Eight Documentaries Vie for $125,000 in Support Funds At CFI’s DocPitch


It takes a lot of blood, sweat, tears… and cash to make a documentary. Thankfully, the California Film Institute has made it its mission to support documentarians from across the globe. Each year at CFI’s DocLands film festival, DocPitch invites teams of documentarians to pitch their films — each in early to late-stage production — to an audience of festival-goers. One film wins the Audience Favorite award and receives $25,000 toward its completion. This year, the event will be held online from August 13-21 and there will be $100,000 in additional funding to be distributed via jury selection. Here are the eight films featured in this year’s competition:

500 Days in the Wild

Over five years ago, filmmaker Dianne Whelan embarked on a journey to traverse the 15,000-mile Great Trail — which spans North America and touches the Atlantic, Arctic, and Pacific Oceans — by foot, bicycle, and canoe. Along the way, she’s had profound interactions with indigenous elders, braved extreme weather, survived forest fires… and she filmed all of it. Currently, Whelan is on the final stretch of her epic journey, which ends in her home of British Colombia.

American ESPionage

In American ESPionage, the stranger-than-fiction story of Major Paul Smith, who served as a psychic spy for the US Army for nearly a decade as a part of a top-secret program called Stargate, is told in cinematic fashion by his son, filmmaker Christopher Smith. Using a mix of archival elements and stylized reenactments, the film aims to create an immersive experience that may even make its audience question the very nature of the physical universe.

Black & Gold

Director Khadija Diakité examines the untold stories of black women gymnasts who battled discrimination, stereotypes, and racism on their way to representing the United States at the Olympic games. The film highlights seven athletes from each Olympic Games from 1980-2016, recounting their trials, tribulations, and triumphs while threading their stories together to illustrate just how connected their journeys truly were. Black & Gold is in the early stages of development and production.

Black Mothers

Bay Area filmmaker Débora Souza Silva follows two mothers fighting for justice for their sons, both victims of violent hate crimes. As members of Mothers of the Movement, a national group of mothers like them whose children have suffered racist attacks, the two women attempt to break the cycle of systemic racism in America while dealing with their personal traumas in their own way. The film is in mid-production and has been delayed by the COVID-19 outbreak.

My Name is Andrea

The life of revolutionary writer, thinker, and feminist Angela Dworkin is explored in richly cinematic fashion by filmmaker Pratibha Parmar, who weaves archival media with artful dramatizations to create a hybrid documentary-character piece. Several actors, including Ashley Judd (Bug) and Amandla Stenberg (The Hate U Give), play Dworkin at different stages of her life.


Still relatively early in production, Nomads follows the lives of three people who each have chosen to live their lives on the road, traveling across America. Jo Lynn has walked away from a 35-year marriage; 12-year-old Leilani lives in an RV with her parents and younger brothers; Bob is a “van evangelist,” preaching nomadism across the country. Co-directors Vanessa Carr and Josh Gleason are currently shooting socially-distanced footage with their subjects.

Sal y Cielo (Salt & Water)

The devastating effects of lithium mining on Northern Chile and Argentina’s communities and ecosystems are examined by filmmaker Taylor Rees, who is currently in the early stages of production. The Atacama is the driest desert on earth — its groundwater is drained by big companies to produce lithium, which is then ironically used to power “green” technology like hybrid cars and solar panels. With her film, Rees aims to expose one of the least-talked-about environmental crises on the planet.

Startup Embassy

Local filmmakers Kenji Yamamoto and Nancy Kelly delve into the world of “hacker houses” in Silicon Valley, where would-be entrepreneurs from across the globe come to build the tech empire of their dreams, all while sleeping in bunk beds in an over-crowded suburban house. The film is almost completed and follows three subjects as they battle virtually unbeatable odds and risk everything for a chance at a slice of the high-tech pie.

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