Rooftop Filmmakers Fund Grantees, 2010 - 2007

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The 2010 Grantees were:



Nancy Please Andrew Semans |  Nancy, Please

"Nancy, Please" tells the story of Paul Brawley, a young, gifted, aimless PhD candidate at Yale. Paul has just moved into an apartment with his competent, pragmatic girlfriend, Jen, and is struggling to complete his dissertation before embarking on a career in academia. Adulthood looms; responsibility beckons. There’s just one snag: as Paul is unpacking his belongings, he discovers that he has left behind a seemingly inconsequential object that Paul feels is of great importance to his dissertation and, therefore, to his future. He will have to retrieve it from his former roommate, the obstinate, casually sinister Nancy. Caught between an impatient girlfriend and an equally impatient thesis advisor, Paul starts to lose his grip. His annoyance turns to rage and then to obsession. Unable to accept his “defeat” at Nancy’s hands, Paul rushes headlong into a thresher of emotional torment and physical punishment. His life will get much, much worse before it gets better. From the director of "I'd Rather Be Dead Than Live in this World" and "All Day Long," both of which played at Rooftop, and shot by Eric Lin (“The Exploding Girl”), “Nancy, Please” is a trenchant genre-bender that combines heightened naturalism with elements of the macabre and surreal. Relentless and darkly comic, the film dramatizes how a seemingly mundane conflict can – in the proper psychological soil – evolve into something dangerous and explosive, and how passivity and misplaced idealism can lead to horrific consequences.



Mary Last Seen T. Sean Durkin  |  Martha Marcy May Marlene

Haunted by painful memories and increasing paranoia, a damaged woman struggles to re-assimilate with her family after fleeing an abusive cult. After being gone for 3 years, Martha returns home to live with her sister and her sister's husband. Martha's brainwashed social views and her loss of normal human behavior make it impossible for her to connect with her family. As her isolation grows, so does her severe paranoia. In an attempt to explore her recent past and make sense of the cult life she has escaped, Martha enters into a dizzying state of confusion where no one can be trusted and the escalating fear that the cult is hunting her, grips her every move. Based on the true story of an escapee from the Manson cult, this quiet psychological thriller comes from the director of the Cannes-award winning "Mary Last Seen." Shot by Jody Lee Lipes ("Tiny Furniture"), one of Filmmaker Magazine's "25 Faces to Watch," and edited by Zachary Stuart-Pontier ("Catfish"), "Martha Marcy May Marlene" was a participant at the Sundance Filmmaker Labs.


City of Cranes Eva Weber |  Black Out 
Set in Equatorial Guinea, this evocative and poignant documentary will show the struggle of a number of young children to reconcile their daily lives in one of the poorest countries in the world with their desire to learn. Only about a fifth of Guinea's 10 million people have access to electricity and even those that do experience frequent power cuts. The average Guinean consumes 89 kilowatt-hours per year--equivalent to running an air conditioner for four minutes a day. Students have discovered G'bessi International Airport at the outskirts of Conakry. As the sun sets over the capital, hundreds of elementary and high school students head to the airport, hoping to reserve a coveted spot under the oval light cast by one of a dozen lampposts in the parking lot. The film will join a number of children on their track to the airport and spend the night with them at the airport until they go back home. "Black Out" is a tale about the myths of globalization--an international airport brings empty promises of prosperity, but these resourceful children are desperate to gain an education. Weber's previous films at Rooftop were "City of Cranes" and "Steel Homes," which appeared on the Channel 4 and POV, and played at festivals including Sundance, IDFA and



Once it Started it Could Not End Otherwise Kelly Sears |  Once It Started It Could Not End Otherwise
Part disaster film, part Freudian animation, “Once It Started It Could Not End Otherwise” is a collage animation made from early-mid 1970s high school yearbooks. A series of absurd and horrible disasters strike this American high school that eerily mirror larger political and social markers of the time - the final days of the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, doomed cults, frenzied meditations and underground radical groups. These catalysts set in motion an unsettling chain of events that overtake this high school one extra curricular activity at a time. This cinema verité styled film echoes a larger sense of trepidation, collapse and mania that not only characterized this time, but resonates in the current cultural climate as well. Sears has screened multiple films at Rooftop, including “The Drift,” “Devil’s Canyon” and “Voice on the Line,” which have also appeared at venues around the world, including at Sundance, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Ledo and Ix Emily Carmichael  |  Ledo and Ix Battle Epically
“Ledo and Ix Battle Epically” is the third film about Ledo and Ix, two adventurers in an old-school fantasy video game. This film centers particularly on Ledo, the tiny 8-bit heroine who has been obsessively upgrading her weapons and tirelessly honing her attacks, all in preparation for great battles that have never materialized. In the first two Ledo and Ix films (both shown at Rooftop) she strode boldly into the void and found only the other side of the void, and boldly approached a blot on the map that might have been brain fungus but instead was a stupid town, offering only the promise of stupid human interaction. Ix was really excited about that. But Ledo doesn't want human interaction. Frankly, she gets enough of that from Ix. What she wants is to do some damage. In this third film in the series, it looks like she'll get a chance to do just that. But, since the early 90’s video game that our heroes inhabit is extremely primitive, it's likely to go worse and more hilariously than Ledo hopes. Carmichael’s films have appeared at Slamdance and SXSW, among others. 

Las Palmas Johannes Nyholm |  Las Palmas
Marja, a middle-aged woman is by herself on a holiday in the sun. We follow her one day from morning to night. She makes clumsy attempts to approach other people but is constantly rebuffed. At a bar she makes overtures to the guests and staff, gets drunk and dances on the tables. She then turns out to be broke and not able to pay the bill. She visits the beach, swims out to an empty boat out in the sea. Falls asleep. She awakens, burnt by the sun. And there, on the edge of the boat, finally finds a friend: a seagull. They sing together. From the renowned Swedish animator of “Dreams from the Woods,” this classical narrative of loneliness is complicated by the method used: the role of the middle-aged woman Marja will be played by a toddler, the other characters by marionette puppets. The choice of a one-year old in the lead role adds a delightful comic effect, an irrational, unbridled element that is impossible to direct. The film thus becomes both a documentary depiction of a small child, and a depiction of a much older woman’s humiliation and exclusion. Nyholm’s previous two films have premiered at Cannes, and his work is supported by the Swedish Film Institute. 

Christopher Miner Christopher Miner  |  Don’t Kill Your Son’s Life
“Don't Kill Your Son's Life” is reflective documentary about the birth of Miner’s first son and his first year of having a child. This direct and poignant style follows Miner’s other work, as seen at Rooftop, including “Between Me and the Earth,” about loss of virginity, making a commitment to one person, loss of faith; and “Every Other Girl In the World,” addressing the early days of marriage, regret and past relationships. The film includes hours of footage shot before his son was born, during the actual birth, and throughout his first eleven months, and also incorporates other issues/events, including Miner’s own father being diagnosed with bone cancer, a fanatical five-year-old child preacher from Mississippi, Miner’s somewhat serious mental breakdown over the past year following his refusal to take anti-depressant medication, and finally Miner’s newfound joy/obsession with writing raps set to country music about death and pornography. Represented by Mitchell-Innes + Nash Gallery, Rooftop is proud to support this daring artist’s next move in the independent film world.

The 2009 Grantees were:


Ian Cheney  | The City Dark

The night filmmaker Ian Cheney moves into his apartment in New York, he pulls his grandfatherʼs old telescope onto a Brooklyn rooftop to survey the night sky. But bathed in its glow of orange streetlights, the City that Never Sleeps only has five stars to see. What begins as a disappointing autumn evening becomes a journey to answer a simple question: do we need the dark? From Mauna Kea to Death Valley to Paris, THE CITY DARK explores the world after dusk, capturing a planet increasingly shrouded in light. Featuring a lively soundtrack, engaging animations and a cast of quirky characters, THE CITY DARK is the definitive new film about light pollution and the disappearing dark. Rooftop Films and Edgeworx are proud to support the new film from the makers of King Corn (screened at Rooftop in 2007).



Benh Zeitlin |  Beasts of the Southern Wild

In this mythological epic inspired by the costal erosion crisis in Southern Louisiana, Hushpuppy, a 9-year old Bayou Don Quixote, lives in "The Bathtub," the hardest drinking, fastest sinking island on the planet. Nested in the crumbling swamps of the delta, our ferocious heroine lives with Wink, her beloved yet volatile and hostile father. Reality crashes down on Hushpuppy's world when her father comes down with a mysterious illness, and nature begins to spiral out of control. With spectacle, humor and a blitzkrieg pace BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD takes on the real life tragedy of land-loss on the Louisiana coast through the lens of little girl who is losing not just the place that made her, but the parent who made her as well. Operatic in its scope, bursting with fireworks, humor, and utter mayhem, from the makers of the award-winning (and Rooftop co-funded) Glory at Sea, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is an epic tale about the end of it all.



Underwritten by Cinereach
CRAZY BEATS STRONG EVERY TIMEMoon Molson: |  Crazy Beats Strong Every Time

The story is about an African-American twenty-something, Markees, who finds his Nigerian-immigrant stepfather passed out drunk in his building hallway one night. Motivated by shame and the restraining order his mother has placed on his stepfather, Markees and his friends drag the unconscious man into his car in order to find him a more suitable place to sleep. But as the night dwindles on, the young men become increasingly aware of the futility of unloading the stepfather. Tensions build and frustrations mount, forcing the situation toward a violent end. Crazy Beats Strong Every Time will show how in a world where being "hard" is the ultimate masculine value, a basically decent young man—if humiliated, taunted and pushed far enough—can do the unimaginable in the name of "saving face." 

KNIFE James M. Johnston: |  Knife
Knife is a searing portrait of vengeance. Set in rural Texas, the story chronicles an unnamed man with a broken spirit. He returns to his family from an unknown place—maybe prison, maybe war. In spite of his family's warm welcome, the man can't shake an anger that builds in him, returning to the land that was once theirs, a land that had been in the family for generations, a land that has been stolen, plundered, and sewn with seeds of greed. There's a force at work, a corruption that destroys homes, nature, families, memories. Told entirely in silence, Knife explores the details, textures, physical actions of his ruinous mission to sate the hatred in his heart with the knife he carries in his hand.

WE HAVE NO HOME Dustin Guy Defa |  Family Nightmare
A personal documentary in which Defa will return to his hometown to explore his family's long history of violence, substance abuse, and heartache, including two cases of manslaughter, an attempted suicide, a shooting, a fatal overdose, and a death from alcohol poisoning. Defa says he feels detached from his family, yet concerned with their endless suffering. The recent arrest and conviction of the family's "baby," Defa's uncle Billy, has caused him to take action. The film will approach the interviews and new footage in a verite style, interspersed with old home movies and the filmmaker's voice-over to guide the audience through the past and present. Defa says, "By asking tough questions to family members, discovering things I don't know about them and about Billy, and illuminating some of the reasons we are the way we are, my objective is to lighten the tragic element of our lives, to observe it as a storyline that is still alive and changing."


The 2008 Grantees were:



NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF MADE ME GAYSara Zia Ebrahimi |  Norman Schwartzkopf Made Me Gay 

A personal film that recounts how "Stormin'" Norman Schwartzkopf's life has influenced Ebrahimi's. Norman Schwartzkopf Made Me Gay humorously weaves together personal history with world events in an effort to increase the audience's knowledge about US foreign policy relations with Iran over the past century. The film draws on a variety of events in Ebrahimi's life that parallel or directly intersect with Schwartzkopf's--everything from his childhood memories of Iran where his father was stationed to being arrested by secret service agents for asking him a question. The film will utilize experimental film techniques to add a visually engaging approach to this historical recounting to accompany the unique storyline.

MUNYURANGABO Lee Isaac Chung (director of the acclaimed Munyurangabo, screened at Rooftop on August 23, 2008) received a fully-loaded lighting and grip truck for 30 days for his feature narrative  Lucky Life.

Lucky Life, about four friends on a poignant road trip. Mark and Karen are preparing for the birth of their first child, while Jason is coping with his recent diagnosis with terminal cancer. A meditation on life, death and spirituality, Chung says the film, which will begin production in September, was inspired by his trips to Spanish cathedrals, and the revelation of "cinema as a medium for creating spiritual space." The title comes from a book of poetry by Gerald Stern: "Lucky life isn't one long string of horrors / and there are moments of peace, and pleasure, as I lie in between the blows."

Lucky Life will be Chung's second feature film, following on the tremendous success of his debut  Munyurangabo, which screened festivals including Berlin, Toronto, and Cannes, where Variety praised the film as "flat-out, the discovery of this year's Un Certain Regard [section]."

Chung screened his short film  Sex and Coffee at Rooftop in 2006.

The 2007 Grantees were:


SONNEMAN Heidi Brandenburg & Matt Orzel  |  When Two Worlds Collide
Heidi and Matt are a pair of German and Welsh filmmakers who created “Sonneman,” an astonishingly lovely and insightful documentary about a man who pursues his dream of living a life with nature, away from the conventions of Western society, discontent with the trappings of the modern world. For their new film, Heidi and Matt have been traveling through the Peruvian Rainforest, spending time with the indigenous peoples and watching as their lives are changed by the increasing pace of oil and gas mining. “The film will show the relationship between the land and its inhabitants, exposing the disruptions to their traditional way of life and their spiritual connection to the land, due to oil extraction. The film will subtly capture the dangers of destroying the Amazon Rainforest with links to global warming and the world’s dependency on oil, expressing the relevance of this situation not only as Peruvian concern, but also as a global problem.” 

Confederation Park Bill Brown

Utilizing his unique and fascinating first-person experimental documentary style, Bill is making “a landscape film about torture.” Bill will be reconstructing the lives of the 7 members of the 372 Military Police Company who were convicted of abusing detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He will spend time around Cumberland, MD, where these reservists were from, a place that has been transformed from a place that once exported manufactured goods into a place of tremendous economic hardship which now exports soldiers to fight faraway wars. Bill hopes to replace the iconic images of the distant and repellent abused detainees with images that are close-by and recognizable: to trace the line of inquiry from Iraq to the private prisons, fast-food restaurants and big box stores of Cumberland. “I am interested how in a global economy, a small American town is an extension of the global marketplace, and how in a global war on terror, it is an extension of the battlefield. I hope to understand a little better how seven representatives of America’s battered working class came to bear the responsibility for the failure of America’s foreign policy and moral authority.” Bill hails from Lubbock, TX, and Rooftop screened his films “Mountain State” and “Roswell” in 2004 and 2005. 

Don premiered the first chapter of his triptych “Everything Will Be OK” at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, where the film won the Grand Jury Prize for Short Film. The film follows a stick-figure named Bill as he grapples with depression and madness, and in the new chapter will find Bill struggling with the death of a loved one, the ever-present question of his health, and the apparent unraveling of time. Don has a magically deadpan narrative style, and his elegantly simple drawings, mixed with a dazzling array of direct-animation effects and an ingenious sound design, create an astonishingly moving film. Don lives in Goleta, CA, and is the youngest non-actor ever to be nominated for an Academy Award. Throughout his career he has turned down commercial jobs and lucrative TV deals in order to retain creative control over his animations. 

The Blessing of the Animals Melanie Shatzky & Brian M. Cassidy |  The Blessing of the Animals (Patron Saints)
Brian and Melanie created the eerie documentary “God Provides,” about people in the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, and Brian co-directed “Fish Kill Flea,” a feature-length film about a dying mall in upstate New York. Their work “forgoes conventional storytelling methods in order to accommodate stark imagery, elusive characters and a deadpan realism” in a manner which Filmmaker Magazine described as “cogent and sickly surreal.”  Their new film will be a “portrait of love, death and devotion, as witnessed on the day of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.” The footage is moving and disturbing, subtly raising questions about both secular and religious faith in a very personal manner. This stand-alone short is also part of a longer piece they are making titled "The Patron Saints," a project about faith and uncertainty. Brian and Melanie work out of Brooklyn, NY, and you can read more about their work at 

Spencer Parsons  |  Chainsaw Found Jesus
Chainsaw Found Jesus Spencer’s various films—including “Resolution,” “Once and Future Asshole,” and the upcoming feature “I’ll Come Running,”—utilize a kind of hyper-reality which blends unexpected narrative techniques with a dynamic flair for poignant dialogue and insightful characters. This new film is “a melancholy comedy about two fathers, two sons, and the cocaine sale that brings them all together for an everyday adventure.” Far from your standard drug movie, the sad but hilarious and bizarre script is about “the moment before making a change, and maybe worrying that change just means trading up one sorry addiction for another.” Spencer is one of the co-founders of CinemaTexas, a professor at University of Texas, and, as a crucial member of the vibrant Austin film scene, has been a long-time collaborator with Rooftop Films.

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Rooftop Films is a New York based non-profit whose mission is to engage diverse communities by showing independent movies in outdoor locations, producing new films, coordinating youth media education, and renting equipment at low cost to artists.

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