Film Funda: Funding Your Independent Film

If you’ve chosen to pursue the career trajectory of an independent filmmaker, you might find that you’ve also chosen to stack your closet with a wide variety of hats – different hats that you will find yourself donning for the many roles that you will often be expected to play, as director/camera person/scriptwriter/editor/financier of your project.

When taking on the task of finding sources of funding for independent film projects, filmmakers often employ different approaches that are more in tune with their specific circumstances and dispositions. The actual process requires a certain relentless persistence and patience that does not always bode well with the inclinations and dispositions of an artist. “I can only draw from my experience, which is also connected to my temperament,” says filmmaker Jaideep Varma, known for his critically acclaimed films Leaving Home and Baavra Mann. “I do not have the patience or the ‘humility’ required to seek funds from the various funding organisations. So I have either sought private producers who give me full creative control or I make low budget films with my own savings — or I raise unconditional funds through friends and acquaintances.”

On the other side of the equation, renowned filmmakers like Miriam Chandy Menacherry – known for her work for the BBC, National Geographic and for award winning documentaries like The Rat Race – have found ways to use various funds and grants available to Indian filmmakers. “Films Division regularly puts out calls for films, and within India they are one of the largest documentary producers,” she told IndiEarth. “The Public Service Broadcasting Trust is also one organization that is quite open to letting first time filmmakers also have a go at funding.”

When looking to fund your independent film project, there are a few important pointers to keep in mind. “The way you go about funding your film will often depend on the subject of your film,” continues Miriam, “Once you choose a subject you also have to ask questions like who would be an audience for this film? That can dictate how you go about raising funds.” Identifying your target audience will help you hone in on potential investors for your particular project — if you’re making a romantic comedy, for example, it makes no sense approaching an NGO for funding.

It’s also important to be able to pitch your project convincingly and with conviction – and in a way that stays true to your individual style. Pitching forums like DocEdge Kolkata offer workshops and mentoring programs to Indian filmmakers, and subsequently gives them the opportunity to present their work in person to international investors and commissioning editors. “DocEdge is good because otherwise you’d have to go to Berlin, or Toronto, or Amsterdam – it’s great that we have an Asian pitching forum here in Calcutta,” says Miriam. “It also allows you to pitch your project directly to international commissioning editors — so you get direct responses, you can gauge the interest of your film, get feedback about your film, and you know who to follow up with.”

Funding your film project should also be seen as a cumulative effort – don’t expect all your funds to come from one place. Instead, target different sources of funding, and don’t shy away from small amounts. Often times the larger amounts are only given away for completion funds. Crowd funding platforms like are another source of revenue that many filmmakers today are exploring and finding effective. “A lot of people are going the crowd funding avenue these days,” says Miriam. “It’s proving to be catchy and has the ability to capture the imagination of audiences.”

To help get you started on your quest for funding, here is a list of funds and opportunities we have compiled that are currently available to Indian filmmakers:

1) Hubert Bals Fund
Brief: This is a fund that supports feature films and creative feature length documentaries, supporting projects from Asia, Africa, Latin America, Middle East, and Eastern Europe. Indian writer-directors can apply with work in progress scripts, and Indian producers can apply with a first cut of the film for post-production funds.
Submission Deadline: 1 August, 2014.

2) IDFA Bertha Fund

Brief: The IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam) Bertha Fund empowers creative documentaries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and parts of Eastern Europe.
Submission Deadline: Submissions for 2014 have just closed – the next deadline will be early 2015. But worth keeping an eye out for this one.

3) Visions Sud Est

Brief: This is a fund eligible for production companies (not for individuals), and supports projects from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe. It guarantees they will be distributed in Switzerland and looks to make them visible worldwide.
Submission Deadline: 27 August, 2014

The Bertha BRITDOC Documentary Journalism Fund
Brief: This fund offers £10,000-50,000 to documentary filmmakers from any country in a mix of both grants and investments.
From BRITDOC: “The fund supports projects at the intersection of film and investigative journalism that break the important stories of our time, expose injustice, bring attention to unreported issues, and cameras into regions previously unseen.”
Deadline: Rolling

5) Sundance Screenwriters Lab

Brief: A five day screenwriting workshop that also provides films the opportunity to be in the Director’s Lab, and be eligible for Sundance grants.
From the Sundance Institute: “Through one-on-one story sessions with Creative Advisors, Fellows engage in an artistically rigorous process that offers them indispensable lessons in craft, as well as the means to do the deep exploration needed to fully realize their material”.
Deadline: Deadline has just passed for this year, but this is another program worth watching out for, for the next edition.

6) Sundance Documentary Fund

Brief: This grant can get you between $20,000 – $50 000 depending on what stage of production your film is at. It prioritises films about relevant issues and is a core component of Sundance’s Documentary Film Program. Deadline approaching – so hurry with this one!
From the Sundance Institute: “The Fund reviews 1,500-2,000 proposals annually, awarding 50-60 grants to filmmakers around the world. When appropriate, select submissions are supported by subject-area experts from the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, International Center for Transitional Justice, Open Society Foundations and others to illuminate critical context vital to a thorough understanding of complex global issues…In funding a broad spectrum of innovative and creative non-fiction storytelling, Sundance Institute embraces documentary film as a vital contributor to the language of the 21st century.”
Deadline: 8 July, 2014

7) Mumbai Mantra Cinerise Screenwriting Programme – 100 Storytellers A Year
Brief: Mumbai Mantra has been associated with the Sundance Institute for three years, and is offering 100 Indian screenwriters a unique mentorship opportunity in writing, fine tuning and pitching their scripts – ultimately to help get their films made.
Submission Deadline: 20 August, 2014

8) Nextpix/Firstpix Crowdfunding Grant
Brief: This grant will fund films that are the first or second film by the director, are under a budget of $250k, and that are being partially crowd funded.
From N/FCG: “Rather than fund on a pre-determined cycle, we will accept queries from any film that is being crowd funded at any point during the year. Once we’ve received your query please give us 30 days to respond. The film should have a positive humanitarian message”.
Submission Deadline: Rolling


IndiEarth is an online B2B platform that connects India’s non-mainstream independent Musicians and Filmmakers to worldwide Media. The platform features a blog, offers value-added services and wider opportunity networks through its partnerships. IndiEarth is an EarthSync Initiative.

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