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Center for Investigative Reporting Launches Initiative to Support Female Documentarians

Variety logo Variety 1/11/2017 Dave McNary
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The Center for Investigative Reporting is launching Glassbreaker Films as an initiative to support women in documentary filmmaking, Variety has learned exclusively.

The project, which has been in the works for about a year, reflects CIR’s commitment to increase the representation of women in both filmmaking and investigative reporting — areas which the center characterizes as being “remarkably underrepresented” by women.

The program has been made possible with a grant from the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation to celebrate the late Brown’s spirit of “innovation, independence and commitment to forceful storytelling.”

Under the program, five female filmmakers — Penny Lane, Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Dawn Porter, and Ann Shin — will produce a documentary series about women taking control, taking power, and taking chances.

The initiative includes a filmmakers-in-residence program with a digital video team – led by a senior digital video producer and staffed by three early-career filmmakers — for creating short films for web and mobile audiences. Those films should start appearing within six months.

The filmmakers in residence are Débora Silva, whose work has appeared on KQED, Fusion, Univision, PBS, BBC, and Al Jazeera; Olivia Merrion, who has produced online videos for NPR, PBS, Recode, the Associated Press, Discovery Communications, and Slate; and photojournalist Emily Harger, who has focused on telling stories from rural Appalachia, especially around the drug epidemic.

Additionally, the center will also provide a BridgeUp: Film educational project to provide training and mentorship in journalism and visual storytelling to high school girls in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“We are thrilled to launch Glassbreaker Films, a result of this deeply dynamic, game-changing gift from the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation,” said CIR executive chair Phil Bronstein.

Brown published “Sex and the Single Girl” in 1962 and became editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan in 1965. She died in 2012.

“This new and profound relationship between the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation and CIR is one that Helen would have understood completely and embraced,” said Kim St. Clair Bodden, a trustee of the foundation. “Helen, more than anyone, operated her whole career at the juncture of empowering women of all ages, encouraging journalistic boldness and strong, sustainable business outcomes. CIR is the perfect environment for realizing and sustaining that dream and for honoring her legacy.”

CIR head of studio Christa Scharfenberg said in statement, “Glassbreaker Films will bridge the gap between rigorous investigative reporting and powerful cinematic documentaries. These films, told from the unique perspectives of women filmmakers with full support from CIR’s journalistic expertise and distribution efforts, will have the potential to engage across the ideological divide and make an impact. Helen Gurley Brown’s commitment to bold storytelling and indefatigable support of women will be central to this initiative.”

Obaid-Chinoy’s credits include “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,” which she directed for HBO and won the 2016 Academy Award for best documentary short subject. The movie prompted Pakistan’s parliament to pass a bill banning honor killing.

Porter’s first feature documentary, “Gideon’s Army,” won a Sundance Film Festival editing award in 2013. Her latest project “Trapped,” which explores the impact of laws regulating abortion clinics in the South, premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the special jury award for Social Impact Filmmaking.

Lane’s most recent film, “Nuts!,” premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, where it won a special jury prize for editing. Her debut feature documentary, “Our Nixon,” had its North American premiere at South by Southwest and won the Ken Burns Award for best of the festival at the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

Shin’s most recent film, “My Enemy, My Brother,” was nominated for a 2016 Emmy and shortlisted for an Academy Award. Her previous film, “The Defector: Escape from North Korea,” won best documentary and best documentary director at the 2014 Canadian Screen Awards.

McMillion Sheldon’s interactive documentary “Hollow” received a 2013 George Foster Peabody Award and a 2014 Emmy nomination. She is the co-creator of “She Does,” a biweekly audio documentary series that follows creative women’s journeys and is in production on a feature-length documentary about the opioid epidemic in Appalachia.

The nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting is based in Emeryville, Calif., and is dedicated to public service journalism. CIR, in partnership with PRX, produces the weekly radio show “Reveal,” which has received five national Emmy Awards in recent years and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 (for local reporting) and 2013 (for public service).

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