This year’s recipients are Jessie Adler for The Boxers of Brule, Matt Kay for Little Miss Sumo and Taylor Hess and Erin Sanger for Mack Wrestles. All three of the 2018 grantees showcase athletes as fighters overcoming battles of various kinds both in and out of the ring.
Each filmmaking team chosen will receive a grant ranging from $15,000 to $20,000 to use towards the development, production, or post-production of their film, as well as receive year-round consultation and mentorship.
Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Roger Ross Williams, whose credits include Life, Animated and God Loves Uganda, will mentor Kay for Little Miss Sumo. Editor David Teague (E-Team, Cutie and the Boxer, Life Animated) will mentor Adler for Boxers of Brule. Mack Wrestles’ mentor will be selected this summer.
“Opportunities for young filmmakers to receive this level of mentorship are rare, and I’m thrilled to work with TFI to ensure a talented storyteller like Matt Kay is given honest feedback to elevate his great film,” Williams said.
“These talented filmmakers have put together three inspirational narratives, and we’re honored to be part of their journey,” said Adam Neuhaus, ESPN Films Director of Development. “We look forward to helping bring these films to life.”
The TFI/ESPN Short Documentary Program supports short documentaries that elevate true stories about sports-driven topics, individuals, and communities. The program serves emerging storytellers whose perspectives and backgrounds have been historically underrepresented on both sides of the camera.
In recent years, only film graduate students could apply for the prize. This year, entry was expanded to include all emerging documentarians. Previous mentors include filmmaker Lucy Walker (The Crash Reel, The Lion’s Mouth Opens), and editors Nels Bangerter (Let the Fire Burn) and Enat Sidi (The Wolfpack).
Here is more information on each project, with descriptions and bios provided by TFI:
The Boxers of Brule
Shaionna, a young Lakota woman, creates a girls’ boxing team to combat the youth suicide epidemic threatening the Lower Brule Sioux Reservation. With the odds stacked against her, Shaionna must confront her own demons as she fights to bring hope and healing to her community.
Jessie Adler (Director): Jessie is a documentary filmmaker and cinematographer based in Brooklyn, NY. In 2014 she began working as a Human Rights Storyteller for EarthRights International, collaborating with indigenous communities in the Mekong and Amazon regions to advocate for human and environmental rights. Her dedication to using video for advocacy and empowerment lead her to the School of Visual Arts’ Social Documentary Film program, where she received an MFA in May 2018.
Shiala Grey-Sky King is Co-Producer and Hanna Nordenswan is Associate Producer.
Little Miss Sumo
Banned from competing professionally, female sumo wrestling champion Hiyori will have to retire at the age of 21. Fighting tradition, Hiyori embarks on a remarkable journey, confronting obstacles both inside and outside the ring in an attempt to help change Japan’s national sport forever.
Matt Kay (Director): Matt is an emerging British documentary filmmaker. He co-founded Walks Of Life Films in 2012 concentrating on producing socially conscious documentaries. In the past five years he’s directed and shot a variety of projects for broadcast, festivals and online, whether it be in Egypt during the Arab Spring or a Brazilian favela during the World Cup.
Chi Thai is Executive Producer, Andrew Carver and Didi Mae Hand are Producers.
Transgender wrestler Mack Beggs broke records and changed history by winning the Texas state title two years in a row. With high school ending and college on the horizon, the sports champion, national activist, and high school hero must grapple with what comes next.
Taylor Hess (Co-Director): Taylor is a filmmaker, journalist, and contributing editor for Filmmaker Magazine. She recently associate produced a pilot for CNN Films, hosted by Janet Mock and previously worked as a researcher for Alex Gibney’s Jigsaw Productions on a documentary series for ESPN Films. She produced The Morning After, a short film that premiered at the 2018 Cleveland International Film Festival. Taylor is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Erin Sanger (Co-Director): Erin is a filmmaker from Denver, Colorado whose films often explore stories of healing. Her directorial work has screened at over fifty film festivals internationally including SXSW and Tribeca and has been featured on National Geographic, The Atlantic, PBS, Topic, and Hulu. She is currently directing her first feature-length documentary, which received NYU’s Richard Vague Production Fund Award for 2017. She is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.