For a documentary film to make a difference, a solid strategy for audience engagement and strong partnerships are key. Filmmakers often lack time to do this work themselves or the expertise and the funds to pay for it. Emerging artists, creators of color, and other underrepresented artists can face the biggest hurdles, despite the potential of their projects. Working Films’ response to this challenge is the Impact Kickstart, a program offering in-kind partnership and strategy development to underrepresented documentary directors with feature films in progress that hold great promise to catalyze action to address critical issues of our time.

Now in its third year, the Impact Kickstart program has helped underrepresented filmmakers create strategic goals for impact and specific plans to engage future partners, funders, and audiences in meaningful ways.

Up to four filmmakers receive an Impact Kickstart from Working Films each year. Those who qualify include directors of color, indigenous directors, undocumented directors, female and/or gender nonconforming directors with a majority female and/or gender nonconforming film team, directors who identify as LGBTQ+, and differently-abled directors can apply. Each selected filmmaker will receive in-kind support from Working Films for the planning, facilitation and reporting out from a day-long strategy summit with potential partners and funders for their film. This summit will leave filmmakers well positioned to carry out an impact campaign with a clear strategy, goals, partners and a report that can be used as a Letter of Inquiry for potential funders.

For nearly two decades, Working films has planned and led strategy summits to inform the plans for a film’s impact and solidify the commitments of partner organizations. Our team works in collaboration with filmmakers to outline priorities including: potential partners, target audiences, screening locations, and a clear vision for impact. From there, we work with filmmakers to create an invite list of aligned organizations, build out an agenda, and coordinate the logistics of the strategy summit. Both the film team and attending organizations will walk away from the summit with a clear sense  of each other’s goals, current and future opportunities to leverage the film, and commitments to move the impact campaign forward in priority locations and in front of key audiences.

To read highlights of our work with past Impact Kickstart recipients click the link below.


2018 Impact Kickstart Recipients

ALWAYS IN SEASON by Jacqueline Olive (Director/Producer) and Jessica Devaney (Producer)

As the trauma of more than a century of lynching African Americans bleeds into the present, Always in Season follows relatives of the perpetrators and victims seeking justice and reconciliation in the midst of racial profiling, police shootings, and heated national debate about the value of black lives.

CRIP CAMP by Jim LeBrecht (Director/Producer), Nicole Newnham (Director/Producer), and Sara Bolder (Producer)

Down the road from Woodstock, in the early 1970s, a parallel revolution blossomed in a ramshackle summer camp for disabled teenagers. Crip Camp explores summer camp awakenings that would transform lives and shape the disability rights movement, and America, forever. Told from the point of view of former camper Jim LeBrecht, and steeped in the humor and music of the era, the film traces the journeys of campers up to the present day, in this untold story of a powerful journey towards inclusion.

DECADE OF FIRE by Vivian Vazquez (Director/Producer), Gretchen Hildebran (Director/Producer), Julia Steele Allen (Producer/Impact Producer), and Neyda Martinez (Producer)

As cities today struggle with gentrification and social inequity, Decade of Fire offers an intimate historic portrait of the burning of the Bronx in the 1970’s, transcending era and geography. Set against irrefutably insurmountable odds, and told from the perspectives of the people who survived it, the film’s heroes demonstrate the lengths to which everyday people will go to save their communities; in this case – defending and rebuilding their neighborhoods with their bare hands.

NAILED IT by Adele Pham (Director/Producer) and Kelvin Saint Pham (Producer)

Nailed It chronicles the genesis and 40 year legacy of the Vietnamese nail salon and its influence on an $8 billion-dollar American industry. For mixed-race Vietnamese filmmaker Adele Pham, it’s personal as she confronts her conflicts with the culture and discovers a place within a trade seen by everyone but known to few. 

2019 Impact Kickstart Recipients

EATING UP EASTER by Sergio Mata’u Rapu (Director/Producer) and Elena Rapu (Producer)

The iconic statues and sensationalized “mysteries” of Easter Island (Rapa Nui) have drawn the interest of the world for centuries, attracting curious visitors to its shores. Today, this tiny, barren island is experiencing an economic boon as tourism skyrockets. Yet the indigenous culture and the island’s fragile environment are suffering.

Eating Up Easter, directed by native Rapanui filmmaker Sergio Mata’u Rapu, explores the dilemma his people are facing. Crafted as a story passed down to his newborn son, Sergio intertwines the authentic history of the island with the stories of four islanders. In their own voices, these Rapanui reveal the reality of modern life and the actions they are taking to preserve their culture and environment amidst rapid development.

GOING TO MARS: THE NIKKI GIOVANNI PROJECT Directed and Produced by Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster

Going to Mars is a feature length documentary film in which Nikki Giovanni, one of America’s greatest living poets, orators and social commentators, will compel audiences to laugh and cry using her poetry and biting social commentary.  As a social commentator Nikki Giovanni stands toe-to-toe with the best. She has the satirical wit of a Will Rogers and the comedic timing of David Letterman. She has influenced both her contemporaries, from Muhammad Ali to Maya Angelou, as well as today’s hip-hop artists such as Kanye West. She in turn demands, using a contrarian point of view, that we question our assumptions about race, gender, equity and privilege and challenges us to hope and dream for a better tomorrow.

THE FIRST RAINBOW COALITION Directed and Produced by Ray Santisteban

In 1969, the Chicago Black Panther Party began to form alliances across lines of race and ethnicity with other community-based movements in the city, including the Latino group the Young Lords Organization and the southern whites of the Young Patriots organization. Banding together in one of the most segregated cities in postwar America to collectively confront issues such as police brutality and substandard housing, they called themselves the Rainbow Coalition. By 1973, the coalition had collapsed under the weight of relentless harassment by local and federal law enforcement. Although short-lived, it had an outsize impact: Breaking down barriers between communities, it created a permanent shift in Chicago politics and an organizing model for future activists and politicians across the nation. The First Rainbow Coalition tells the movement’s little-known story through rare archival footage and interviews with former coalition members.

WARRIOR WOMEN by Christina King (Director/Producer), Elizabeth Castle (Director/Producer), and Anna Marie Pitman (Producer)

In the 1970s, with the swagger of unapologetic Indianness, organizers of the American Indian Movement (AIM) fought for Native liberation and survival as a community of extended families. Warrior Women is the story of Madonna Thunder Hawk, one such AIM leader who shaped a kindred group of activists’ children – including her daughter Marcy – into the “We Will Remember” Survival School as a Native alternative to government-run education. Together, Madonna and Marcy fought for Native rights in an environment that made them more comrades than mother-daughter. Today, with Marcy now a mother herself, both are still at the forefront of Native issues, fighting against the environmental devastation of the Dakota Access Pipeline and for Indigenous cultural values. 

2020 Impact Kickstart Recipients

DUTY FREE by Sian-Pierre Regis (Director) and Meredith Chin (Producer)

After a 75-year-old immigrant mother gets fired from her job, her son takes her on a bucket-list adventure to reclaim her life. As she struggles to find work, he documents a journey that uncovers the betrayals plaguing her past and the economic insecurity shaping not only her future, but also that of an entire generation. Duty Free is a personal adventure documentary that uniquely examines issues of aging, economic insecurity, and family.

LITTLE SALLIE WALKER by Marta Effinger-Crichlow (Director/ Producer), Ann Bennett (Producer), Michael Dinwiddie (Producer), Princess A. Hairston (Editor/Producer)

Play is a lifeline for black girls across the generations. Little Sallie Walker tells the story of Patricia, Billie Jean, Raisha, Kristi and a collection of resilient black women and girls, who understand that coming of age in America has involved creating worlds-of-make-believe through different types of play. Patty cake, dress up, double dutch, doll-making, jacks, and hide-and-seek have offered sanctuary from discrimination, violence, and poverty. From New York, Alabama, California, and Washington State, they share and demonstrate how play lets them take their place in the center of their universe. While it exposes the beauty of black girl culture, play also fuels painful recollections of their struggles within their communities and in the larger society. In this impassioned and lyrical story, black women and girls attempt to find and affirm their whole selves as they navigate America.

SOUNDS LIKE THUNDER:THE REVIVAL OF THE POOR PEOPLE’S CAMPAIGN by Dara Kell (Director) and Sabrina Schmidt Gordon (Producer)

Sounds Like Thunder follows civil rights leader Reverend Dr. William Barber as he revives Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1968 Poor People’s Campaign. Told through song, prayer and personal narratives, Sounds Like Thunder is an intimate account of a “season of resistance” as a diverse coalition of thousands unite to end poverty and heal the nation.

UNAPOLOGETIC by Ashley O’Shay (Director/Producer) and Morgan Elise Johnson (Producer)

During the height of the Movement for Black Lives in Chicago, Unapologetic captures a community of millennial organizers confronting an administration complicit in state violence against its Black residents. Janaé and Bella, two Black queer women organizers, provide an intimate peek into the personal and political battles that transformed Chicago, from the police murder of Rekia Boyd to the election of Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

The Impact Kickstart is supported by grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Perspective Fund.