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Building "Hollywood East" in Baltimore

The Krieger School's new Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film and Media raises the profile of promising Baltimore-based artists thanks to a groundbreaking producer's charitable foundation
Posted October 11, 2016

Baltimore's burgeoning film scene is receiving a boost, thanks to a $1 million gift from the Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation. The Zaentz Foundation — a legacy of the late Academy Award-winning producer whose credits include "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Amadeus," and "The English Patient" — established The Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film and Media at Johns Hopkins. The program's mission: to identify and empower gifted local artists, especially those whose voices have largely been absent from mainstream American film.

The Zaentz Fund's centerpiece, the Bold Voices, New Paradigms incubator, recently welcomed its first semiannual cohort of 22 fellows. All have ties to Baltimore, Hopkins, or the Maryland Institute College of Art, and their proposed films will be produced in Baltimore City.

"The incubator is a bridge that goes two ways: we want to send Baltimore people into the larger film industry, but we also want to bring leaders of the film world here, since there are essential Baltimore stories that need to be told," says Roberto Busó-García, director of the Zaentz Innovation Fund and the Krieger School's graduate program in film and media. At no cost, fellows participate in workshops led by industry experts and work closely with assigned mentors who work in the highest levels of television networks, production houses, and internationally renowned film institutes, such as the Sundance Labs in Utah.

The Zaentz Foundation's interest in establishing this kind of program in Baltimore, and with Hopkins in particular, was no accident. Marvin Garbis, Engr '58, a senior judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, sits on the foundation's board of directors. He and his wife, Nancy V. Alquist, chief judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland, strongly advocated on the city's and institution's behalf.

"This simply couldn’t have happened without them," says Linda DeLibero, director of the Krieger School's program in film and media studies. "With their support, this program has the potential to be transformative, allowing for our local artists not only to have a source of funding for projects, but to grow a culture of filmmaking in Baltimore — something our community has dreamed of for a long time."

The inaugural fellows' projects ran the gamut from narrative screenplays to documentaries to virtual reality experiences. They spent countless hours over the summer working with their mentors — and one another — to perfect their project plans. Afterward, they pitched those plans to Busó-García and the Zaentz Fund's advisory team in hopes of securing the program's biggest carrot: seed grants from a development and production fund. In September, ten of the 18 inaugural incubator projects received a portion of nearly $200,000 from the Zaentz Fund.

"There are a lot of women, women of color, and LGBTQ people in this program. The Zaentz Fund is giving a lot of these marginalized people the chance to realize their projects, some of which they've been kicking around for years, needing that push to get started," says fellow Rahne Alexander. She and another fellow, Jaimes Mayhew, entered the incubator to hone their video installation project, "The LGBTQI+ Home Movie Quilt," which is currently on display at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Read on as Alexander and Mayhew, as well as other fellows, share thoughts about their incubator films in the following conversations with Rising.

"How can they reintegrate if they don't have any help?"
Dean Radcliffe-Lynes brings the difficult tales of previously incarcerated women to light in "It's Not Who I Am"

How to make an "LGBTQI+ Home Movie Quilt"
Rahne Alexander and Jaimes Mayhew seek even broader horizons for their Baltimore-based film project

At the corner of "big butts" and ballerinas
Barbara Asare-Bediako's experience in the Zaentz Fund incubator inspired her to to shift her film's focus from a criticism of cultural norms to a celebration of black women's body image