completion Grants included Emmy and Peabody-Award winning documentary producer Justine Nagan, Head of Production at Actual Films; James Hindman, former co-director of the American Film Institute; and Oscar-winning producer Yael Melamede. The jury released the following statement:

“We are thrilled to support this beautiful and impactful group of documentaries. In these tumultuous times, we were buoyed by the creativity, passion and breadth of ideas expressed across the films in consideration. It’s a multi-generational slate composed of several different styles of filmmaking but all with a commitment to using the media of nonfiction cinema to move people and make a positive impact on the world.”

Support for the JFI Completion Grants comes from The Righteous Persons Foundation, The Albert and Judith Goldberg Foundation, and individual supporters. The next call for entries for the JFI Completion Grants opens in January 2023.

2022 JFI Completion Grant Recipients

Ain’t No Back to a Merry-Go-Round
Ilana Trachtman, USA, Documentary, English

When Howard University students sat on the gilded horses of a Maryland merry-go-round in June 1960, the arrests made headlines in the nascent “Sit-Down Movement.” Since 1909 Glen Echo Amusement Park was a whites-only recreation destination for metropolitan Washington. Across the road lay a largely Jewish housing cooperative whose residents jumped into the fray, joining the Howard students’ protest. Despite sweltering heat and violent counter-protesters from the American Nazi Party, Black students marched with white suburbanites for ten weeks. Picketing together led to partying together, union bosses collaborated with student leaders, young people became radicalized, and future giants of the Civil Rights Movement were born. Ain’t No Back to a Merry-Go-Round is a timely cinematic excavation of this little-known Civil Rights story.

Produced by Ilana Trachtman, Jean Tsien, Duana Butler. Executive Produced by Jean Tsien.

A Photographic Memory
Rachel Elizabeth Seed, USA, Documentary, English

Recipient of the Albert and Judith Goldberg Award

Thirty years after her mother’s death, photographer Rachel Elizabeth Seed discovers her mother’s work — more than 50 hours of interviews with the greatest photographers of the 20th Century, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Lisette Model, Roman Vishniac, Gordon Parks, W. Eugene Smith, and Bruce Davidson. When Rachel threads the audio reels and presses play, she hears her mother’s voice for the first time in decades. Sheila Turner-Seed, a daring, world-traveling journalist who — ahead of her time — ventured far beyond the safety of her conservative Jewish family, died suddenly of a brain aneurysm when Rachel was just 18 months old. Moved to uncover more, Rachel sets out to revisit her mom’s subjects, family, friends, and the photographers her mother interviewed decades before. As new truths emerge, Rachel builds a relationship with the mother she never knew, through the audio recordings, photographs, and films her mother left behind.

Produced by Sigrid Dyekjær; Matt Perniciaro; Grace Remington; Rachel Elizabeth Seed; Michael Sherman; Danielle Varga. Story Advisor: Kirsten Johnson.

I Like It Here
Ralph Arlyck, USA, Documentary, English

People talk or laugh about aging, its irritations and relentless progression, but rarely confront the reality of dying or being left alone. Nor do they consider the lightness and calmness that can come when the race seems not so crucial. I Like It Here is about all those things and, finally, about the pleasures of being alive. A figurehead of American independent documentary film, Ralph Arlyck conveys how it feels to see the winding down of your life, as he spends time with older friends from his past and present, and his children and grandchildren. Woven in with these scenes are personal reflections on the challenges of getting old; of feeling one’s joints and thoughts stiffen, as the camera confronts — both seriously and humorously — the obstacles that loom up in front of anyone who is on the last lap. The tone of the film isn’t sad; more wistful. The title’s declaration has a double meaning. The “here” that the filmmaker likes is both his immediate rural surroundings (the fields, water and neighbors he sees out his window) — and life itself.

Produced by Ralph Arlyck, Malcolm Pullinger, Emmet Dotan.

The Return from the Other Planet
Asaf Lapid, Israel, Documentary, Hebrew with English subtitles

In 1945, a few months after his release from Auschwitz, Yechiel De-Nur, still in his striped jacket, sat down and started writing. After two weeks, he was reborn as Ka-Tzetnik, “the man from the camps.” The books that he wrote were translated into 32 languages and sold millions, while the author himself hid behind the pseudonym Ka-Tzetnik. At the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 his revelatory testimony revealed his true identity as he described Auschwitz as “the other planet,” a place outside of human judgment. Years later, undergoing an experimental LSD treatment for trauma, he revisits his experience, imagining himself as a SS officer, and that changes everything.

Produced by Saar Yogev, Naomi Levari, Guy Hodes.

What We Carry
Cady Voge, USA, Documentary, English

With extraordinary access, What We Carry follows Magdiel, Mirna, and their son Josh, as the young family flees Honduras on foot, rides in cargo trains across Mexico, claims asylum at the U.S. border, and endures detention. Once released, the family is given a court date that will determine if they can stay in the States — but it’s two years away. Without a work permit and in need of housing, they connect with a Seattle synagogue that offers to sponsor the family. As they settle into their temporary home, Magdiel and Mirna connect with the synagogue community, learning about the family histories of persecution and migration so similar to their own.

Produced by Cady Voge, Laura Pilloni, Laura Tatham, Rachel Clara Reed.

2022 Discretionary Grants

Red Herring
Kit Vincent, UK, Documentary, English

At 23, Kit is diagnosed with terminal cancer. As if in response, his dad, Lawrence, begins converting to Judaism. His mother, Julie, an end-of-life nurse who was adopted at birth, discovers she’s been Jewish all along. Kit enlists his divorced parents on an intimate and darkly humorous journey to come to terms with his terminal illness and their own troubled pasts.

Produced by Ed Owles, Dea Gjinovci. Red Herring is the recipient of a JFI Discretionary Grant. Kit Vincent is a 2022 JFI Filmmaker in Residence.

Previous JFI Completion Grant Recipients

A number of JFI-funded films have already begun to receive critical acclaim and reach vast audiences, including four films (including two special presentations) that screened last month at the 42nd annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Remember This (Jeff Hutchens, Derek Goldman), with Academy Award-nominee David Strathairn reprising his tour-de-force theatrical role as Jan Karski, made its World Premiere at San Francisco’s the Castro Theatre at SFJFF42. Winner of the inaugural JFI/JSP Momentum Award and SFJFF Local Spotlight film My Name is Andrea (Pratibha Parmar), which premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival, riveted audiences with its unflinching examination of the life and legacy of political activist and feminist Andrea Dworkin.

Beyond the Bay Area, The Wild One (Tessa Louise-Salomé) premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival where it won the award for Best Cinematography while 1341 Frames of Love and War (Ran Tal) premiered at the 2022 Berlinale Film Festival and won multiple awards at DocAviv, including Best Director, the Editing prize, and the Kedar Foundation Award for a film inspired by Israel’s history and society. The film has since been sold to seven international territories by Reservoir Docs. A Crime on the Bayou (Nancy Buirski) premiered in 2021 at DOC NYC and was nominated for a Critics’ Choice Documentary Award. It is now streaming on Starz and has a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score.

The Jewish Film Institute (JFI) is a nonprofit organization that champions bold films and filmmakers that expand and evolve the Jewish story for audiences everywhere. JFI does this through the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, year-round exhibitions, its Completion Grants and Filmmakers in Residence programs, and its educational and archival programs. For more information on JFI, please visit www.jfi.org.

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Jewish Film Institute

Jewish Film Institute

The Jewish Film Institute, based in San Francisco, champions bold films and filmmakers that expand and evolve the Jewish story for audiences everywhere. jfi.org