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Documentary Development Initiative

The application window for the Documentary Development Initiative is now closed.


The Documentary Development Initiative is a new partnership between The Gotham and HBO Documentary Films. The program is created for storytellers who identify as BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and/or storytellers with disabilities. The program’s intent is to provide resources to develop thought-provoking, character-driven contemporary ideas for documentary films and limited series. 

Through this initiative, up to 10 selected filmmakers will be given 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 this grant is sponsored by: HBO Documentary Films, OneFifty, and WBD Access.

Watch our Documentary Development Initiative Info Session here!


  • — 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.
  • — Applicants who advance in the application process may be asked for a letter of recommendation from a TV/film director, producer, writer, or professor.
  • — Projects should not have funding in place from any broadcast or digital platforms or any other US distribution entity.


— Submission Deadline: July 26

— Program Begins: October 2022

— Monthly Meetings: October 2022 – March 2023

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 some 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.
  • — Two samples of previously completed work. (documentary shorts or features)

Please note: This application can’t be saved and returned to for more editing. We recommend that you consult the application and compose answers to the essay-type questions in an offline document and then copy your answers into the application fields in one sitting.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

A: Yes. Documentary Development Initiative submissions are open to any filmmakers 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: How often will I meet with my mentor?

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

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 additional questions. Who should I contact?

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