Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media

Jason Guerrasio interviews Trinh Duong


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What is the Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media?

It is a fund that gives grants to video, film, and radio programs.

How long has it been in existence?

It’s been around since 1987. Originally it was called the Film Fund and in ’87 the name was changed.

Was there a reason for that?

Back then there was a sense that the name, the Film Fund, was too generic and we wanted to have a name that better reflected its progressive values.

Why did you decide to name the fund after Paul Robeson—the world-renowned African American scholar, actor, athlete, and singer?

The fund was named to honor him as both a legendary artist and civil rights activist. Paul Robeson spoke fiercely against the injustice in this country, even in the face of blacklisting during the McCarthy era. We thought the name was perfect to represent who we are—a fund that connects independent media artists, community organizing, and social change.

What’s the mission of the fund?

We’re looking to fund or distribute mediamakers that are innovative, that are grassroots, and that have projects that lead to social change—which means we encourage independent makers to use their creativity and skills to further the critical base-building work necessary to transform our society into one that is democratic and socially just.

What types of projects do you seek?

We typically fund projects on contemporary social issues that are misrepresented, or viewpoints that are underrepresented in mainstream media. All of our projects must articulate a thoughtful distribution strategy, in which the maker presents a target audience and the means to reach this audience. They must also tell us the reason for selecting this audience and why the involvement of this audience is essential to the social change goals of the video, film, or radio. Some of our grantees have partnered with grassroots social change organizations to hold screenings and conduct follow-ups.

How much is the fund?

We give out up to $20,000, though our grants typically range from $10-$15,000, and the overall amount of money that we give out is about $230-$285,000 a year. In most years we give grants to thirty to forty organizations or applicants.

Is the same amount given out each year?

Yes. Those are the ranges each year.

How many submissions do you receive annually?

Last year it went up a lot; it was 497 applications. Prior years we got about 200.

What was the reason for the increase?

We’ve been doing a lot more outreach. We’ve seen five times as many radio applications as we’ve seen in the past, so that accounted for a hundred more [applicants] than usual. But we’ve also seen more video and film applications as well.

How many projects did you accept last year?

Out of the 497 applicants we funded twenty-eight.

Talk a little about the review process.

It’s really a two-step process. The staff in the grant department looks at all the applications to make sure they fit in the general guidelines—which can be downloaded on our website (www.fex.org). We do a first screen and then we present a significant number to our grant-making panel that ultimately selects the grantees. The panel is composed of about six mediamakers from around the country with expertise in video, film, and radio.

How long does that take?

About four months.

Are there any restrictions in applying?

Usually we stay away from projects that have budgets over $500,000; nothing historical; and most importantly, we are looking for progressive issues, or progressive viewpoints on issues. The filmmaker must keep in mind that we’re looking to fund projects that can be used to further social change. They can’t just say, ‘I want to make this video so I can take it to a festival.’ Who is going to be your audience? Why do they need to see this? What will the viewer do or what will they be encouraged to do or think about as a result of seeing your video or film, or listening to your radio program? And we only give out grants for pre-production and distribution; we don’t fund films that are in production or in post.

What’s your relation with the Funding Exchange?

The Paul Robeson Fund is a grant-making initiative of the Funding Exchange, so it’s not its own separate foundation. The Funding Exchange is several different funds, and there are three activist funds where the grant-making is advised by a panel of activists. In the case of the Robeson Fund, it’s mediamakers. So it’s a fund that is administered through the Funding Exchange.

How do you get your name out to the mediamakers?

We go to panels to talk about the fund. Members of our grant-making panel conduct workshops. We also send information to radio conferences.

Is there a timeline within which the funds must be used?

No. We do ask for periodic reports, but we don’t put a time limitation on when someone needs to complete their project by. When the project is finished, we need to get a copy of it.

What’s the deadline to apply?

May 15.

Can you give a few titles that were selected for the fund in the past?

Honoring the Seven Sacred Fires: Protecting Prophecy from Piracy Guerilla Video Primer by Randy Shadowalker & the Cascading Media Collective; On the Edge: Human Rights at the US-Mexico Border by Edwin Mercado (radio program); Caught Between Two Worlds: Iranians in the USA by Simin Farkhondeh and Persheng Sadegh-Varziri; Lest We Forget by Jason DaSilva; Trembling Before G-d by Sandi Dubowski, and Live from Death Row by Noelle Hanrahan (radio program).

What are the most common mistakes applicants make when they approach you?

We find that they don’t have a distribution plan, or it’s so lacking that it’s just an afterthought.

Are there any tips you can give mediamakers to make a project look more attractive?

They need to have a sound fundraising strategy. If they’re coming to us for a pre-production fund, and we award it to them, they need to have some plan of bringing this project to completion.

Seeing that Paul Robeson is the centerpiece to the fund, is there anything he said or did in particular that puts the fund in perspective?

We always like to use this one quote of his: “The artist must elect to fight for freedom or for slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative.”

Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media Funding Exchange

666 Broadway, Suite 500

New York, NY 10012

Tel: 212-529-5300 x307

Fax: 212-982-9272
email: info@fex.org
www.fex.org

Staff:

Trinh Duong, Program Officer

Jerry Snee, Grant Department Assistant

The Slate: 2003 Grants

VIDEO & FILM:
Guerilla Video Primer, Randy Shadowalker & the Cascading Media

Honoring the Seven Sacred Fires: Protecting Prophesy from Piracy, Sarah Penman & Winona LaDuke

The Jail & the City, Natalie Bimmel

The Strange Disappearance of Jose Padilla, Alex Rivera & John Valadez

Truth Peace & Hip-Hop, Ben Gilbarg

RADIO:
On the Edge: Human Rights at the US-Mexico Border, Edwin Mercado

Race Stories, Phillip Martin

Finding Voice, Sharon Bridgeforth