Steven Spielberg Leads $2 Million in Funding to Support Films Telling Diverse Jewish Stories

Brian Welk
·5-min read

A new L.A.-based film foundation called Jewish Story Partners launched Thursday with the goal of expanding the range of stories reflecting Jewish lives, with Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw backing the organization.

Jewish Story Partners supports independent films that give fresh, nuanced perspectives to tell a diverse spectrum of Jewish experiences, histories and cultures, and the group was also founded with the mission of addressing the glaring gap of funding in Jewish stories. The film foundation hopes to explore untold narratives and re-cast familiar ones, preserve historical memory, surprise with new ideas, challenge established positions, confront difficult realities and breach artistic frontiers.

Filmmaker Roberta Grossman will serve as JSP’s producing director, and veteran film festival programmer Caroline Libresco, formerly Sundance Catalyst’s director, will serve as artistic director. The foundation will soon announce its first round of grantees.

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“There is nothing like storytelling to foster connections and help us understand life’s deepest truths,” Spielberg and Capshaw said in a joint statement. “We are especially proud to help establish this initiative — which will make visible a fuller range of Jewish voices, identities, experiences, and perspectives — at a time when social divisions run painfully deep and mainstream depictions too often fail to reflect the Jewish community in all its complexity. We hope that JSP projects will long be a source of meaning within the Jewish community and beyond.”

Jewish Story Partners is launching in a moment of rising anti-Semitism in America and around the world, but also as Jewish people are grappling with their “whiteness.” An estimated 15% of American Jews are considered Jews of color, and Mizrachi and Sephardi people make up more than half of Israel’s Jewish population. The goal of JSP is to expand the Jewish story and embrace its own range of diversity, welcoming more voices and telling stories that are not always redemptive or flattering.

In 2021, the organization will provide $500,000 in grants to U.S.-based feature length documentaries. And in the coming years, JSP has plans to increase its funding and expand eligibility to encompass international filmmakers and fiction projects. The inaugural round of grantees are soon to be announced and submissions are now open for a second funding round, with applications due on July 1, 2021. Filmmakers may learn more about those grants here.

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“We’re thrilled to create something that is both additive to the independent film community as well as critical to the Jewish arts and culture landscape. With the support of our incredible partners, Righteous Persons Foundation, Maimonides Fund, and Jim Joseph Foundation, we can accelerate the production and impact of excellent independent films,” co-directors Grossman and Libresco said in a statement.

Marta Kauffman, a veteran writer and producer and now a Jewish Story Partners board member, said in a statement, “Storytelling is crucial so that we may understand each other. Jewish stories are important, not only so others may understand us, but so we may understand ourselves. As a member of the inaugural board of directors of Jewish Story Partners, I’m looking forward to helping create a stable and lasting funding organization that can fill the funding gap for independent filmmakers who want to tell a Jewish story.”

Founding board members for Jewish Story Partners include film producer Dan Cogan, entertainment attorney Victoria Cook, film impact executive Wendy Cohen, political and equity strategist Ginna Green, writer, producer and showrunner Marta Kauffman, non-profit executive director and television executive Simon Kilmurry, executive producer Nancy Spielberg and historian and professor of modern Jewish culture Sarah Abrevaya Stein.

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Initial funding for JSP is provided by the Righteous Persons Foundation, which previously supported The Lynn and Jules Kroll Fund for Jewish Documentary Film, housed in the now-shuttered Foundation for Jewish Culture. A matching gift was received from lead partner Maimonides Fund, with additional support from Jim Joseph Foundation.

“We believe strongly in the power of storytelling to shape how people see the world and themselves,” Mark Charendoff, president of Maimonides Fund, said in a statement. “We are excited to support JSP’s mission of getting more films out there that offer surprising and nuanced perspectives on Jewish life, and showcase the richness and diversity of the Jewish experience.”

“Education and connection are the core engine driving everything we support at the Jim Joseph Foundation,” Barry Finestone, president and CEO of the Jim Joseph Foundation, said in a statement. “We’re proud to support Jewish Story Partners because we view film as an electric, yet under-utilized conduit for Jewish education — translating knowledge into a medium that resonates with the next generation.”

“The range of films championed by Jewish Story Partners will expand our collective awareness of what it means to be Jewish today, and in the process help build a world where we all belong, no matter our religion, where we come from, or what we look like,” South Carolina-based partner and chief strategy officer at Uprise and Jewish Story Partners Board member Ginna Green said in a statement.

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