On May 5th, five teams of nervous filmmakers took the stage of the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center for the second annual DocPitch program, part of DocLands Documentary Film Festival. Selected from over 100 applicants, these teams had been given the chance to pitch their film projects to an enthusiastic audience of philanthropists, distributors, fellow filmmakers, media, and filmgoers. The audience favorite would receive a significant cash prize of $10,000 toward the film’s completion.

As DocPitch began, everyone present expected that only one team would go home a winner. By the end of the program, the generosity in the room had multiplied and grown beyond anyone’s expectations.

Once the audience votes were counted at the conclusion of the presentations, a powerful project called Crip Camp was declared the winner! Crip Camp uses archival footage and contemporary interviews to convey the story and legacy of a pioneering 1970s camp for teenagers with disabilities. Told from the point of view of a former camper, Jim LeBrecht, the film follows several of Jim’s fellow alumni as they move to Berkeley and become pioneers in the disability rights movement. Far from “inspiration porn,” Crip Camp promises “humor, sex, drugs, rock n roll,” and incredible footage tracing the protagonists from adolescence in the early 1970s to the present day. The preview elicited both tears and laughter from the DocPitch crowd.

Just as the giant check was about to be brought on stage, CFI’s Director of Development, Liana Bender, ran up to the stage to share the incredible news that the donor had just increased the cash prize from $10,000 to $25,000! The filmmakers were visibly moved and the audience took to their feet and erupted in cheers. 

One sudden act of great generosity that night inspired others. The winning filmmakers, Jim LeBrecht and his co-director and producer, Nicole Newnham, gave $5,000 of their award to another DocPitch finalist, The Sacred and the Snake, which focuses on four Native American activists engaged in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. In a further surprise, another donor in the audience offered an additional $1,000 for each of the five projects on the spot. 

Instead of one DocPitch winner, there are now five incredible documentary films that are a little closer to completion, thanks to the enthusiasm of the DocPitch audience, and the generosity of the supporters! 

The benefits of participating, for donors and filmmakers alike, went far beyond the money itself. Bryan Gibel and A.K. Sandhu, producers of Sign My Name to Freedom, shared their appreciation: “As filmmakers, pitching our film helped refine the story and introduced us to other creative professionals, funders, and festival programmers that are helping propel the project forward. Thank you to DocLands and everyone involved!”

The donor from Project 9 / Truckstop Media, who had generously increased the cash prize, had this to say: “If you can afford to give, give it! Find the programs that interest you; be vulnerable and allow yourself to be moved by the people who need your financial support and become a collaborator in life, passion and dreams – become a participant. Realize the importance in giving whether it be financial, physical, or emotional – this is our time to learn a simple concept: money, muscle and care are all one in the same, choose what you can do!”

Photos © Tommy Lau Photography