Let’s Talk about Rejection: Knight Arts Challenge Grant and Sundance Documentary Film Fund

Earlier this semester, Girls & Gear applied for the Knight Foundation Arts Challenge grant with the hope of receiving funding to support the Fall workshops. Sadly, we were rejected. (It’s OK! This is a natural part of applying for funding.) While we weren’t able to conduct all of the programming that we originally had planned for the semester, we did forge a new connection with Reading Queer through the grant writing process. This connection led to collaborative programming. 

Rejection is not easy. It’s even more difficult to stomach when you worked really hard and put your best work out there and somehow you aren’t selected. Personally, I have received enough rejection letters in my lifetime to wallpaper a house–not just any house, but a house the size of Vizcaya. 

I have learned a few tricks over the years. I’d like to share them with you:

1. It’s OK to wallow in self-pity, the key is to minimize that wallowing time. Dust yourself off, recover, and look for new opportunities. 

2. Every time I get a rejection letter, I must submit for something else. This keeps hope alive.

3. Take a long hard look at your application. What could you have done better. Fix it.

4. Read the biographies and interviews with the winners of the award. What things do they have or have they done that you haven’t? Look for ways to strengthen your resume. Use their accomplishments to chart your path and see how you can become more competitive. 

I was rejected for the Sundance Documentary Film Fund, and I felt that I put forth a strong application. It was an application that I worked on for a year. I picked people’s brains, revised, ask advisors and mentors for feedback…by the time I submitted, I just knew it was a winner.

It was not.

And that rejection had me down in the dumps for an entire week. 

Still, I dusted off the grant application and looks for ways to strengthen it. I read all the bios and write-ups for the winning projects. I saw that many of them were accomplished directors–something that I had yet to achieve. I could see from their experience that their sample reels were probably much stronger than mine. So, I set out to make my trailers better.

After doing that, I applied for the Sundance Documentary workshop in Miami. I got in! Then, I was invited to interview for the Sundance Knight Fellowship, which picks 4 filmmakers to attend workshops and screenings at Sundance. All this to say that most times rejection helps to highlight the areas that you can strengthen. If you are open to listening to that message and to growing, you will succeed at some point. 

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