When I interviewed for a job at Cinereach in the summer of 2008 I was seeking refuge and stability after several years as an independent producer. I was burnt out from hustling to get independent films funded and made, and from hearing “no” or “not right now” on a daily basis. I wanted to stay close to the work I loved but I needed a new perspective.
To be honest, I was surprised when I got hired for my initial job, which entailed running a fellowship program for emerging filmmakers. While I had applied for support from organizations like Cinereach, I had no experience on the other side of that mysterious equation. Who was I to decide who the beneficiaries of this program should be, and how to help them thrive?
Within a few weeks, though, it started to make more sense. First, Cinereach had been founded, not too long before I came along, from a place of exceptional empathy for the filmmaking teams it aimed to empower. At this company, it was more important that I knew how it felt to want support for a film than how to provide it.
It also became apparent that my colleagues were pretty new to what they were doing, too. They weren’t operating from an abundance of experience, they were learning on the job, and it was working pretty well for them so far. They weren’t looking for someone to come in and tell them how things should be done. They were looking for someone to help them poke holes in the status quo. Having the backing and the privilege to do this was a rare thing in our field, and they intended to make the most of it.
Our idealism and lack of experience as traditional gatekeepers meant we had to make some mistakes, but overall, it strikes me now that always doing things we didn’t know “couldn’t” be done has been the key to Cinereach’s success. We’ve been free to follow the pull towards projects others thought “risky,” and to learn that those projects served our mission far more than the ones with easy comps. In my own case, it gave me the opportunity to try out different roles to see what I could learn and achieve—in recent years, “Head of Communications”—that I might never have tried elsewhere.
Cinereach has gained a lot more experience, exposure, and expertise over the past decade. We’ve quadrupled in size, and gotten our hands dirty with every phase and facet of the filmmaking and distribution lifecycle. We know a lot more than we did at first about what it’s like to be a film company and foundation among other companies and foundations. This gives us more leverage when we go to bat for films we believe in, and more insight to create better support models. I’m proud to say, though, that we’ve never lost that early idea of staying close to those we exist to serve. And we’ve never stopped working at the edges of what we think we know.
By design, Cinereach is there for the people and stories that need a shield from the way things are supposed to be done, to clear the path for what they are burning and fighting to be. We recognize what a rare gift it is to have the time and resources to make (or even see) movies, and that the people and systems that dictate who does so hold tremendous responsibility to create equitable access.
(Cue “The Smallest Piece” from our first major production, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and some nostalgic sniffles as I wrap this up. Forgive me for being sentimental. Ten years is a long time!).
That striving, curious spirit has informed every Cinereach hire and infused our team culture in general. I will take it with me now, as I leave my long-held post, and my beloved teammates, moving on to new projects and to reconnect with the maker in me for a while.
For me, movies and stories have always been a source of meaning, connection, and hope for humanity in scary times. They’ve answered a longing to find community and, by extension, find myself—both when I’ve watched them and when I’ve joined chosen families of storytellers and supporters making and distributing them. I have been exceptionally lucky to experience both types of belonging working at Cinereach. We haven’t had all the answers, by any stretch, but every day we went out on a limb believing that the most vital stories know when, how, and through whom, they needed to be told, often before the powerful gatekeepers of culture are ready to let them through.
Ten years here have challenged, refreshed, and renewed me for the next act of my story. I’ll treasure my hard-won experience and knowledge, and carry the Cinereach torch by never letting how things are “supposed to be” limit what I believe is possible.