Photo: Annabelle Marcovici

Working Films and our partners at the Center for Political Education, Critical Resistance, MPD150, and Survived & Punished, are looking for short films to define and amplify what prison industrial complex (PIC) abolition means, and to inspire people to imagine and take action toward a world without police and prisons. Together, through the Docs in Action program, we will fund and curate films to support organizing by those directly impacted by the issues raised.

As we are bombarded with the images and the reality of horrific and far too common acts of police brutality and racist violence against Black people — and words like defund, disarm, and abolition are becoming household names — there is a real need to define these terms, show the history of abolition, demonstrate that it’s more than just an idea, and explain what it means to embody abolitionist organizing. We need to show that in order to get to a world free of police violence and state violence, reform measures will always fall short. Beyond a goal of simply changing hearts and minds, the films will showcase concrete tools and actions people can take today to live a vision of a world without police and prisons.  

More information and directions for how to apply can be found below. And you can watch this webinar for additional guidance and answers to questions you may have about submitting your film: 

DIA 2020 Webinar from Working Films on Vimeo.

The 2020 Docs in Action program has two tracks for filmmakers: 

  1. Submit your completed documentary or narrative film to be included in a compilation that will be toured in the US in 2021, and
  2. Apply for up to $30,000 in funding for short documentary films. Works-in-progress, or cut-downs of longer-form documentaries are eligible to apply for funding. 

More information and directions for how to apply can be found below. If you have a film that can be described in one or more of the following ways, please apply to one or both of these opportunities. 

We’re looking for films that: 

  • Define what prison industrial complex (PIC) abolition means, including the political ideology of abolition as well as the set of strategies and day-to-day organizing tactics that are being used by abolitionists right now. 
  • Make clear the history of the PIC, including policing’s roots in slavery and its inherent purpose and goal of reinforcing oppressive social and economic injustices. Abolition is central to challenging white supremacy. 
  • Demonstrate the extent of the PIC, that it goes beyond private prisons, and is made up of the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment (both public & private) as solutions to economic, social and political problems.
  • Demonstrate that the “criminal justice system” is not broken; it’s working how it was designed, and police or prison reform and other efforts to fix the system will ultimately fail to address its inherent injustices.
  • Flip the script on violence. There is too much focus on the actions of people who are incarcerated and not enough on state violence. We need stories that show the extent of this violence. From police officers on the street, to prison guards (especially those in women’s prisons), ICE officers, and others who employ the same type of state violence, and work in conjunction together. 
  • Stories that highlight the issues of sentencing and surveillance. 
  • Demonstrate that white people and wealthy people are often separated from police violence and have been experiencing a privileged police-lite society. 
  • Highlight how state violence reinforces gender based violence. 
  • Showcase alternatives to the PIC, from reimagined emergency services to a holistic approach to make this system obsolete – including investments in education, food, and housing that make our communities secure as well as strategies for de-escalation and mutual aid.
  • Show people taking action for abolition that goes beyond theory and the world of ideas – stories that give a feel for organizing and make concrete what it means to engage in abolitionist organizing. We need stories that show individuals and communities taking actions like: committing to not calling the police (and what they need to put in place to make that a reality), refusing to invisibilize incarcerated people through letter writing and developing relationships with people inside, forming neighborhood pods, etc.
  • Help people envision a world that is possible and highlight success stories of individuals, groups, and cities engaging in abolition organizing and practices – no matter how big or small – that can be applied to other campaigns. Stories that show how to win, and how to win on abolitionist terms. 
  • Challenge the narrative of the “good prisoner” vs. “the real criminal” – and demonstrate the need to decriminalize all survival. We need stories of people who are criminalized just for trying to survive, of unapologetic self defense that may have required violence – “messy” stories that may not fit into convenient narratives and do not fall prey to the kinds of redemptive narratives that are reductionist.
  • Make clear the long standing history of the abolitionist movement, its origins in Black queer feminism, and demonstrate that without a movement, we won’t get to abolition. We need all of us to get free. 

Compilation and tour of completed films:
Filmmakers are invited to submit completed short films, excerpts of feature length films, and multi-platform projects for inclusion in screening tours held throughout the U.S. in 2021. Screening rights fees will be paid to selected films. We will also provide free impact consultation to selected filmmakers and offer peer-to-peer networking and support opportunities. An emphasis will be placed on films that feature personal stories, as well as media made by people who are directly impacted by the policies and related issues at hand (i.e: people who are or were incarcerated, people whose family has been impacted by the PIC, etc.). Please do not apply if your film is not available for public use. 

More information on eligibility requirements and how to apply can be found here

Fund for works-in-progress or cut-downs of longer-form documentaries:
Filmmakers can apply for up to $30,000 to support completion of short documentary films, under 30 minutes, that have already begun production. Funding for a work-in-progress can only be applied to the cost of completing the project. The submitted budget must reflect the project’s entire cost and the source of all revenue to-date including in-kind support. 

We will also accept applications that propose to cut-down a longer-form non-fiction film to meet the time specifications of this RFP (under 30 minutes). The longer film must have been completed no earlier than 2017 and be at least 59 minutes in length when originally distributed. The submitted budget for the revision must reflect the film’s entire cost, including the reversioning, and the source of all revenue to-date including in-kind support and screening fees. 

Filmmakers may submit applications for both Docs In Action programs. However, only one project can be submitted for funding per applicant and the applicant must be the director or the producer of the film. If selected, all projects must be fully completed no later than July 19, 2021. This will enable Working Films to begin scheduling screenings in the summer of 2021.

More information on eligibility requirements and how to apply can be found here

The deadline for both of Docs in Action is now closed. If you have questions, please contact us at