2023 SFFILM Rainin Grant Recipients Announced

SFFILM has announced the recipients for the 2023 SFFILM Rainin Grant, the flagship artist development program offered by SFFILM’s artist development initiative known as SFFILM Makers. The announcement is in in partnership with the Kenneth Rainin Foundation.

Seventeen filmmaking teams have been selected as recipients of the SFFILM Rainin Grant which includes $425,000 in funding and professional support for their 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 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.

“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”.

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; 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.”

The SFFILM Rainin 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 program will reopen in January 2024.

Meet the 2023 SFFILM Rainin Grant Recipients

Blue Veil
Shireen Alihaji, Director/Screenwriter; Jaime Ballesteros, Producer 
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
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.

Nuotama Bodomo, Screenwriter/Director; Monique Walton, Producer
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
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
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
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
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
Ivy Macdonald, Director; Ivan Macdonald, Producer; Daniel Glick, Director/Writer/Producer; Sarah Clarke, Screenwriter; Lily Gladstone, Executive Producer/ Writer (story); Melissa Grumhaus, Executive Producer
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.

Antonio Marziale, Screenwriter/Director; Eli Raskin, Producer
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
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
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.

Gabriela Ortega, Screenwriter/ Director
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/co-screenwriter/Producer; Imani Mixon co-screenwriter
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
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
Anna, a cognitively disabled adult, and her aging parents struggle to find a fragile balance in sharing a home and meeting each others’ needs. When this balance is shattered, they must find new ways to care for each other and to define their own independence.

Neo Sora, Screenwriter/Director; Albert Tholen, Producer; Aiko Masubuchi, Producer; Eric Nyari, Producer; Alex C. Lo, Producer 
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.

Siyou Tan, Screenwriter/Director
In a repressive city-state, a schoolgirl persuades three classmates at a conservative all-girls school to rebel by forming a triad gang.