Pacific Pioneer Film Fund

What is the Pacific Pioneer Fund?
We’re a private foundation, and our exclusive mission is to support “emerging” West Coast documentary film- and videomakers.

How, when and why did the fund come into being?
We began making grants in 1980. One of the fund’s benefactors, Nancy Sloss, was herself a documentary filmmaker. She realized that this was a greatly undersupported community of dedicated and talented artists.

The driving philosophy behind the fund is . . .
to help younger documentarians who have shown talent in previous works or roles to move to the next stage in their careers.

Can individuals apply for Pioneer Fund grants or are they limited to organizations?
Only organizations (public charities) that support individual filmmakers.

Any advice on choosing and working with a fiscal sponsor?
We prefer an organization that has a review process and will exercise some project oversight. Independents may apply through organizations that offer fiscal administration of projects. We’ve worked with Film Arts Foundation (San Francisco); Bay Area Video Coalition (San Francisco); International Documentary Assn. (L.A.); 911 Media Arts Center (Seattle); Northwest Film Center (Portland). The sponsor reviews the proposal and budget, and satisfies itself that the project is well thought out, has good film ideas, and is feasible within budget. These above organizations seem to be the most careful in doing the needed review.

What percentage of the Pacific Pioneer Fund’s overall budget goes towards film or video projects?

What types of projects do you seek?
We seem to have a preference for political and social docs, but also support cultural and historical ones.

Name some of the best known titles and/or artists you have funded. What have been some of the (distribution/exhibition) paths of those projects?
Early on we funded Kristine Samuelson, Rob Epstein, and Terry Zwigoff among others. Several funded projects have gone on to receive PBS/CPB or NEH funding. About a third of each year’s P.O.V. films are Pioneer grantees, including: Rabbit in the Moon (Emiko Omori); Baby, It’s You (Anne Makepeace); The Vanishing Line (Maren Monsen); No Loans Today (Lisanne Skyler). We’ve also funded Samsara (Ellen Bruno) and Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (Susana Munoz and Lourdes Portillo), and The Times of Harvey Milk (Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman).

How many media awards are given out per year? What is the total dollar amount awarded annually?
About 20 grants, totalling $100,000.

What is the average size of a grant?

What’s the ratio of applicants to recipients?
About four to one.

What are the restrictions on applicants’ qualifications?
Applicants must live and work on the west coast (in California, Washington, or Oregon). Funds are not given to artists who live elsewhere. The sponsoring organization, however, can be from any state. Student projects are not eligible.

Do you fund projects at various stages of production?
Any stage.

Explain your funding cycle and deadlines. Can filmmakers re-apply if they don’t win?
We review applications three times a year, with postmark deadlines of 2/1, 5/15, and 10/1. We decide and notify all applicants within six weeks of these deadlines. Unsuccessful applicants are asked to wait a year before reapplying.

Are there time restrictions within which the funds must be used? Can the same individual apply for funds two years in a row?
No time restrictions. We currently make only one grant in a filmmaker’s career.

Who makes up the staff of the Pacific Pioneer Fund?
Peter Sloss, president; Nancy Sloss, vice president; Hillary Sloss, Dan Geller and Ellen Bruno, board members. Half of us are filmmakers. Ellen and Dan are past grantees whom we’ve had as filmmaker consultants for individual panels and really liked their sound judgment so we invited them to the Board. Terms are five years, renewable once; when they rotate off, we’ll presumably look for new board members from among past grantees.
As executive director, I [Armin Rosencranz] have the primary contact with all applicants.

Who makes the awards decisions?
The board itself makes all decisions. Often we have a past grantee join as a temporary board member to screen applicants’ submissions and make awards.

Tell us a little about the review process.
I review all applications, usually numbering 25 to 30, disqualify those that don’t meet threshold qualifications (meaning they either have too much or too little experience), and forward the remaining 20 or so to one of our board members to select the 8 to 10 that will appear on our next meeting’s agenda.

What advice do you have for media artists in putting forth a strong application?
Say it in your own words and don’t rely on outside testimonials. We tend to be turned off by slick proposals which are often prepared by fundraising professionals. We do expect proposals to be clearly written and word processed, and to contain a full biography of the project director, with full titles of past films/videos that the applicant has worked on, including the length of the work, where exhibited, and the specific role performed by the applicant.

What is the most common mistake applicants make?
Inflating their budgets.

What is a difficult hurdle you’ve had to get over as a funder?
Disqualifying people for being either “pre-emerging” or “emerged.” Basically, if the applicant has completed one or two recognized projects or if she/he has performed key supporting roles (producer, editor, director of photography) in someone else’s film, she/he qualifies as “emerging.”

What would people most be surprised to learn about the Pacific Pioneer Fund and/or its founders?
We’re very informal and approachable.

What distinguishes the Pioneer Fund from other funders?
Sad to say, we’re the only California funder supporting emerging documentary filmmakers as artists. We’re much more interested in helping a talented filmmaker’s career than we are in a film’s subject.

Other foundations or grantmaking organizations you admire.
Any foundations that support film and/or video.

If not funding media, what would you be doing?
Teaching, running, watching children grow.

Famous last words:
“Don’t let poor Nellie starve.” (Charles II’s deathbed words about his mistress, Nell Gwynne.)

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