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AOL, Af-Am To Award Grants

By Morgan Grice, Contributing Writer

Harvard’s Department of Afro-American Studies and AOL Time Warner will award two $100,000 grants to documentary filmmakers for projects on the African American experience in America, the company announced on Monday.

AOL Time Warner said it may also broadcast winning projects on CNN and HBO, both divisions of AOL.

Richard D. Parsons, CEO of AOL Time Warner, approved the idea after Chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. first proposed it to HBO.

Gates, cofounder of Africana.com, a website which focuses on African American culture and is now part of AOL Time Warner’s media network, has worked in conjunction with HBO on programming projects in the past.

“We’re always honored and proud to partner with Harvard University and Skip Gates, particularly on a project that will explore both the experience of African Americans and their formative impact on the history and culture of the United States,” Parsons said in a press release regarding the new program.

The program will consist of two divisions—one for current news and one for general subjects—and the grants will be awarded after a panel reviews the entry proposals.

Selection of the finalists will be made by members of the Department of Afro-American Studies and the ultimate grant recipients will be chosen by a panel of both CNN and HBO executives, as well as such notable film experts as Spike Lee, Reginald Hudlin, and Shelby Stone.

The judges will be considering the proposal’s originality, general appeal and historical accuracy.

The awards will be made up of $25,000 in cash and $75,000 in production benefits to aid the filmmakers’ efforts.

A similar competition sponsored by HBO and the American Black Film Festival, the HBO Short Film Award, seeks to recognize talented young black filmmakers, but focuses on short fictional pieces, rather than documentary works.

“We expect to encourage new talent in the documentary field. There’s no easy way to get started in the programming business, and documentaries can be especially difficult,” an AOL Time Warner spokesperson wrote in an e-mail. “We believe this grant program will make it a little less difficult and, in the process, uncover some talented young makers of documentary films.”

A CNN spokesperson said that the program gives an “opportunity to provide a voice on issues that may have otherwise not been heard.”

“God knows we need more black filmmakers. This is the way to increase the flow of the pipeline,” Gates told The New York Times on Monday.

Entries will be accepted until May 15, and the award recipients will be notified in August. An AOL Time Warner spokesperson said the company has not yet decided whether the grant will be awarded annually.

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