join renew donate

Documentary Development Initiative

Applications for the Initiative have Closed.


The Documentary Development Initiative is a partnership between The Gotham and HBO Documentary Films. Now in its second year, the program is for storytellers who identify as BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and/or storytellers with disabilities. It seeks to provide resources to develop thought-provoking, character-driven ideas for documentary films and limited series. 

Through this initiative, filmmakers will receive grants of $50,000 for research and creative development at an early stage. HBO and The Gotham will provide resources and mentorship to support the development of documentary projects. Initial funding may be used for creative development and ideation, research, treatment development, securing access, initial shooting and the production of work samples, trailers, etc. 

A grant from the fund would usually be the “first money in” from an outside source, though in some cases it could be a supplement to another initial small grant. The opportunity will exist for select grantees to receive follow-up grants for additional development. Grantees will also be paired with an established documentary filmmaker who will serve as their mentor for the duration of the program.

Ideas generated through the initiative will be offered to HBO on a “first-look” basis, giving HBO the first opportunity to make an offer to develop them further. Funding for these grants is sponsored by HBO Documentary Films and WBD Access.


  • – Filmmakers must be 18 years of age or older.
  • – Filmmakers must submit two films they’ve directed – either two short films OR one short film and one feature film. Filmmakers who have directed more than one feature film are not eligible.
  • – Filmmakers must be allowed to work in the United States.
  • – Projects should not have funding in place from any broadcast or digital platforms or any other US distribution entity.

Info Session


  • – Applications Open: Tuesday, August 1
  • – Submission Deadline: Thursday, August 31, 11:59pm HST (Hawaii Time)
  • – Program Begins: November 2023
  • – Monthly Meetings: December 2023 – September 2024

Application Materials

A complete submission to the Documentary Development Initiative will include the following materials:

  • Bio: Tell us about yourself and provide a short statement on your connection to the BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and/or persons with disabilities community.
  • Resume/CV
  • Statement of Intent: Indicate topics that are of interest to you for potential exploration and development, and/or 2–5 ideas that you connect with most. Explain why these topics are important to you and how your past work might influence or inform what you want to accomplish next.
  • Creative Voice Essay: Tell us about your creative voice and why you think it has been historically excluded in the documentary space.
  • Letter of Recommendation: A one-page letter from a colleague/mentor on why you would make an ideal candidate for this program.
  • Two samples of previously completed work. (documentary shorts or features)

Please note: This application CANNOT be saved mid-edit. We recommend that you consult the application and compose answers to the essay-type questions in an offline document, then copy your answers into the application fields in one sitting.

2022-2023 Cohort

The first iteration of the Documentary Development Initiative launched in November 2022. Learn more about current and previous cohorts.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I have never directed a documentary short or feature. Am I still eligible?

A: No. Priority for the Documentary Development Initiative will go to applicants who can submit two nonfiction work samples they have directed. Those with no directing experience are not eligible.

Q: I am an American filmmaker working overseas. May I still apply?

A: Yes. Documentary Development Initiative submissions are open to any filmmaker based in the U.S., meaning any U.S. citizen or anyone working and living in the U.S.

Q: I am currently in production on my project. May I still apply?

A: No. The Documentary Development Initiative supports filmmakers whose projects are at the early idea stage. Projects already in production are not eligible.

Q: I have directed multiple documentary features. May I still apply?

A: No. The Documentary Development Initiative supports early-career filmmakers who have directed no more than one documentary feature film.

Q: Do you accept work samples that are works-in-progress?

A: Yes. You can submit an unfinished work-in-progress as one or both of your work samples.

Q: What is the ideal type of work sample?

A: You should submit what you believe are your strongest nonfiction projects as your work samples. That said, some types of work samples are more ideal than others. We prefer, when possible, completed films. Rough cuts and works-in-progress are accepted as well. We also accept selected scenes/stringouts of current projects, though these are less desirable than rough cuts or completed films. Lastly, we do accept trailers/sizzle reels, but these are the least desirable type of work sample.

Q: How often will I meet with my mentor?

A: Filmmakers can expect to meet with their mentors once a month.

Q: Do I need to live in New York to attend this program in-person?

A: No. The program will take place virtually; eligible filmmakers are encouraged to apply worldwide.

Q: I have a filmmaking partner. Can we apply as a team?

A: No. The Documentary Development Initiative is designed for individual directors. We do not accept team applications. For filmmaking teams, we would encourage each director to apply separately to the program.

Q: I have additional questions. Who should I contact?

A: Contact The Gotham’s Nonfiction Programs Manager at [email protected].