Film Grant Statement & Synopsis Examples

Applying to the ISF Film Grant?
Find examples of what you'll need to submit for your Artistic Statement and Documentary or Narrative Synopsis below.

Documentary Statement & Synopsis

Artistic Statement: Example of 2016 Film Grantee Assia Boundoui's The Feeling of Being Watched
"Somewhere in the gray dissonant border between the hyphens of my Muslim and Arab-Americanness, I have discovered that my positionality allows me a liminal gaze: because I stand in between boundaries, I am uniquely positioned to observe. And what I see altogether depends on where I stand. I make film in order try to prod and bend my ways of seeing, and in doing so better understand it. I make film to tell stories that inhabit the gaze and positionality of those whose eyes we rarely see the world through. I make film to challenge notions of how we see things, to disrupt status quos that have been petrified in particular angles, to shatter conventional optics and create new ones. I am interested in embracing the human-filtering aspect of cinema and in acknowledging my subjectivity and seeing what new places of understanding it can take me. And in doing so transform the way I see and contribute to new ways of seeing things we've looked at the same way for a long time. I grew up in a Muslim-American community on the south suburbs of Chicago, where people suspected that all of the phones were tapped, that there were cameras posted on street lamps and that FBI agents were staked out in cars around our mosque. More than a decade of an intense FBI terrorism investigation focused on my neighborhood never resulted in a single terrorism conviction of anyone in my community, and yet the red paint of terrorism that we were collectively coated with, has never come off. Unwarranted suspicion transforms communities into places where neighbors no longer trust each other, where individuals censor themselves, where philanthropy and organizing are chilled and where everyone lives with an unhealthy dose of fear and paranoia. I feel that it is today more imperative than ever to tell human stories from the POV of American Muslims on the the profound impact the feeling of being watched is having on our sense of self, our ability to create and connect, our right to dissent, and the impact it's having on our collective democracy. So much of my upbringing in Bridgeview, IL before and after 9/11, was related to how people on the outside viewed me/us as Arab and Muslim. Through the lens of local TV news cameras, through the gaze of federal agents who were observing, through the lenses of concealed cameras and CCTV video,I felt that the American public and government saw me and my community as if we were all a bunch of terrorists. It is the very law of physics that observation changes that which is being observed… what of surveillance, the hostile one-way gaze? I want to explore how this outside gaze affected and changed my community? How our perception of ourselves was altered and challenged?"
Project Synopsis: Example of 2016 Film Grantee Assia Boundoui's The Feeling of Being Watched

"Growing up in Bridgeview, IL in the 90's, my siblings and I would walk to our private Islamic school, which was right across the street from our neighborhood mosque. All of our moms knew each other, all of our dads were friends — it was a tight knit community. And for as long as I can remember, most people have suspected that our neighborhood is under surveillance. Twice in my memory, my family got house calls from FBI agents who wanted to question my parents.After the second visit, my mom regularly checked under the kitchen table for bugs. She started to suspect that some of our neighbors were informants. These feelings of paranoia in my neighborhood that began in the 90's, got really intense after 9/11, and have never gone away —many suspect that the neighborhood is still under surveillance. The Feeling of Being Watched follows my personal quest to discover the truth about why and how my community fell under blanket government surveillance. Through this journey I attempt to come to some personal closure on the effects of decades of surveillance on myself and my community, and at the same time get some public accountability for what happened. I go door-to-door in my community hearing seemingly unbelievable stories of surveillance from my neighbors - women, moms. Some of the men in my community's leadership discourage me from digging into this story, and from trying to look for skeletons in closets, but I persist anyway. While collecting anecdotal evidence in my community, I dive into the public record and discover old newspaper microfilm that reference an FBI investigation that was opened in the mid-90's codenamed ‘Vulgar Betrayal.'I have a major breakthrough -- I receive 1,000 pages of a redacted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) declassified by the FBI, detailing the breadth and depth of “Operation Vulgar Betrayal.” It turns out the stories my neighbors were telling that sounded paranoid are true — Vulgar Betrayal was the largest domestic counter-terrorism investigation conducted before 9/11, and it was focused on my neighborhood. I find out that the investigation involved 40 FBI field offices and surveillance of 70 mosques, charities and schools across the U.S. In the film's climax, I meet with the two FBI agents who spearheaded ‘Operation Vulgar Betrayal,' and have a conversation with the agents who patrolled and surveilled my neighborhood for years, face-to-face. At the end of the film I meet with the current FBI Special Agent in Charge in Chicago to question him about ongoing surveillance in my neighborhood, in attempt to get some accountability for what happened in the past, and find out more about what is going on today. I share my discoveries with my family and community in an attempt to get to a place of healing, as a result of making what has been hidden for so many years, transparent."

Narrative Statement & Synopsis

Artistic Statement: Example of 2020 Film Grantee Adeel Ahmed's In Search of Tomorrow

IN SEARCH OF TOMORROW is a stylized drama about a woman’s journey to freedom out of the refugee world. Sadia is a Pakistani woman who arrives in New York only to be denied entry and sent back to her refugee camp in Turkey after the Trump administration enforces the “Muslim ban.” I’m attracted to such a story for the opportunity to take a macro issue and explore it under a microscopic lens, in this case, Sadia. Often times the media talks cover and talks about government policies. However, the impact of these policies are overlooked. I am interested in exploring the domino effect of drastic and extreme decision making. In Search of Tomorrow draws from the experiences of imbalance dynamics in dysfunctional environments, which are fueled by religious, racial and class tensions. Having traveled to Greece, I have seen firsthand the risk refugees are willing to take to make a better life for themselves. I find myself asking, what happens to one’s identity when they are displaced from their world? How do people cope with finding a purpose in life? These forces are at work in the background of In Search of Tomorrow, which primarily seeks to take the viewer on an intense, spiritual and confrontational ride, but leave them with questions about wider social implications. The script draws from influences such as Asghar Farhadi for  his use of dialogue to convey power and innocence, and his depiction of finding the gaps in life that are filled through soul searching moments. His ability to drive the root of the issue in A SEPARTION and THE SALESMAN are key elements for this film. Ramin Baharni is an influence in my writing, and films like MAN PUSH CART and 99 HOMES inform the story for the ways they explore the impact of large scale issues dwindled down to one person. Another inspiration is Jacques Audiard’s DHEEPAN for the way the camera moves through the space of the compounds and finding ones self-worth in the world unknown. Furthermore, I see Andrea Arnold’s work as a strong visual and tonal reference point, for its stylized and clinical camera work which pushes a sense of inescapable foreboding, and the way that characters conduct their affairs -- this deliberate visual language informs IN SEARCH OF TOMORROW."

Project Synopsis: Example of 2020 Film Grantee Adeel Ahmed's In Search of Tomorrow

"The day is January 27, 2017 and Sadia sits in an airport interrogation room. She has just arrived to New York. It’s explained to Sadia that she will be sent back to Turkey because of the new travel ban implemented by the government. Sadia stands in line at an airport security check in Turkey. She looks through her bag. She cuts open a piece of the bag that was sewn together and she takes out a couple of passports. She opens a couple of them, each with her face and a different name. She chooses one before getting to the counter. She successfully passes through. She arrives at a house and meets with someone and explains to them that she needs her money back for the flight. The person tells Sadia that the ban isn't their fault, no refund. After being threatened, she begins to leave the house. On the way out, she sees car keys sitting on a table. She picks them and rushes out, jumps in a car and drives off stealing it. After some time, she stops at a gas station for gas and breakfast. While eating, she hears banging in the car. She opens the trunk and discovers a young boy who was kidnapped. This is Anwar. Anwar sees Sadia's papers and realizes she's fleeing. Sadia tells him that she is leaving the country and going to the border / sea to get on a boat. The kid pleas and asks for Sadia to take him with her. Sadia says no and then Anwar tells Sadia that driving as a single person won't look good nor is it convincing and that having a kid to show family will help her. Sadia contemplates, Anwar has a point. She takes him with her. In the middle of the night, Sadia wakes up to see Anwar is missing. She hears commotion outside. She looks out of the window and sees fire. She runs out and discovers the car is on fire. She then sees the kid being kidnapped. There's a struggle. Sadia accidentally kills a kidnapper. Anwar is safe. But now they don’t have a car and Sadia is a killer. On the run and trying to make to the sea on time, Anwar and Sadia hitchhike. They end up staying the night in a small room. Anwar talks about dreams while falling asleep. What he thinks escaping will bring him. Finding his family. going to school, making friends. Anwar asks Sadia about her dreams. Sadia stays silent and pretends to be asleep. Sadia and Anwar get a ride to the port but then they discover that they are being followed by police. They arrive but the chaos of refugees getting in a boat and being chased by cops erupts the environment. People fill the last of the boats. There isn't enough room for two more people. Sadia decides to give her last spot to Anwar. They have a moment. Sadia knows she's doomed but Anwar has a future."