Cincinnati women filmmakers strive to fund their award-winning work
By Janelle Gelfand – Courier contributor
When Laure Quinlivan was looking for someone to help fund her 2017 documentary “Cincinnati LEEDS the Nation,” she found an unusual source.
Frisch’s, the primary sponsor of Cincinnati Ballet’s annual “Nutcracker,” decided to take a risk on a film about America’s first green police station in Cincinnati District No. 3.
“We’re trying to evolve our brand, and the Frisch family has been involved in the arts for a long time. We thought it was a powerful story,” said Jason Vaughn, CEO of Frisch’s Big Boy, adding that a story about a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building also appealed to the builder of restaurants.
For local filmmakers – and particularly women – it’s an ongoing challenge to fund their award-winning films and documentaries. The Cincinnati chapter of Women in Film hopes to elevate film as an art. That, in turn, could open up grants from foundations that traditionally have not viewed filmmaking as art.
“There is a great group of women making wonderful movies, feature film and documentaries in the Cincinnati area, and it is super hard to get them funded here. We need to open up the arts community to understanding that it is worthwhile funding films,” said Emmy award-winning director, producer and writer Rachel Lyon, president and co-founder of the local chapter.
“These films have the power to change lives. Film really has the power to increase the strength of the arts community here in Cincinnati.”
Filmmakers say local foundation money for film is scarce.
In years past, ArtsWave, the nation’s largest united arts fund, did not award grants for film work, said Kara Shibiya, ArtsWave’s director of grant programs. But times are changing.
“We have seen an uptick in film projects. Investing in film helps us advance our mission, which is to strengthen our community and create connected communities,” Shibiya said during a Women in Film panel discussion held Oct. 9 at the Woodward Theater. “It is just as important a creative media as our ballet company or our symphony orchestra.”
Cincinnati has become a destination for filmmaking of all kinds. It’s not unusual to stumble upon a camera crew filming a scene for a high-profile Hollywood movie in sites from downtown to the suburbs. Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek strolled through Carew Tower, which has a prime role in in “Old Man and the Gun,” currently being seen in theaters nationwide.
Since 1987, the not-for-profit Film Cincinnati has brought hundreds of films to Greater Cincinnati, as well as thousands of commercials, music videos and documentaries. They’ve employed many locals behind the scenes.
Yet many people don’t know that besides the Hollywood directors, casts and crews who use the Queen City as their backdrop, there exists a strong community of local talent making acclaimed documentaries and independent movies. Their work airs over national public television, on Netflix and on cable channels such as National Geographic, MTV and A&E. Their films are screened at prestigious film festivals, including Cannes and Sundance. They win national and regional Emmy Awards.
But these independent filmmakers struggle to obtain funding. Two years ago, several founded the Cincinnati chapter of Women in Film, an international support organization.
“You cannot make a living being a documentary filmmaker. Documentaries take time. You don’t shoot over a week or two and it’s done,” said Sara Mahle Drabik, associate professor at Northern Kentucky University.
One obstacle, these women say, is that they work in a traditionally male industry. Consider these statistics from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film: Of the top 100 grossing films of 2017, women represented:
- 8 percent of directors
- 10 percent of writers
- 2 percent of cinematographers
- 14 percent of editors
- 24 percent of producers.
“In general it’s hard for anyone to get funding. But women don’t always have the same networks as men who’ve been around longer,” said producer/writer/director Noel Julnes-Dehner, whose latest documentary, “Coming Home from the Streets,” is about human trafficking in Cincinnati.
Most of the filmmakers pursue a cocktail of funding sources, such as the Ohio Arts Council and Ohio Humanities. It is harder, they say, to convince local corporations and businesses to underwrite projects. Lyon’s “Hate Crimes in the Heartland” was mainly funded by national sources as well as a grant from Kentucky Humanities.
And foundations may be specific as to what they will underwrite. The Stephen H. Wilder Foundation, which focuses on civic issues, helped to underwrite Quinlivan’s 25-minute film, “Cincinnati LEEDS the Nation,” which will be distributed by the National Education and Television Association.
“We believe (films) get a much wider audience than a published book that sits on a shelf,” said Beth Sullebarger, the foundation’s chair.
Godoy’s recent documentary, “The Art Carvers of Music Hall,” about the preservation and restoration of Music Hall’s historic art-carved organ panels, was partly funded by the city when she was an Arts Ambassador in 2013. She provided her own money to complete the project.
“The organ panel carving in 1878 was a public art project, just like my film,” she said. “It’s an interesting visual parallel – Cincinnati women artists in the 1870s next to those of 2018. Both find their voices through their art.”
Funders may not realize that their donations can be tax-deducted. Most documentary filmmakers obtain a nonprofit fiscal sponsor. For instance, Quinlivan used the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance.
“Without them, nobody would have donated,” she said.
These filmmakers believe they deserve a second look by local foundations because they – like Cincinnati’s arts – are all about community.
“Strengthening communities, telling the stories within the community and uniting them through that process, it’s important,” said NKU’s Drabik. “I see it happening around the world. The power of your voice and being able to tell your own story is huge.”
To read more about Cincinnati’s Women in Film, visit wifcincinnati.org.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Women storytellers are having an impact on the region. Consider:
- “A Force for Nature: Lucy Braun,” by Meg Hanrahan, an adjunct in eMedia at the University of Cincinnati-Blue Ash, recently aired over PBS. It was underwritten by 28 different entities that contributed $97,000 to her project. Her Emmy Award-winners include “Sacred Spaces of Greater Cincinnati” (2008) and Cincinnati Parks: Emeralds in the Crown” (2009).
- Laure Quinliven’s documentary “Cincinnati LEEDS the Nation: America’s first Net Zero Energy Police Station” (2017) will be distributed by the National Education and Television Association.
- Jaime Meyers Schlenck, an Anderson Township-based film editor, is proud to have worked on “A Lion in the House,” a multi-award-winning 2006 PBS documentary by Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar that followed five children battling cancer. The filmmakers were granted unprecedented access to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to follow the children and teens through years of treatment.
- Noel Julnes-Dehner’s work includes “Under Fire: Soviet Women Combat Veterans WWII,” which was shown on PBS and in film festivals. She was inspired after visiting Cincinnati’s Sister City Kharkiv as part of a cultural delegation. Years later, she returned with a film crew and interviewed 30 women combat veterans, telling their story.
- Rachel Lyon’s latest film, “Hate Crimes in the Heartland” (2016), produced in Cincinnati, examines hate crimes in America over a century in Tulsa, Okla. The film was awarded the prestigious JustFilms grant from the Ford Foundation. It appears on Netflix and the Oprah Winfrey Network.
- Melissa Godoy is producer/director for “Do Not Go Gently,” now in its 10th year airing on PBS through American Public Television. It tells the story of the late artistic director emeritus Frederic Franklin at Cincinnati Ballet. It was partly funded by an Individual Artist Grant from the City of Cincinnati.
- Amy Faust’s camera work includes A&E’s “The First 48” television series and MTV’s “Taking the Stage,” a musical reality show set at Cincinnati’s School for Creative and Performing Arts and produced by Nick Lachey. Her award-winning film “Held in Sway” was screened at the Cannes Film Festival.
WIF to host Laure Quinlivan’s documentary
October 1 at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater
Cincinnati LEEDS the Nation: America’s First Net Zero Energy Police Station is a new documentary produced and directed by local filmmaker Laure Quinlivan. After a sneak-preview public screening at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater at 6 pm on October 1, it will air on the Cincinnati PBS station WCET on November 9 and be offered to PBS stations nationwide. Ms. Quinlivan, a local filmmaker with multiple Emmy and Peabody awards over 25 years in television news, will be joined by the doc’s videographers and composer for the post-film discussion in October.
From groundbreaking to ribbon cutting, Laure documents the City of Cincinnati’s construction of Ohio’s greenest building. The film profiles beat officers and a detective assigned to District 3, showing how the new building impacts morale and working conditions. Three west side citizens who helped design public art for the new station are also featured, illustrating how including public art in the budget allowed the City to involve the community in a construction project using their tax dollars. Laure Quinlivan is a founding board member of Women in Film Cincinnati.