San Francisco Film Society Gets $1M Annually to Support Indie Filmmakers (Exclusive)

Funding from Kenneth Rainin Foundation will be used to support Filmmaker360 program

The San Francisco Film Society will receive $1 million annually to support its workshops and residency programs for feature filmmakers, Executive Director Ted Hope said Tuesday.

The grant money will come from the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, a Bay Area charity that donates to arts and education causes. It will extend a program that has supported films such as the current Oscar-contender "Beasts of the Southern Wild."

Under the terms of the grant, the Film Society will distribute $600,000 directly to filmmakers and use $400,000 in programmatic support.

The new round of grants will kick off on Jan. 16, Hope said.

Hope, who was a producer of  such films as "American Splendor" and "The Savages" before entering the non-profit world, told TheWrap that indie filmmakers who are lucky enough to receive distribution deals are getting lower offers than they were a few years, making the need for foundational support more acute.

Also read: 16 Really Good Things in the Indie Film Biz 2012

"Yes, there are more platforms to release a film and for exposure than there were a few years ago, but the financial rewards for filmmakers keep dropping," Hope said. "That increases the need for us as a society to embrace a not-for-profit model when it comes to producing cultural content."

"Time and time again, we see that the films that do well and make a cultural impact were incubated away from the marketplace, so that they could come from the heart," he added.

The Rainin Foundation has already supported the film society, but its commitment has been a year-to-year one. It decided to make its annual contributions an evergreen because it was impressed with the success of the Film Society's Filmmaker360 program.

Launched in 2009, Filmmaker360 offers cash grants, residencies, script workshops and other forms of assistance to narrative filmmakers making projects with budgets under $3 million. In addition to "Beasts of the Southern Wild," which received $120,000 in funding for production and post-production work, other recipients include "Fruitvale," a true life drama that got $200,000 in support and has been accepted to the Sundance Film Festival.

"When we started the program we received a five year commitment from the foundation," Michele Turnure-Salleo, director of Filmmaker360, told TheWrap. "So when I met with [foundation president Jennifer Rainin], I was just hoping for another five years. I was thrilled when she said she was so happy with what we've developed that she said she wanted to continue giving the money indefinitely."

With the funding, the San Francisco Film Society will expand its services in ways that will help make San Francisco a more attractive place to create movies.

Among the programs in the planning stages are networking and professional development events tied to film festivals around the country; ongoing screening series built around social justice films; a mentorship program that will train aspiring filmmakers in media literacy and production, and training for narrative feature filmmakers designed to help them improve their pitches to potential investors.

"This funding will allow filmmakers to afford to take creative risk away from day to day commercial concerns," Hope told TheWrap. "Indie films are our best ambassadors to the world. They show the diversity of who we are and they travel without passports. If people were only forced to observe commercial cinema, they would think we all wore superhero costumes and carried assault rifles. These movies speak to our more expansive nature."