California Documentary Project
Projects that record and reveal contemporary California life.
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The California Documentary Project (CDP) is a competitive grant program of the California Council for the Humanities. CDP supports film, radio and new media projects that document the California experience and explore issues of significance to Californians.
- Newly funded projects for 2011
- Projects for 2010
- Projects funded in 2009
- Projects funded December 2008
- Earlier funded projects
- Agents of Change: Black Students and the Transformation of the American University, $40,000 (film)
Project Director: Abby Ginzberg
Agents of Change tells the story of African American students who in the late 1960s fought for and achieved more inclusive, relevant, and democratic education at American universities. From the strike at San Francisco State to protests at Cornell, the film examines the impact and historical legacy of this student action that led to the first university Ethnic and African American Studies programs, and raises questions about how far we have come in the intervening 40 years.
- Big Joy Project, $20,000 (film)
Project Director: Stephen Silha
The Big Joy Project is a feature-length documentary about the life, work, and legacy of California poet and filmmaker James Broughton (1913-1999). Broughton was a central figure in the San Francisco Renaissance and pre-Beat era counterculture and remained a creative, playful, and provocative critic of mainstream American society throughout his life.
- Departures: Leimert Park/Little Tokyo, $20,000 (new media)
Project Director: Juan Devis
Departures: Leimert Park and Little Tokyo/Arts District are two new installments in KCET's online documentary series on the neighborhoods of Southern California. Leimert Park explores the heart of Los Angeles’ black arts scene and Little Tokyo/Arts District chronicles the city's historic Japanese American cultural district and neighboring arts enclave. Each episode features interactive murals, video portraits, and interviews with community members and humanities scholars about the cultural and historical significance of the neighborhood.
- From Ghost Town to Havana, $30,000 (film)
Project Director: Eugene Corr
From Ghost Town to Havana tells the story of a young West Oakland baseball team, their coach, and the role baseball plays as an alternative to the gangs and violence of their Ghost Town neighborhood. Informed by a humanities-based approach to issues of race, class, and masculinity, the film documents a unique and revealing cross-cultural experience as the team travels to Cuba to play baseball.
- L.A. Rebellion Website, $20,000 (new media)
Project Director: Jan-Christopher Horak
The L.A. Rebellion Website will be a permanent interactive online resource on the “L.A. School of Black Filmmakers,” one of the first independent African American cinema movements that emerged in the late 1960s at UCLA Film School. Intended for use by students, scholars, and the general public, the site will contain essays, oral history interviews, and film excerpts and will work in tandem with the Archive's public screening series and touring exhibition of the same name.
- Life After Life, $20,000 (film)
Project Director: Tamara Perkins
Life After Life is an intimate portrait of two life-term inmates with violent pasts as they return home after decades of incarceration and face an indifferent community and countless challenges. In documenting the process of the former inmates’ release and reintegration, the film examines the social and cultural dynamics behind California’s soaring incarceration rate.
- ¿Más Bebés?, $50,000 (film)
Project Director: Renee Tajima-Peña
¿Más Bebés? explores the history of Mexican-origin women who were sterilized at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center during the late 1960s and 70s. The story will be told through the multiple perspectives of key participants in the events, and is contextualized by examining the history and contemporary issues of population measures in California, immigrants, and women's reproductive health.
- Operation Popcorn, $30,000 (film)
Project Director: David Grabias Operation Popcorn tells the story of Lo Cha Thao, a Hmong-American businessman in Fresno who got caught up in an alleged plot to launch a coup in Laos. The film follows Lo as he faces Federal terrorism charges and life in prison, and in the process, provides a unique and intimate portrait of a California refugee community and its complicated relationship with the United States. Operation Popcorn received CDP R&D funding in 2009.
- Regarding Susan Sontag, $40,000 (film)
Project Director: Nancy D. Kates
Regarding Susan Sontag will be the first feature-length documentary on the late Susan Sontag (1933-2004). The film is a critical examination of Sontag’s life and work, addressing her public and often controversial roles as a writer and intellectual, as well her less well-known personal history that included a formative period in the San Francisco Bay Area.
- Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle, $40,000 (film)
Project Director: Phillip Rodriguez
Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle tells of story of the life and mysterious death of Ruben Salazar, a prominent 20th-century Mexican-American journalist. Central to the film is Salazar's transformation from a mainstream, middle-of-the-road reporter to a supporter and primary chronicler of the radical Chicano movement. The film will also embark on an in-depth investigation of his mysterious death – still an unresolved chapter in American history. Ruben Salazar received CDP R&D funding in 2010.
- Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, $20,000 (film)
Project Director: Arwen Curry
Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin is a feature-length documentary film exploring the life, roots, and ideas of the celebrated Bay Area-born writer Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-). Known primarily as the grande dame of science fiction and fantasy, Le Guin is also an established literary figure in the mainstream and a pioneer in feminist thought and activism. Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin received CDP R&D funding in 2009.
- Zydeco in California, $30,000 (radio)
Project Director: Richard Ziglar
Zydeco in California is a one-hour, character-driven radio documentary on the zydeco community of northern California. The project explores issues surrounding the assertion and maintenance of ethnic identity through the re-creation of the musical culture of one's original home. Zydeco artists such as Queen Ida, Ray Stevens and André Thierry will be interviewed. Zydeco in California received CDP R&D funding in 2010.
- Borderlands, $5,000 (film)
Project Director: Carl Byker
Borderlands will be a two-hour television documentary that takes viewers on a road-trip along the US-Mexico border. Hosted by writer and journalist Rubén Martínez, the film will explore the borderlands’ culture and history, reflecting on subjects ranging from the region’s pre-European society and culture to contemporary conflicts over immigration.
- Chasing Voices: The Story of John Peabody Harrington and the Indigenous Language Revitalization Movement, $7,000 (film)
Project Director: Daniel Golding
Native American filmmaker Daniel Golding will produce a one-hour documentary examining the legacy of anthropologist John Harrington, who in the early 20th century recorded and preserved endangered California Indian languages. The film will also explore contemporary issues surrounding language survival among California's Indian tribes today.
- Chinese Whispers: Mapping the Traces, $7,000 (new media)
Project Director: Rene Yung
Chinese Whispers: Mapping the Traces is an interactive, online mapping project that links historical information with contemporary folk memories of the Chinese in Sierra Nevada settlements who worked the mines and helped build the Transcontinental Railroad. Using locative media to bring together humanities research and vernacular content, the project will reframe the contributions of the early Chinese immigrants to the building of the West and connect local histories to the national narrative.
- Hunting Stories, $7,000 (film)
Project Director: Singeli Agnew
Hunting Stories is a character-driven documentary film about one of the oldest activities known to humans — hunting. The film will follow hunters in California and other regions of the United States as it seeks to answer the question, why do Americans hunt? By taking an observational and non-judgmental tone, the film will encourage viewers to reflect on questions of class, culture, politics, ethics, and our own relationship to the wild.
- MAD! Howard Jarvis and the Birth of the Tax Revolt, $7,000 (film)
Project Director: Jason Cohn
MAD! Howard Jarvis and the Birth of the Tax Revolt chronicles the story of Howard Jarvis and the California campaign for Prop 13. While focusing primarily on the dramatic details of Jarvis and the campaign, the film will also encourage a deeper understanding of the initiative process and the roots of contemporary tax revolts.
- Untitled Zaytuna Project, $7,000 (film)
Project Director: Maryam Kashani
This as yet untitled project will document over the course of a year the experiences of students and faculty at Berkeley’s Zaytuna College, the first accredited Muslim liberal arts college in North America. The film will document how amidst fears of homegrown terrorism and a changing America, Zaytuna students and teachers are negotiating Islam's past and its possible futures as they define what it is to be and become American Muslims.
The 2010 CDP production and research and development projects were made possible with support from the California Council for the Humanities in partnership with the Skirball Foundation.
- Everyday Sunshine, $40,000 (film)
Producers: Lev Anderson and Christopher Metzler
Narrated by Laurence Fishburne, Everyday Sunshine follows the Black punk/funk band Fishbone from their roots in South Central LA to almost "making it," and, in the process, debunks myths about young Black men from urban America. The film explores the cultural forces that gave rise to the band’s hybridized musical style.
- A Fierce Green Fire, $30,000 (film)
Producer: Mark Kitchell
A Fierce Green Fire is a feature-length documentary that provides an historical overview of environmentalism in the US. The film synthesizes the major issues, events, and eras of the environmental movement, including conservation’s defining battle over Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite and the founding of the Sierra Club.
- Forty Winters, $50,000 (film)
Director: Valarie Blue Bird Jernigan
Forty years after American Indians occupied Alcatraz Island, one of the original activists seeks to re-ignite the American Indian movement by putting the political symbol of the occupation—the tipi—back on the island. Forty Winters is a story about the idealism and the aftermath of the movement as understood through one family’s struggle for cultural identity and survival.
- The History of the Universe as Told by Wonder Woman, $40,000 (film)
Director: Kristy Guevara-Flanagan
Producer: Kelcey Edwards
The History of the Universe as Told by Wonder Woman documents the 67-year career of Wonder Woman and her transformation from comic book character to feminist icon. The film examines the mainstream media industry that creates and perpetuates images of women and also takes a critical look at our evolving values about women as agents of strength, authority, and leadership.
- Mobile Hi Fi, $10,000 (new media)
Directors: Mike Blockstein and Reanne Estrada
Mobile Hi Fi engages four generations of Los Angeles’ Historic Filipinotown (Hi Fi) community in an exploration of the neighborhood’s history and contemporary character. Digital media elements include locative media GPS guides and web-based, participatory, community-generated story content.
- Seeking Asian Female, $30,000 (film)
Director: Debbie Lum
Producer: Cianna Stewart
Seeking Asian Female explores the dynamic of Asian female-White male outmarriage, cross-cultural relationships, and cultural stereotyping in the US. This self-reflexive tale, told through the filmmaker’s eyes, follows a complicated relationship between a Bay Area man and his young bride from China.
- The Waiting Room, $20,000 (new media)
Producer: Peter Nicks
The Waiting Room is a multi-faceted social media/documentary hybrid that tells the story of Oakland’s Highland Hospital and the community that it serves. Incorporating web-based interactivity and a participatory story booth placed in the hospital’s waiting room, the project is a timely exploration into issues of access to quality health care.
- WE WERE HERE: Voices from the AIDS Years in San Francisco, $40,000 (film)
Director: David Weissman
WE WERE HERE: Voices from the AIDS Years in San Francisco is the first film to take a deep and reflective look back at the impact of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. Based on interviews with people who were there at the outset, the film explores the first reaction to the crisis, the response by activists, and how the epidemic played a role in shaping the sociopolitical landscape of San Francisco.
- Adios Amor-The Search for Maria Moreno, $7,000 (film)
Producer: Laurie Coyle
The discovery of forgotten photographs prompts a search for an unsung heroine—a tenacious woman who sacrificed everything but her twelve kids to organize California’s migrant farm workers 50 years ago. The film will trace Maria Moreno’s story through materials found outside the bounds of the sanctioned historical record and, in the process, raise questions about the inclusiveness of "official" histories.
- Asian American Art Film, $7,000 (film)
Director: Steven Okazaki
Producer: Stephen Ujlaki
Asian American Art Film will be a four-part series created for public television that documents the history and significance of Asian American artists. Based on a recent exhibit at the De Young Museum, the film will include interviews with surviving artists, descendants, contemporary APA artists, art historians, curators, and collectors.
- The Bakersfield Sound, $7,000 (film)
Producer: Andrew Chambers
This documentary film about the nationally influential Bakersfield, CA country music scene from 1951 to 1976 will explore the lasting influence of the musicians and their music, as well as the broader social context of the Depressionera migration into the San Joaquin Valley that produced this distinct cultural moment.
- Big Jay, $7,000 (film)
Producer: Adam Hyman
Big Jay will tell the story of 82-year-old Cecil “Big Jay” McNeely, legendary LA R&B saxophone “honker.” The film will place McNeely’s career in the context of post-war Los Angeles, tracing the social, cultural, and economic changes within the city’s African American community.
- Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle, $5,000 (film)
Producer: Phillip Rodriguez
In 1970, prominent Mexican American journalist Ruben Salazar was killed by an LA County Sheriff while covering a protest for the LA Times. This film will seek to uncover the mystery of Salazar’s death while telling the story of his eventful life. Salazar embodied many of the enormous shifts that occurred during the 20th century—in politics, journalism, and Mexican American identity.
- Siqueiros: Walls of Passion, $7,000 (film)
Producer: Lorena Manríquez
Siqueiros: Walls of Passion is a documentary film about Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros and the interplay of art, society, and politics that led to the restoration of his controversial mural, América Tropical, in Los Angeles. Destroyed soon after its unveiling in 1932, the restored mural has symbolic, cultural, and historical importance.
- Zydeco in Northern California: Ethnic Identity in a Migrant Community, $5,000 (radio)
Producer: Richard Ziglar
A character-driven radio documentary on the zydeco community of Northern California, this project explores issues surrounding the assertion and maintenance of ethnic identity through the re-creation of homeland musical culture. Interviewees will include zydeco artists such as Queen Ida, Ray Stevens, Andrew Carriere, and Betty LeBlanc.
- Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone, $10,000 (outreach project) Film by: Chris Metzler and Lev Anderson
Narrated by Laurence Fishburne, this documentary film follows the Black punk/funk band Fishbone from its roots in South Central LA and explores the influences behind the band’s hybridized musical style. The directors are reaching out to new audiences via screening, musical performance, and discussion events featuring humanities scholars, guest speakers, musicians, and authors in partnership with the Black Rock Coalition, cultural centers, and universities. Discussions will explore topics such as racial stereotyping and African American cultural history. A forum for continued conversation and social networking, along with new video and educational content, will be added to the film’s website.
- GOING ON 13, $10,000 (California Library Tour)
Film by: Dawn Valadez and Kristy Guevara-Flanagan
GOING ON 13 explores the lives of four pre-teen girls from California cities as they become young women. The filmmakers are providing screening packages and skilled discussion facilitators to libraries across California and will work with library staff to reach new intergenerational audiences. In partnership with community leaders and local youth organizations such as Girls Inc., Boys and Girls Clubs, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the filmmakers will lead discussions about the film on topics such as girls’ health and development, self image, gender stereotypes, social and family life, empowerment, and cultural identity.
- When Medicine Got it Wrong, $10,000 (Statewide Screenings at NAMI Chapters)
Film by: Katie Cadigan
When Medicine Got it Wrong is a documentary about California parents whose grassroots activism initiated a nationwide movement that challenged how psychiatry diagnoses, views, and treats schizophrenia. In partnership with filmmaker Cadigan, the National Alliance on Mental Illness of California (NAMI-CA) and the California State Department of Mental Health are featuring the film in its May 2011 Mental Health Awareness Month campaign, with screenings across all 58 California counties. Speakers with firsthand knowledge of schizophrenia, mental health care, and the criminal justice system will lead post-screening discussions. Film excerpts will be incorporated into statewide educational curricula on mental illness for law enforcement and families of those who are ill.