A still from ‘My Love Affair with the Brain,’ a Berkeley Film Foundation-award winner. Photo: Berkeley Film Foundation
A still from ‘My Love Affair with the Brain,’ a Berkeley Film Foundation-award winner. Photo: Berkeley Film Foundation

There’s a thriving community of filmmakers hidden in Berkeley. Since 2009, the Berkeley Film Foundation has been dedicated to fostering that community, providing grants that now total over $1 million to local independent filmmakers. With the opening of the 2017 grant cycle, the BFF expects to fuel more award-winning work.

“For independent filmmaking, this is a mecca,” said David Bergad, program director, BFF. “The East Bay, and Berkeley in particular, is a very strong center for filmmaking.”

A public/private partnership established by the city of Berkeley, Wareham Development and The Saul Zaentz Company, last year the BFF expanded its grants to include Oakland (filmmakers must work or live in Berkeley, Emeryville, Albany, El Cerrito, Richmond and Oakland to be eligible). The result: a record 114 applications, 17 of which were funded. Bergad expects a strong set of applications this year, before the May 5 deadline.

The foundation funds four categories: short-form animation (30 minutes or less), short-form narratives (30 minutes of less), short documentary (40 minutes or less), and long documentary. General grant awards are for up to $12,000. A separate application process for student work funds up to $5,000. According to Bergad, most of the student applications come from Berkeley City College and UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. Once grants have been decided, the BFF has three additional awards, The Saul Zaentz award of $25,000, The Al Bendich award of $20,000, and the City of Emeryville award (restricted to Emeryville filmmakers) of $10,000.

My Love Affair With the Brain, which won The Saul Zaentz award in 2013, is cited by Bergad as an example of the success of many grant winners. The documentary, by Berkeley documentarians Catherine Ryan and Gary Weimberg, looking at the work of UC Berkeley scientist Marian Diamond, has won numerous film festival prizes. It appropriately had its world premiere at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“This film has taken off like wildfire,” he said. “It’s playing on PBS and it’s going to be seen by lots of people.”

Mo Morris’ A New Color, which was a grant-winner in 2016, has also had significant festival success, Bergad said. It tells the story of local artist and educator Edythe Boone, and was made over three years – in the middle of which the death of Boone’s nephew, Eric Garner, became a focal point of the national Black Lives Matter movement. The film won the best short documentary prize at the Peace on Earth Film Festival.

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...