Great Chicago Pitch a Smashing Success, Jennifer Huang’s ‘The Long Rescue’ Wins Top Prize

Think TED Talk meets Shark Tank meets Kickstarter. The Great Chicago Pitch took center stage this month, showcasing diverse, emerging documentary storytellers and celebrating the power of community. The GCP is the signature pitching event for Oscar-winning documentary investor and incubator collective Chicago Media Project, founded by Paula Froehle and Steve Cohen. At the conclusion of the GCP on June 17th at Resolution Digital Studios, the audience, along with a panel of jurors, awarded one of the six films the top prize of a $50,000 grant from CMP’s Shifting Voices Film Fund.

When it was all said and done, the top finisher in the inaugural cycle of the Shifting Voices Film Fund, and the recipient of a $50,000 grant, was Jennifer Huang’s The Long Rescue. Keep reading for SCREEN’s chat with Jennifer.

The filmmakers and event team for the Great Chicago Pitch

Huang’s win placed a joyous exclamation point on a fast-paced and inspiring afternoon uplifting six powerful documentary films, chosen by a jury of industry professionals after an exhaustive curatorial process. Audiences witnessed a rare moment in the filmmaking process and relished the opportunity to meet the next generation of boundary-pushing creators. These filmmakers’ newest works push the art of documentary forward with incredible stories while centering film at the core of social change.

“We are thrilled at the success of this years GCP, Chicago Media Project Executive Director Sammi Verhey shared with SCREEN. “After a three year hiatus we raised over $100k in the room for six incredible films, which surpassed our goal set in 2019. This demonstrates the importance and success of our inaugural Shifting Voices Film Fund, which elevates the voices of filmmakers of color from around the US. We look forward to next year’s crop.”

Jennifer Huang on Her Journey and Her Win at the Great Chicago Pitch

Jennifer Huang reacts to winning the $50K prize at the GCP

“I’ve been filming since 2015, but as a first-time filmmaker the only financial support I’ve received is from friends and family,” Great Chicago Pitch winner Huang shared with SCREEN. “Most of my collaborators are volunteers or have cut their rates, and I’ve relied on pro bono feedback from fellow filmmakers, including many versions of my pitch for this event. I have received many, many rejections from gatekeepers. The Shifting Voices Film Fund is the first institutional production funding that I’ve received, so it means the world to me. I am so grateful to the team who put this event together, and who introduced me to an inspiring group of filmmakers who I was humbled to share the stage with.”

Huang chose a more challenging path to drive the film forward, but she is finding support nevertheless. “Because I have taken an unconventional approach to the consent process, including allowing the protagonists (all survivors of sex trafficking and/or sexual abuse) to review their stories and opt out of the film if they choose, I have been warned that funders and broadcasters would be wary of taking on my film,” Huang explained to SCREEN. “The fact that CMP, Mezcla Media, and the jury have found value in this process is hugely affirming. I realize I have found an amazing community who share these values of protecting protagonists and are willing to join this unpredictable journey. I am so deeply grateful that they have come together to create this transformational opportunity.”

More from the Great Chicago Pitch

In addition to the $50,000 juried prize, the GCP served as a live crowdfunding event, as audience members participated in donor “giving circles” to award funds to the films that move them, adding excitement and engagement to the day. The overriding goal of the GCP is to cultivate a vital new opportunity to access industry and public visibility for BIPOC creators and projects.

Let’s take a look at some photos from the festivities, courtesy of James Richards IV aka Distract Your Face

The Road Ahead for The Long Rescue

So what is next for Jennifer Huang and her fearless documentary feature in production? “We are assembling each of our eight girls’ stories and will return to Cebu to show the girls what we’ve put together, and for a final shoot,” Huang shared with SCREEN. Jennifer’s goal is to complete the film by the end of 2023. 

As for the Great Chicago Pitch, the future is bright and Verhey shared with SCREEN that the 2023 Call for Entries will likely launch this November. Click here for more from the GCP.

Check back here at SCREEN for updates on this and more inspiring documentary projects. You can also click right here to subscribe to our weekly email newsletter.

Photo Credits: All photos courtesy of James Richards IV aka Distract Your Face

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