In August of 2017, Gullah Gone: Preserving The Land, Water And Culture Of The Sea Islands made another giant leap forward. The film was one of the select few to be accepted by The Southern Documentary Fund (SDF) for fiscal sponsorship. We are incredibly excited about this opportunity and wanted to share with our followers what this means for our film.
SDF is a nonprofit arts organization that cultivates documentary projects made in or about the American South. They serve as a leading advocate for powerful southern storytelling, providing filmmakers and artists with professional support, filmmaking grants, and fiscal sponsorship.
As a fiscally sponsored project of SDF, Gullah Gone: Preserving The Land, Water And Culture Of The Sea Islands is entitled to receive tax-exempt contributions from individuals and granting sources which require non-profit status. We recently sat down with SDF’s Executive Director Naomi Walker to talk about our film and the organization’s awesome work.
1. Could you tell us about the history of The Southern Documentary Fund and its founding?
SDF was founded in 2002 by two independent filmmakers, Steve Channing and Cynthia Hill. They were producing and directing feature-length documentaries, and found themselves reaching out to organizations in New York or on the West Coast to sponsor their films. Eventually Cynthia and Steve felt compelled to create a home for southern storytellers closer to home. Based in Durham, North Carolina, SDF became the first and only arts nonprofit dedicated to supporting documentary artists in the American South, filling a substantial gap in services locally and within the region.
Over the past decade, SDF has become a trusted partner for veteran, emerging, and first-time documentary producers across our region, helping them direct their lenses and microphones at powerful southern stories and critical issues. The work of SDF artists covers a diverse spectrum of topics — civil rights, the environment, history, and the arts — and their films are being used as effective tools for social change, education, and community development. SDF is passionate about providing our artists with opportunities for professional growth, offering support and programming that connects them to the resources necessary to hone their skills, complete their projects, and exhibit them widely.
As a leading advocate for documentary culture in the Southeast, SDF forges relationships between our regional makers and industry professionals around the country. Since our founding, SDF has sponsored over 150 independent documentaries. Currently we have approximately 77 active documentaries on the roster, a record number for our small organization.
2. What is your role at The Southern Documentary Fund?
As Executive Director of SDF, I live for building an ecosystem of documentary storytelling in the South. We want makers to be able to live and thrive in our region, telling authentic stories from the inside. So every day, I’m talking to makers, documentary industry colleagues, funders, thought leaders and more to grow our field. We have programs that help makers directly: Fiscal Sponsorship, Fresh Docs, Grants, Mentorship and our annual Artists Convening. All that we do is made possible through partnerships and collaboration with other organizations, foundations, and the guidance of makers.
3. What does the film Gullah Gone: Preserving The Land, Water And Culture Of The Sea Islands mean to you?
The film itself raises important issues, and could spur crucial dialogue on many threads in the story, including preservation vs. gentrification, Black land loss, the struggle of farmers, the role of tourism, and looking at who benefits from development.
4. The Southern Documentary Fund has been a great advocate of Southern films and filmmakers since 2002, why do you think Gullah Gone is joining the selection of film projects this year?
Gullah Gone is the very kind of inside storytelling SDF is excited to support. The film team’s connection to the story, to the region and to the history impressed us.
5. Why do you think Southern African-American stories like Gullah Gone are so important?
It depends on who is doing the storytelling, doesn’t it? This documentary and the team behind it bring important nuance and complexity to Southern storytelling. If Gullah Gone was strictly told from the traditional White colonialist and anthropological lens, audiences could perceive the story as a black and white, change vs. tradition tale. Instead this team is bringing insiders to join them, so we can witness the living, breathing Gullah culture that is very much alive, and empowered to control their own narrative.