The Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film and Media at Johns Hopkins University is a one-of-a-kind incubator for emerging artists and rising change-makers within the film media landscape.

Since 2016, the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film and Media at Johns Hopkins University has run a fellowship program supporting Maryland’s early-career artists in filmmaking and technology-based media. These fellows represent the vibrancy and urgency of Baltimore-grown storytelling, leading the charge in the creative renaissance of the city, and contributing to economic renewal. The recent commitment of $3.1 million dollars by the Saul Zaentz Foundation, disbursed across the next three years, ensures funding for three more cohorts of fellows.

The Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund was created to address the deeply entrenched inequities within the film industry. “We target filmmakers outside the traditional racial, gender, and socioeconomic power center of the film industry,” explains Annette Porter, director of the fund and of the Johns Hopkins-MICA Film Centre. Porter, a Baltimore transplant, is a noted filmmaker producing award-winning films such as The Conductor, and The Aviatrix. Porter says, “Our fellows come from the Baltimore area – geographically and experientially far from the filmmaking hubs of NY and LA.”

“Not only have we been uniquely successful in nurturing new filmmakers, but we have done so in a way that defies U.S. industry statistics,” says Porter. “Our fellows are diverse— more than 50% come from the BIPOC community and 60% are female. 25% of last year’s grants support projects with LGBTQA+ content at the heart of their stories. My hope with this next pool of grantees is that they continue to dismantle the status quo, and ultimately bring about meaningful change and fantastic narratives.”

The fund, under Porter’s leadership, fosters its own hub within Baltimore at Johns Hopkins University. Each year, the fund connects a cohort of fellows to film and TV-industry professionals through a series of mentorship-based film labs. Within these labs, fellows deepen their skills in storytelling, documentary and narrative film production, screenplay writing and virtual reality development. Upon acceptance into the program, fellows also become eligible for seed grants for development and production. To date, the Innovation Fund has supported 140 fellows and awarded 93 grants, totaling more than $2,500,000.

“We work with partners like the Saul Zaentz Foundation to open the doors of the Hopkins community beyond academics,” says Christopher S. Celenza, dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. “As we strengthen the Baltimore film community, we strengthen the Masters of Film Program and help build the infrastructure for our graduates to be able to join a thriving film industry. We don’t want NYC and LA to be their only options.”

The impact of the Zaentz grants extends far beyond the individual fellows. The economy of Baltimore receives a measurable boost through city-based film development and production. In the past six years, projects funded by the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund have created 750 new jobs, from production crew to composers, transportation to catering. That’s approximately 150 job hires per cohort cycle.

The stories bursting from these projects are as diverse as the artists themselves, and it’s clear from the success of the Zaentz Fellows that Baltimore has a deep bench of creative talent, growing stronger by the year. Fund grantees have gone on to garner additional financial, distribution and marketing support from organizations like, PBS, OSI, and ProPublica. They have secured highly-coveted, competitive funding awards such as the ITVS Open Call Grant and the Black Public Media Incubator Grant, and their finished work has screened at the celebrated film festivals of Sundance, Tribeca, SXSW, and Black Star.

Staking its claim among these festivals, the New/Next Film Fest in Baltimore screened the work of three recent Fellows to great success as part of its inaugural season this August: Like You Think You Know Me, a narrative short by Marly Hernandez; Margie Soudek’s Salt and Pepper Shakers, a documentary short by Meredith Moore; and The Body Politic, a documentary feature by Gabriel Goodenough.

The fund encourages emerging filmmakers and media artists from the Baltimore area to apply for the upcoming 2024-25 lab and grant cycle:

About the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film and Media

Founded in 2016, the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film and Media at Johns Hopkins University seeks to further the pioneering legacy of Mr. Zaentz by connecting the Baltimore creative community with prestigious artists, veteran executives and successful entrepreneurs in an incubator program designed to nurture project ideas that will advance the art and craft of audiovisual media

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