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New York Community Trust Renews Support of Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund

By Tom White

The New York Community Trust recently renewed its support of IDA's Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund, which provides production support for the creation of original, independent documentary films that illuminate pressing issues in the United States.

Over the next two years, the IDA will make ten grants (five each year) of $15,000 to $25,000 to documentary projects that tell a compelling story and focus on one of documentary pioneer Pare Lorentz's central concerns-the appropriate use of the natural environment, justice for all or the illumination of pressing social problems. In addition, the grantees will reflect the spirit and nature of Lorentz's work, exhibiting objective research, artful storytelling, strong visual style, high production values, artistic writing, outstanding music composition, as well as skillful direction, camerawork and editing.  

The films are expected to complete production within two years after funding is received and be seen by the public and/or have a theatrical and/or broadcast release. Among the five grantees announced last October from the previous cycle include two works that recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival: After Tiller, directed and produced by Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, and Citizen Koch, directed and produced by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal.


From Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's AfterTiller


Pare Lorentz and his legacy have figured in IDA's 31-year history since nearly the beginning. Lorentz was the first IDA Career Achievement Award honoree, in 1985, for his groundbreaking Depression era works such as The River and The Plough That Broke the Plains. In 1997, five years after Lorentz's passing, his widow, Elizabeth Meyer Lorentz, helped to establish the Pare Lorentz Award, which, while in keeping with the spirit of the aforementioned Documentary Fund grants, goes to a work that has already been completed and released. Recent honorees include Jon Shenk's The Island President, Bill Haney's The Last Mountain and Lucy Walker's Waste Land.


From Jon Shenk's The Island President. Photo: Lincoln Else


Mrs. Lorentz passed away in 2001, and the New York Community Trust manages the fund stipulated by her estate, whose charitable objectives include supporting her husband's legacy through such endeavors as the Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund.

Other grantees from Mrs. Lorentz's fund include the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, whose Pare Lorentz Film Center produces and distributes educational films about President Roosevelt and the New Deal. Lorentz worked for Roosevelt, in the Resettlement Administration, a New Deal agency that helped to relocate struggling urban and rural families. Rexford G. Tugwell, the head of the agency, recognized the power of motion pictures to promulgate the message of the New Deal, and hired Lorentz to produce both The River and The Plow That Broke the Plains. "The Institute has been working on the Pare Lorentz Center projects, so we've been helping them use Lorentz's films and other films from the time period to teach students about the Roosevelt presidency, using direct primary source materials," says Kerry McCarthy, program officer at the New York Community Trust. "They've been doing workshops both with students and with social studies teachers to really make history come alive."


From Pare Lorentz's The Plough That Broke the Plains


An additional fundee of the Elizabeth Meyer Lorentz Fund is the Foundation for Jewish Culture, for a DVD and the further distribution of Nuremburg, a film that Lorentz helped produce about the Nuremberg Trials while serving as chief of Films/Theatre/Music for the US War Department's Civil Affairs Division. Now titled Nuremberg: Its Lessons for Today, the film was screened in 1997 by IDA at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Sandra Shulberg, whose father, Stewart Shulberg, directed the film, oversaw a five-year restoration of Nuremberg: Its Lessons for Today, which premiered at the 2010 New York Film Festival. According to McCarthy, "She has been working to get the project out on DVD, along with the published print and online guide for adult viewers, high school teachers and military trainers, and use it as a teaching tool, and travel that around internationally.  We had given a grant for that particular project in 2011. It seemed very much in keeping with the spirit of the Lorentz intent."

Of the Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund, McCarthy says, "The IDA program is a strong one and we're happy to be involved with it." The next deadline for submission to the Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund is April 22; for more information, click here.

Thomas White is editor of Documentary magazine.