Notes from Getting Real – Part 1: Applying to the National Endowment for the Humanities

LEF is excited to have been a sponsor of the International Documentary Association’s Getting Real Conference back in September 2018, and over the next several months, LEF Program Officer Gen Carmel will be sharing her notes on several of the more resource-rich panels she attended at the conference. This month: five takeaways from the panel “NEH Funding: Tips from Filmmakers and the NEH”.
  • Takeaway #1: NEH prefers funding projects that are based in humanities research (including history, art history, film studies, literature, religious studies, philosophy, or anthropology), and which take an analytical approach that helps to engage critical thinking. This means having a certain mastery of the subject matter you’ll be exploring, a team of humanities scholars on board as academic advisors for your project, and avoiding a more celebratory approach to your project.
  • Takeaway #2: If you are thinking of applying for NEH funding, send an e-mail to Senior Program Officer David Weinstein three months ahead of one of their two deadlines in August or January to ask for a phone call about your project, and David can help to advise about whether your project is a good fit for NEH’s funding priorities. When first sharing your project, David gives the advice of approaching this initial e-mail to NEH as a conversation, rather than providing all of your film’s details at once. Also, leave your phone number in the e-mail. David’s e-mail address is dweinstein (at)
  • Takeaway #3: The NEH panel process involves 2 rounds of review, including an initial decision made by a group or peer review panelists chosen by NEH staff, and then a second round of decisions made by the National Council on the Humanities, a group of 26 presidential appointees.
  • Takeaway #4: Prepare to write – a lot! Applicants are expected to submit 20-25 pages per intended runtime hour, in the application’s narrative section.
  • Takeaway #5: It is rare to be awarded funding the first time around, so persistence pays off! If you are declined by the NEH on your first grant attempt, get in touch with NEH again and try to learn what steps you can take to improve your application, and then make those changes the next time around.

For more details on NEH development and production funding for media projects, visit:

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