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SFFILM Announces Fall 2020 Rainin Grant winners and introduction of new program for filmmakers with disabilities


SFFILM and Kenneth Rainin Foundation Announce Winners of Fall 2020 Rainin Grants and Introduction of Pilot Grant for Filmmakers with Disabilities

$240,000 in Grants Awarded to Ten Narrative Feature Projects in Screenwriting and Development Phases



SFFILM, in partnership with the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, announced today the eight projects that will receive funding in the latest round of SFFILM Rainin Grants, along with the two recipients of the pilot SFFILM Rainin Filmmakers with Disabilities Grant. These ten filmmaking teams were granted funding to support the early stages of their creative process, for screenwriting and development. SFFILM Rainin Grants are awarded to filmmakers whose narrative feature films will have significant economic or professional impact on the Bay Area filmmaking community and/or meaningfully explore pressing social issues. The SFFILM Rainin Filmmakers with Disabilities Grant has been introduced to provide additional support to Rainin applicants whose films specifically address stories from the disability community.
The SFFILM Rainin Grant is currently accepting applications; the final deadline to apply for the 2021 cycle is March 12, 2021. For more information visit
SFFILM, in partnership with the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, is the largest granting body for independent narrative feature films in the United States. The SFFILM Rainin Grant program has awarded over $5 million to more than 100 projects since its inception, including Channing Godfrey Peoples’ Miss Juneteenth, which premiered to great acclaim at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival prior to its online release last month; Joe Talbot’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which won a record number of juried prizes at Sundance 2019 and was released in theaters nationwide by A24; Nijla Mu’min’s Jinn, which won a Special Jury Award at SXSW 2018 following its premiere there; Boots Riley’s indie breakthrough Sorry to Bother You, which had a successful release last summer through Annapurna Pictures before winning an Indie Spirit Award for Best First Feature; Reinaldo Marcus Green’s Monsters and Men, which won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance 2018; Short Term 12, Destin Cretton’s sophomore feature which won both the Narrative Grand Jury Award and Audience Award at SXSW 2013; Ryan Coogler’s debut feature Fruitvale Station, which won the 2014 Film Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature, the Un Certain Regard Avenir Prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, and both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award in the narrative category at Sundance 2013; and Ben Zeitlin’s debut phenomenon Beasts of the Southern Wild, which won Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize and Cannes’ Camera d’Or in 2012 and earned four Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture).
The panelists who reviewed the finalists’ submissions for the Rainin Grant are Sofia Alicastro, Artist Development Manager: Filmmaker Programs, SFFILM; Leah Giblin, Head of Artist Exploration, Cinereach; Lauren McBride, Director of Artist Development, SFFILM; Mary Jane Skalski, Producer and President of Production, Echo Lake Entertainment; and Shelley Trott, Director, Arts Strategy & Ventures, Kenneth Rainin Foundation.
The panel noted in a statement: We are extremely excited to support these eight films and the filmmaking teams behind them. We were particularly struck by the connective themes of memory, history, and emotional presence as we assembled this promising cohort. The clear ambition and innovative approach from each of these talented and distinct storytellers was also quite impressive. We’re looking forward to seeing these bold visions take shape and reach audiences everywhere.”



Aliens in Eritrea
Sephora Woldu, writer/director; Valerie Steinberg and Nahom Abraham, producers — $25,000 for screenwriting
It’s 1993. Everyone is an alien navigating the newly independent nation of Eritrea — the diaspora moving back home, the citizens who never left, and the visitors from outer space.
Samina Akbari, writer/director — $25,000 for screenwriting
Haunted by her father’s passing in her childhood home, Zehra returns to protect her sister and young nephew who inhabit the house from a sinister presence that threatens the only family she has left. Set in the captivating world of the Shia Muslim American community, Anees is a meditation on the inheritance of trauma and the relationships that continue after death.
The Engineers
Mayuran Tiruchelvam, co-writer/producer; Willem Lee, co-writer — $25,000 for screenwriting
In 1777, Black freeman Agrippa Hull and exiled Polish engineer Tadeusz Kosciusko join the Continental Army — a ragged force of Indigenous, Black, and poor white fighters. Forging an unlikely brotherhood amidst the War for Independence, Agrippa and Kosciusko battle the festering racism of the nascent United States.
Joy and Pain
Sue-Ellen Chitunya, producer; Sanford Jenkins, writer/director — $25,000 for development
Joy and Pain is a meditative exploration of two families, as viewed through the experiences of a young couple burying a parent and bearing their first child.
Asher Jelinsky, writer/director — $25,000 for screenwriting
A young nonbinary person struggling to assert their identity falls in love with an older trans man who allows them to feel seen for who they are for the first time. But as conflicting long-term expectations emerge, mounting insecurities threaten to tear them apart.
A Lo-Fi Blues
Ed Ntiri, writer/director/producer; Winnie Wong, producer — $25,000 for development
An aging blues musician who is convinced that his late wife is trapped inside a song believes she has been kidnapped by a group of lo-fi hip-hop producers in Oakland.
Our Father, the Devil
Ellie Foumbi, writer/director/producer; Joseph Mastantuono, producer — $25,000 for screenwriting
A reserved African refugee’s quiet existence in a sleepy mountain town in the south of France is upended by the arrival of a charismatic Catholic priest, whom she recognizes from her past.
Sontenish Myers, writer/director; Camille Gatin, producer — $25,000 for development
On a southern plantation in the 1800s, a young slave girl named Lena has telekinetic powers she cannot yet control. Lena must keep her powers under wraps when she is separated from her mother to be a house girl, in close quarters with the Master’s wife: Elizabeth.
The panelists who determined the recipients of the SFFILM Rainin Filmmakers with Disability Grant are Matthew Alaniz, screenwriter and script consultant; Sofia Alicastro, Artist Development Manager: Filmmaker Programs, SFFILM; Sophie Gunther, Artist Development Manager: Film Funds, SFFILM; Lauren McBride, Director of Artist Development, SFFILM; and Shelley Trott, Director, Arts Strategy & Ventures, Kenneth Rainin Foundation.
They noted in a statement: “Disability has long been overlooked by the film industry and we’re beyond thrilled to be able to support two emerging voices within the disability community. From a hybrid project that pushes the boundaries of narrative storytelling to redefine an ableist experience of sound, to an unnerving revenge thriller that comments on cultural prejudice against disability as it enforces agency in representation, both films innovate on the norm and take a compelling approach to filmmaking. We’re proud to give early support to these two talented women through this important pilot grant. We give our sincerest thanks to the Kenneth Rainin Foundation for their continued partnership in new initiatives to support underserved filmmakers share their stories with the world.”
AG (Fire) 
Shaina Ghuraya, writer/director; K. Giselle Johnson and Jack Walterman, producers — $20,000 for screenwriting
A conservative Punjabi family decides to trick a man into an arranged marriage by hiding their daughter’s disability. However, the daughter, Agg, has schemes of her own. Being held captive in her room for most of her life, Agg decides the wedding is the perfect time to enact revenge against her abusive family. Will her violent (yet still tasteful) plan help her move from victim to survivor, or is it just going to consume her?
The Tuba Thieves
Alison O’Daniel, writer/director; Rachel Nederveld, producer — $20,000 for development
From 2011–2013, a rash of tuba thefts occurred from high schools across Southern California. The Tuba Thieves does not tell the story of the thieves or the missing tubas. Instead, it asks what it means to listen.

SFFILM Rainin Grants are made possible by the generosity of the Kenneth Rainin Foundation. In addition to funding, grant and loan recipients also receive a range of benefits through SFFILM Makers, SFFILM’s comprehensive artist development program. These benefits, customized to every individual production, can include one-on-one project consultations, creative development, additional fundraising assistance, resource and service recommendations, and networking opportunities, among many others. For more information visit




SFFILM Makers (formerly “Filmmaker360”), the organization’s artist development program, provides significant financial and creative resources to independent filmmakers through grants, fellowships, residencies, fiscal sponsorship, and more. Since 2009, over $7.5 million has been disbursed to more than 200 film projects in various stages of production. Highlights include the SFFILM Rainin Grant, which distributes the most nonprofit funding for narrative features in the United States; a joint effort with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to cultivate stories rooted in science and technology; and the Documentary Film Fund, a partnership with the Jenerosity Foundation. For more information, visit


SFFILM is a nonprofit organization with a mission to champion the world’s finest films and filmmakers through programs anchored in and inspired by the spirit and values of the San Francisco Bay Area. Presenter of the San Francisco International Film Festival, SFFILM is a year-round organization delivering screenings and events to more than 75,000 film lovers and media education programs to more than 15,000 students, teachers, and families annually. In addition to its public programs, SFFILM supports the careers of independent filmmakers from the Bay Area and beyond with grants, residencies, and other creative development services. For more information visit 












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