Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project
Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project

SFFILM awarded five documentary films 2019 SFFILMDocumentary Film Fund awards totaling $125,000, which support feature-length documentaries in post-production. Lea Golb’s Apolonia, Apolonia, Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson’s Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project, Landon Van Soest’s Light Darkness Light, David Osit’s Mayor, and CJ Hunt’s Neutral Ground were each awarded funding that will help push each project towards completion.

Created to support non-fiction films that are distinguished by compelling stories, intriguing characters, and an innovative visual approach, the SFFILM Documentary Film Fund is SFFILM’s largest support program for doc makers.

The SFFILM Documentary Film Fund has a track record for championing important films that in recent years have connected with audiences, industry representatives, and critics alike. Previous winners include Ljubo Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska’s Honeyland, which won a record number of juried awards at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and was released theatrically this summer by NEON; Liza Mandelup’s Jawline, which won a Special Jury Award at Sundance 2019 and is currently streaming on Hulu; Hassan Fazili’s Midnight Traveler, which won a Special Jury Award at Sundance 2019 and the McBaine Documentary Feature Award at the 2019 SFFILM Festival; RaMell Ross’ Hale County, This Morning, This Evening, which won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance 2018; Peter Nicks’s The Force, which won the 2017 Sundance Directing Award for documentary and SFFILM Festival’s McBaine Bay Area Documentary Feature Award; and Zachary Heinzerling’s Cutie and the Boxer, which won Sundance’s Directing Award for documentary and was nominated for the 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature; among many others.

Since its launch in 2011, the SFFILM Documentary Film Fund has distributed more than $900,000 to advance new work by filmmakers nationwide. The 2019 Documentary Film Fund is made possible thanks to support from Jennifer Battat and the Jenerosity Foundation.

“It is our great honor to support these five special documentaries,” remarked the jury. “These works reflect our world today as we grapple with the past and how it has brought us to this moment, while looking to the future with hope, innovation, and uncertainty. Using humor, ambitious creativity, and extremely close access, these filmmakers have allowed the protagonists of their films to speak freely for themselves as they navigate everything from the biggest challenges faced by humanity to the most intimate introspection about their own deeply personal challenges.”


Apolonia, Apolonia

Lea Glob, director; Sidsel Lønvig Siersted, producer; Thor Ochsner, editor – $25,000

Underground rebels meet money and high society in the art scenes of the world—with bohemian Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen, New York, and Los Angeles as backdrops, this coming-of-age story portrays a French-Polish female painter’s personal and artistic development, from the maturing of a talent to the leap into the commercial art scene.

Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project

Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, co-directors/producers; Fiona Otway, editor – $25,000

Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project pushes the boundaries of biographical documentary film to reveal the enduring influence of one of America’s greatest living artists and social commentators. Combining parallel cinematic story editing with visually innovative treatments of Nikki Giovanni’s poetry, along with intimate vérité, rich archival footage, and her own captivating contemporary performances, this film recounts the story of the artist and her works of resistance through the tumultuous historical periods in which she lived—from the Civil Rights Movement, to the Black Arts Movement, to present-day Black Lives Matter.

Light Darkness Light

Landon Van Soest, director/producer; Paul Trillo, Tom Yellin, and Jo Budzilowicz, producers – $25,000

Ian Nichols, a 76-year-old blind Anglican priest, becomes one of the first people in the world to attempt sight with an implanted bionic eye. Through Ian’s extraordinary odyssey, the film explores timely, provocative questions about perception, memory, faith, technology, and the nature of human reality that have broad implications for us all.


David Osit, director/producer; Eric Daniel Metzgar, editor – $25,000

Mayor follows a charismatic leader’s quest to build the city of the future in a land paralyzed by its past. 

The Neutral Ground

CJ Hunt, director; Darcy McKinnon, producer; Jane Geisler, editor – $25,000

The Neutral Ground is a feature-length documentary about New Orleans’ fight over monuments and America’s centuries-long relationship with the Lost Cause. The film follows writer and comedian CJ Hunt as he documents the struggle to remove and the struggle to preserve New Orleans’ confederate monuments. After witnessing this fight in his adopted city, Hunt then explores how we understand a collective history as a nation with a contentious past. 

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