Documentary Fellowship FAQ
Frequently Asked Questions
Who can apply?
The Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellowship is a career-long fellowship program for emerging Black women and gender nonconforming directors with a short or feature-length non-fiction project. Projects will be considered in any stage—from development to production to post-production. We encourage applicants in development to ensure their projects are well-researched and ideally apply with a teaser, pitch-deck or unedited footage. Applicants currently in distribution with their first films are not eligible to apply.
The program is aimed at emerging directors, so there is no requirement for previous experience in documentary filmmaking. Applicants will need to demonstrate their artistic vision for the project, but may come from a non-film background.
How do I apply?
The application for the 2023-2024 Documentary Fellowship is now closed. The cycle of applications will open in June 2024 for the 2025 year Fellowship cohort.
Do I have to have a film that I’m working on to apply?
Yes, but we accept applicants with film projects at all stages of production. Whether you’re in development, production, or post-production, you are welcome to apply. We do not, however, accept applications for films currently in distribution.
What if my film includes fictionalized elements/narratives?
We are very expansive in our vision of non-fiction filmmaking. If your documentary includes narrative elements, isn’t focused on social justice issues, is hybrid in nature, etc it qualifies for this program. We don’t believe documentary is one thing.
What does it mean to apply for a “career-long fellowship?”
The Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellowship Program is designed to increase diversity in the documentary film industry through a career-long fellowship. The program allows Fellows to remain in the program from acceptance until they decide to opt out. This means that we’re here to support you throughout your career as a filmmaker, not just for one film project.
That being said, participation in the Documentary Fellows program beyond the year of acceptance is optional. Filmmakers can opt out of the program anytime. It is career-long because we know that filmmakers need creative, financial, and career support beyond one year to have a thriving career as a filmmaker.
If I’m not in the Chicagoland area, can I still apply?
The Documentary Fellows program is a national program. Currently our fellows are based in Chicago, Connecticut, New York, and Oakland. We centered Chicago filmmakers with our 2023 program, but we will return to accepting Fellows from across the country with our next cohort in 2025.
What would I receive if selected as a Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellow?
All 2025 Documentary Fellows receive a financial award toward their film project, fiscal sponsorship as well as individually tailored and group mentorship focused on both professional and project development.
The fellowship grants will be disbursed at the beginning of 2025 once fellows have signed and submitted the annual program agreement. Fellows who are invited back and choose to stay in the program may receive additional support in 2026.
When does the Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellowship begin?
The next Documentary Fellows program will begin January 2025.
What will I be expected to attend as a 2025 Documentary Fellow?
Programming for the first year includes mandatory quarterly cohort meetings that included workshops on different aspects of documentary filmmaking. They usually run approximately 3 hours. Our first meeting will be in person and run about 3-4 hours and serve as a mini-retreat. The date and time will be determined based upon the availability of the selected fellows.
The date and time will be determined based upon the availability of the selected fellows.
Fellows will work with an industry consultant to help them develop their project, work on their impact campaigns, raise funding for their projects, etc. Fellows will schedule these meetings with the industry consultant based upon mutual availability.
How many fellows will be selected for the 2025 Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellowship?
Three to six filmmakers will be selected to participate in the program.
What is fiscal sponsorship?
This description from Film Independent sums it up: fiscal sponsorship is an arrangement between an existing 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization (Sisters in Cinema) and an individual (you) or entity lacking the legal status needed to receive grants from foundations, individual donors and government agencies.
What makes a good logline?
A logline is a concise, story-driven description that explains the heart of your project in one or two sentences. A good logline introduces your central character, their world, their goals, and the forces standing in their way. It should be in concert with your title and tagline, and offer a bit of double meaning and mystery that compels the reader to want more.
Change the Name – Student activists and educators from Village Leadership Academy campaign to change the name of a park from a slaveholder to abolitionists Anna Murray and Frederick Douglass in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. (2021. Directed by Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellow, Cai Thomas.)
Unapologetic – Told through the lens of Janaé and Bella, two fierce abolitionist leaders, Unapologetic is a deep look into the Movement for Black Lives, from the police murder of Rekia Boyd to the election of Mayor Lori Lightfoot. (2020. Directed by Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellow, Ashley O’Shay.)
Team Dream is a short documentary that follows friends and competitive swimmers Ann and Madeline on their journey to the National Senior Games, where nothing — not age, race or history — will stand in their way. (2022. Directed by Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellow, Luchina Fisher. )
Happy Birthday, Marsha! – The story of extraordinary transgender rights activists, pioneers, and friends, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, in the hours before the Stonewall riots. (2017. Directed by Tourmaline & Sasha Wortzel.)
What makes a good synopsis?
A strong synopsis, like a strong logline, will focus on the heart of the story that drives your project. It will be longer than a logline, but still keep it concise — we recommend sticking to 1 to 2 pages. Your synopsis should give your story a beginning, middle, and end, mentioning key moments where your character or characters encounter particular challenges. It should also mention briefly the broader implications of the personal struggles at stake.
Can I use the funds for personal expenses?
You may only use the funding you receive from the Fellowship for your film project. These expenses may include hiring crew, accessing archive documents, or renting equipment, etc. In subsequent years after the fellowship, you will have the option to receive funding for either personal expenses or your film project.
If I applied to the fellowship in the past, but was not selected, can I re-apply?
Yes! If you applied for the Sisters In Cinema Documentary Fellowship in the past, but were not selected, you are welcome to apply again. We look forward to seeing how your project has progressed since you last applied.
Can I talk to someone at Sisters In Cinema if I have a personal question?
Yes, you’re welcome to email Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a 15 minute office hours appointment where you can ask any specific questions.