SFFILM has announced the 17 recipients for the 2023 SFFILM Rainin Grant, awarded in partnership with the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, which includes $425,000 in funding and professional support for narrative projects at different stages of production.
“Giving independent films and filmmakers the resources they need to thrive is the core of our work at SFFILM,” said SFFILM’s Executive Director Anne Lai. “Our long partnership with the Kenneth Rainin Foundation has helped to develop filmmakers from around the world whose voices and stories may not have had the chance to become films without this kind of essential support.”
The jury panelists who reviewed the finalist’s submissions are Sterlyn Ramirez, filmmaker and producer, Selene Films; Lex Sloan, Executive Director, Roxie Theater; Shelley Trott, Chief Program Officer, Kenneth Rainin Foundation; Masashi Niwano, Director of Artist Development, SFFILM; and Rosa Morales, Artist Development Manager: Narrative Film, SFFILM.
The jury noted in a statement, “It has been an honor to support this exciting group of talented voices whose stories cover an impressive range of genre, artistic innovation, bold approaches and rich, personal stories. The diversity of voices represented in these works exemplifies the power of cinema as a universal language that has the potential to evoke thought provoking conversations and change. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to all the filmmakers who have shared their stories with us and are thrilled to support this year’s recipients at this exciting stage of their careers.”
2023 SFFILM Rainin Grantees
- Blue Veil — Shireen Alihaji, Director/Screenwriter; Jaime Ballesteros, Producer (Screenwriting)
In the wake of 9/11, a First-Gen Muslim teenager discovers her mother’s cassette tapes. As music unlocks memories, she discovers who she is.
- The Binding of Itzik — Anika Benkov, Screenwriter/Director; Lili Rosen, Producer (Development)
A middle aged Hasidic bookbinder stumbles across a craigslist ad offering “binding lessons for submissive women,” and becomes tied up in a passionate BDSM affair with a stranger who threatens to change his quiet life forever, in this unexpectedly touching, late-in-life trans coming out story.
- Afronauts — Nuotama Bodomo, Screenwriter/Director; Monique Walton, Producer (Screenwriting)
It’s 1964. Northern Rhodesia has just become Zambia. With a job well done, former freedom fighter Mukuka Nkoloso decides to take on his next big feat: the Space Race. Nkoloso leads his unlikely followers to a camp to set up an astronaut-training program and announces that he will send teenage girl Matha Mwamba to the moon in a homemade rocket. Nkoloso has led many “impossible” projects before, but has he gone too far this time?
- A Real One — McKenzie Chinn, Screenwriter/Director (Development)
Through a lens that’s sometimes realistic and other times surreal, a bright teenager learns the power and persistence of true friendship when a closely held secret is discovered amid the final weeks of her senior year in high school.
- Burning Well — M.G. Evangelista, Screenwriter/Director/Producer; Simone Ling, Producer (Development)
In a re-imagining of the Prodigal Son story, on receiving news of their mother’s illness, a daughter-turned-son returns home to mend complicated relationships and rediscover what family and love really mean.
- Electric Homies — Roberto Fatal, Screenwriter/Director/Producer (Screenwriting)
A group of friends in near-future Oakland try to fix an old lowrider as thousands in their barrio leave behind their bodies and upload to a mysterious new digital utopia.
- The Deaf Club — Jessica Flores, Director/Screenwriter (Screenwriting)
San Francisco Mission District 1979; Mila Martinez, a young meek Latina woman trying to break away from her overprotective family, unexpectedly finds a home at a punk venue that also happens to be a club for the deaf.
- Buffalo Stone — Lily Gladstone, Screenwriter/Executive Producer; Melissa Grumhaus, Executive Producer; Ivy Macdonald, Director; Ivan Macdonald, Producer; Daniel Glick, Director/Writer/Producer; Sarah Clarke, Screenwriter (Development)
Buffalo Stone tells the story of two estranged Blackfeet sisters who, after their mother’s death, reunite and are drawn into a bold effort to return buffalo to their ancestral lands in the face of hostile and violent cattle ranchers.
- Starfuckers — Antonio Marziale, Screenwriter/Director; Eli Raskin, Producer (Development)
A high-end rentboy living an insular life in the Hollywood Hills becomes obsessed with a mysterious star of the underground drag scene. His identity is called into question and life begins to unravel as he discovers the true objective of his new friend.
- Mosswood Park — Nijla Mu’min, Director/Screenwriter/Producer; Avril Speaks, Producer; Gabrielle Glore, Producer (Development)
Two gifted artists meet as children at Oakland’s Mosswood Park summer camp and form a relationship that leads them back to each other in unexpected ways through their lives. A sweeping and classic love story in the style of Love & Basketball meets The Notebook (with a bit of Normal People), this Bay Area epic explores the complex and rocky terrain of young love that never fades away, amidst an ever-changing city backdrop.
- The South is my Sister’s Skin — Zenzele Ojore, Director/Screenwriter (Screenwriting)
In the belly of the American South, we watch two Black sisters grow towards and away from each other over several decades. As one struggles to reconcile with their shared past, the other attempts to forget.
- Piratas — Gabriela Ortega, Screenwriter/ Director (Screenwriting)
A struggling Dominican artist returns to the island to fulfill her late grandfather’s dying wish but to do so she will have to embark on an off-the-grid road trip with her estranged father.
- In Case of Apocalypse — Olivia Peace, Director/Producer/co-screenwriter; Imani Mixon, co-screenwriter (Screenwriting)
After a mysterious toxic algal bloom leaves them stranded on an island off the coast of Detroit, a DJ and local scam queen must find their way to shore before the island, and their romantic relationship, crumbles around them. Whether they survive has everything to do with what they decide to keep…and what they have the courage to leave behind.
- Wishes Sink in Man Made Lakes — Faye Ruiz, Screenwriter/Director (Screenwriting)
Mayari and Angel, two trans teens, have run away together and taken refuge in an old cheap seat theater during its final summer before closing. Aided by an online forum for trans women, the two girls spend a seemingly endless summer trying anything and everything to start hormone replacement therapy while navigating the realities of living life as trans women for the first time.
- Take Me Home — Liz Sargent, Director/Screenwriter; Minos Papas, Producer (Screenwriting)
Anna, a cognitively disabled adult, and her aging parents struggle to find a fragile balance in sharing a home and meeting each other’s needs. When this balance is shattered, they must find new ways to care for each other and to define their own independence.
- Earthquake — Neo Sora, Screenwriter/Director; Albert Tholen, Producer; Aiko Masubuchi, Producer; Eric Nyari, Producer; Alex C. Lo, Producer (Post Production)
A fictional coming-of-age story set in near-future Tokyo, Earthquake follows a group of friends nearing the end of high school whose teenage antics collide with the anxiety of growing up in an uncertain world. As frequent tremors foreshadow a looming catastrophic earthquake, one of the rabble-rousing teens must decide between continuing a life of youthful abandon or losing one of his best friends, whose blossoming political consciousness has made him increasingly distant.
- Amoeba — Siyou Tan, Screenwriter/Director (Screenwriting)
In a repressive city-state, a schoolgirl persuades three classmates at a conservative all-girls school to rebel by forming a triad gang.
“This year’s class of grantees exemplifies the spirit of the SFFILM Rainin Grant,” said Masashi Niwano, SFFILM’s Director of Artist Development. “The scope of the stories and their characters is immense, taking us from an Oakland park to futuristic Tokyo to the DJ scene in Detroit. We are so thrilled and proud to support the vision of these talented filmmakers and help them bring their cinematic stories to fruition.”
About The SFFILM Rainin Grant
The SFFILM Rainin Grant program is the largest granting body for independent narrative feature films in the US, and supports films that address social justice issues—the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges—in a positive and meaningful way through plot, character, theme, or setting. Awards are made to multiple projects once a year, for screenwriting, development, and post-production. Recipients are offered a cash grant up to $25,000 for screenwriting and development, post-production as well as a two-month residency at FilmHouse, SFFILM’s premier artist residency space.
The SFFILM Rainin Grant program is open to filmmakers from anywhere in the world who can commit to spending time developing the film in San Francisco. Applications for the next SFFILM Rainin Grant program will reopen in January 2024.