Understand guideline and funding cycles
MacArthur publishes program guidelines to help applicants determine whether their idea for a grant fits within a particular grantmaking strategy.
As a general rule, applicants should base this decision on three related criteria that appear in program guidelines: the topical focus addressed by the grantmaking strategy; the geographic area covered by the grantmaking strategy; and, finally, the type of funding (i.e., general operating support, research, program support, etc.) that supports the grantmaking strategy.
Like most strategic grantmaking foundations, the MacArthur Foundation considers funding only those applications that closely match the topical, geographic, and funding criteria for a specific grantmaking strategy.
Please note: Application guidelines for documentary film funding differ from guidelines for other MacArthur grantmaking strategies. Please precisely follow the instructions below for documentary film proposals.
MacArthur's goal in media grantmaking is to provide the public with high-quality, professionally-produced documentary films, deep and analytical journalism, and well-produced news and public affairs programming. In a media environment characterized by proliferating information sources of varying degrees of reliability, the Foundation seeks to support serious, fact-based journalism for television, radio and the web, the type of original reporting that is likely to be blogged about, linked to, tweeted, and otherwise circulated throughout the Internet. Programs supported by the Foundation inform and educate their viewers about important and under-reported topics, provide balance and accurate information, encourage global conversations, and use technology to tell stories in engaging and interactive ways.
MacArthur supports the production of social-issue documentary films on important contemporary topics, intended for a broad audience, particularly in the U.S. Over the last 30 years, we have supported over 200 films by some of the most critically acclaimed filmmakers in the country. Their documentary work combines exceptional storytelling with in-depth journalism. Many of these films have had a long life beyond festivals and broadcast, and been used in educational, community, and policymaking settings over many years, sparking conversations and activities that contribute to social and policy change.
MacArthur accepts applications for documentary production funding once or twice a year through the Documentary Open Call.
Thank you to everyone who applied to the 2013 MacArthur Foundation Documentary Open Call.
The last round of online applications were accepted in July of 2013. Semi-finalists were contacted by September 1 and asked to submit a full proposal and detailed budget. Funding decisions are expected in December. The films that will receive support will be announced in early January of 2014.
MacArthur's next Documentary Open Call will take place in Spring of 2014. Details and dates will be announced soon.Updated January 14, 2014
What We Fund
We seek to fund documentary projects that address the significant social challenges of our time or explore important but under-reported topics in a journalistic manner. Domestic and international topics are welcome, and preference will be given to projects that align with one of the foundation’s other initiatives. Please take time to familiarize yourself with the areas in which the MacArthur Foundation works at macfound.org when considering whether to apply.
Support will be provided primarily for production and post-production activities. We make grants to U.S.-based production companies and non-profit organizations, and preference is given to experienced filmmakers with a record of producing films that have been broadcast nationally and internationally and received critical recognition.
In selecting documentary films for support, the Foundation looks for projects that:
- Address important, contemporary social topics - international or domestic.
- Follow an issue over time, providing in-depth reporting that goes beyond conventional news coverage.
- Utilize compelling personal stories to engage viewers and create empathy.
- Appeal to a broad audience because they are accessible, interesting, and they treat different points of view respectfully.
- Are factually accurate and follow best practices in journalism and documentary ethics.
- Align with MacArthur’s programmatic interests in the U.S. and International Grantmaking areas.
- Have strong likelihood of broadcast in the U.S. and internationally, and feasible plans for broad dissemination in educational, community, or policy settings.
- Are led by experienced U.S.-based filmmaking teams that have past success in bringing a documentary project to successful completion and reaching broad U.S. audiences.
What We Don’t Fund
In general, we do not fund biographies, or films that focus primarily on one person. We will only consider documentaries about sports and the arts, provided that they also meet the criteria listed above, i.e., that they illuminate a pressing underlying social issue. We do not fund historical documentaries, advocacy films, or student work.
The following information is provided for reference, so that you can be aware of the MacArthur Foundation’s requirements for making grants before deciding whether to apply.
All activities that the MacArthur Foundation supports must be for charitable purposes. This means they must not give rise to private benefit or monetary profit to the organization receiving the grant, or any individual.
The MacArthur Foundation will make grants to organizations that do not have a 501c3 tax exempt letter from the IRS, including organizations that are incorporated as for-profit business corporations, with certain conditions, detailed below.
Non-profit corporations with 501c3 status:
If you are a non-profit corporation with 501c3 status, your organization must be able to provide a letter stating that the documentary seeking funds is a project of the organization, over which the organization has “complete financial and editorial control.” The Foundation’s Media Program does not make grants to fiscal agents, or fiscal sponsors.
Non-profit corporations without 501c3 status:
If you are not a tax exempt 501c3 organization, but have incorporated as a non-profit, in addition to the requirements above, your organization or production company must be able to provide the Foundation with proof of incorporation and organizational by-laws, and a Certificate of Good Standing from the state in which you incorporated. In addition, the purpose for which you are seeking funding must be for a charitable purpose. You must accurately state that the resulting documentary will be distributed to the public, at little or no cost, and provide a distribution plan with your proposal.
If you are incorporated as a for-profit company (a business corporation) applying for a grant to support a documentary film being made in the public interest, in addition to providing proof of incorporation, by-laws or operating agreement, and a Certificate of Good Standing from the state in which you incorporated, you must be able to accurately state in writing that all professional fees are being charged at or below cost, and that the project will not give rise to a profit for the organization, or anyone else, and provide a production project budget that supports your statement. You must also be able to accurately state that the resulting documentary will be distributed widely to the public, at little or no cost, and provide a distribution plan with your proposal.
All organizations applying for funding through the Documentary Open Call must be prepared to keep detailed financial records of any expenditures of the grant funds, and report these to the Foundation on a yearly basis for the duration of time during which the grant funds are being spent.
For More Information
Updated January 14, 2014