— New initiative to empower women in filmmaking and investigative journalism —

EMERYVILLE, Calif. (Jan. 10, 2017) – At a time when fact-based reporting and a diversity of perspectives is more critical than ever, The Center for Investigative Reporting announced today the official launch of Glassbreaker Films, an ambitious initiative to support women in documentary filmmaking. Glassbreaker Films was born out of CIR’s commitment to increase the representation of women in both filmmaking and investigative reporting, two industries in which they are remarkably underrepresented. The program is made possible with a generous grant from the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation and celebrates Gurley Brown’s spirit of innovation, independence and commitment to forceful storytelling.

One of the guiding principles of this grant is to develop creative commercial models that will ensure the sustainability of the initiative and, by bundling and distributing their films, provide the women involved with the creative and economic freedom to continue to produce great work over the years. Part of the grant is funding business development professionals to establish the appropriate business model for broad distribution.

“We are thrilled to launch Glassbreaker Films, a result of this deeply dynamic, game-changing gift from the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation,” said CIR Executive Chair Phil Bronstein.

“This new and profound relationship between the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation and CIR is one that Helen would have understood completely and embraced,” said Kim St. Clair Bodden, a trustee of the foundation. “Helen, more than anyone, operated her whole career at the juncture of empowering women of all ages, encouraging journalistic boldness and strong, sustainable business outcomes. CIR is the perfect environment for realizing and sustaining that dream and for honoring her legacy.”

In its first year, Glassbreaker Films is launching three initiatives to create and support a network of women, each at distinct stages in their development as documentary filmmakers:

  • Featured filmmakers – Glassbreaker Films is bringing together five accomplished filmmakers to produce a documentary series about women taking control, taking power and taking chances.
  • Filmmakers-in-residence – A new, full-time digital video team – led by a senior digital video producer and staffed by three early-career filmmakers, each completing a 10-month residency with Glassbreaker Films – is creating short films for web and mobile audiences.
  • BridgeUp: Film – This educational project will provide training and mentorship in journalism and visual storytelling to a small and diverse cohort of high school girls in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Glassbreaker Films will bridge the gap between rigorous investigative reporting and powerful cinematic documentaries,” said CIR Head of Studio Christa Scharfenberg. “These films, told from the unique perspectives of women filmmakers with full support from CIR’s journalistic expertise and distribution efforts, will have the potential to engage across the ideological divide and make an impact. Helen Gurley Brown’s commitment to bold storytelling and indefatigable support of women will be central to this initiative.”

“We’ve long been committed to producing quality investigative reporting that sheds light on untold, important stories,” said CIR Director of Video Amanda Pike. “Today, providing a voice for women and the marginalized is more critical than ever. We’re proud to support these talented women as they make their mark in both the investigative journalism and filmmaking fields.”

The five women selected as the first featured filmmakers:

  • Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is a two-time Academy Award- and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker. Her most recent film, “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,” which she directed for HBO, won the 2016 Academy Award for best documentary short subject and prompted Pakistan’s parliament to pass a bill banning honor killing. In 2012, Time magazine included her in its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
  • Dawn Porter’s first feature documentary, “Gideon’s Army,” won a Sundance Film Festival editing award in 2013 and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and an Emmy. Porter’s films have appeared on HBO, PBS’ “Independent Lens,” OWN and the Discovery Channel. Her latest project, “Trapped,” explores the impact of laws regulating abortion clinics in the South. It premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Award for Social Impact Filmmaking.
  • Penny Lane’s most recent film, “NUTS!,” premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, where it won a special jury prize for editing. Her debut feature documentary, “Our Nixon,” premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, had its North American premiere at South by Southwest, won the Ken Burns Award for Best of the Festival at the Ann Arbor Film Festival and was selected as the closing-night film at New Directors/New Films. Lane was named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 new faces of independent film in 2012. And yes, Penny Lane is her real name.
  • Ann Shin is a multiple award-winning director and new media producer whose films and series have been broadcast across the globe and screened at festivals around the world. Her most recent film, “My Enemy, My Brother,” was nominated for a 2016 Emmy and shortlisted for an Academy Award. Her previous film, “The Defector: Escape from North Korea,” won best documentary and best documentary director at the 2014 Canadian Screen Awards.
  • Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s interactive documentary “Hollow” received a 2013 George Foster Peabody Award and a 2014 Emmy nomination. She is the co-creator of “She Does,” a biweekly audio documentary series that follows creative women’s journeys. In 2016, Chicken & Egg Pictures awarded her with an inaugural Breakthrough Filmmaker Award. McMillion Sheldon was a 2013 Future of StoryTelling Fellow and was named one of the 25 new faces of independent film in 2013 by Filmmaker Magazine. She is currently in production on a feature-length documentary about the opioid epidemic in Appalachia.

The coordinating producer for the documentary series is Rachel de Leon, a two-time Emmy Award winner last year for her work on “The Dead Unknown” web series and the PBS NewsHour segment “Deadly Oil Fields.”

The filmmakers-in-residence program will be led by senior digital producer Aubrey Aden-Buie, who was named one of the honorees in Cynopsis Media’s Top Women in Digital Awards in 2016 for her intimate coverage of refugees coming to the United States. She was most recently a video reporter for Mashable, and her work has been published by The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Special Olympics, Fox Sports, NPR and others. Aden-Buie also will be responsible for BridgeUp: Film.

The first cohort of filmmakers-in-residence, based at CIR, includes: 

  • UC Berkeley journalism school graduate Débora Silva, originally from Brazil, whose work has appeared on KQED, Fusion, Univision, PBS, BBC and Al Jazeera.
  • Olivia Merrion, who has produced online videos for NPR, PBS, Recode, the Associated Press, Discovery Communications and Slate, among others.
  • Photojournalist Emily Harger, who has focused on telling stories from rural Appalachia, especially around the drug epidemic.

For more information about Glassbreaker Films and to keep apprised of works produced as a part of the initiative, visit https://glassbreakerfilms.revealnews.org/.


About CIR: Founded in 1977, The Center for Investigative Reporting is the nation’s first independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization dedicated to public service journalism. CIR empowers the public through groundbreaking investigative storytelling that sparks action, improves lives and protects our democracy. CIR, in partnership with PRX, produces “Reveal,” the Peabody Award-winning weekly public radio show and podcast, and is the recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, five national Emmy Awards in recent years and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 (for local reporting) and 2013 (for public service).