Spotlight Documentary Residency

Photograph of a woman standing behind camera with man next to her

Jessie Tarbox Beals was the first woman to work as a news photographer. In this self portrait, she is pictured alongside her 8 x 10 large-format camera and her assistant “Pumpkin.”


Applications are now closed. The deadline was May 31, 2024 at 11:59pm HDT (GMT-10).  

We invite you to co-create a more inclusive record of American history by shaping how stories from your community are told. Our inaugural Spotlight Documentary Residency will support a cohort of four teams of filmmakers and community builders in chronicling the histories of notable American women and girls who are well-known to their communities but have not been recognized or celebrated in mainstream narratives about American history.

Reimagining a conventional residency, teams will receive all the support of a structured program – funding, creative and logistical guidance, as well as presentation of the completed work – while living and working in place to complete a short-form, limited documentary series. Each team will receive $50,000 in production funding, interdisciplinary mentorship, regular work-in-progress reviews, and retain full ownership rights to their completed series. Launch activities will include a robust program of promotional events as well as distribution across the museum’s communication channels and by Smithsonian partners.



During the six-month residency program, running from mid-August 2024 through mid-February 2025, each team must complete a limited documentary series of three to five videos, each between three to five minutes in length. For the purpose of this program, “complete” means shot, edited, and completed post-production activities, including closed captioning and audio description, such that the final version is polished and ready for public screening. In addition to story, format, and experience requirements outlined below, you can find the full list of requirements, including details on licensing your series to the museum, in the official residency Rules and Guidelines.




Your series must center the experiences and actions of people for whom womanhood or girlhood is or has been a part of their identity or lived experience. Stories must be well researched, drawing from primary and secondary sources sufficient to demonstrate accuracy and to support other elements of the narrative wherever possible.

The subjects of these short films can be 1) people who are living or dead, individuals or collectives, or 2) an event, movement, or “happening” of some kind. When documenting events or movements, we encourage you to present a perspective that focuses on the people who made it all happen and the community or communities closest to the story. Ideally, in addition to telling the story, the proposed series will investigate the protagonists’ or movements’ impact on the lives of others.  



We are excited about the potential for modularity in the limited series format, where each piece of the story can stand alone or be presented in order. Within the 3-5 video arc, proposing teams have as much creative leeway as your imaginations allow. In addition to building on your team's skills and taste to develop the concept for your series, we recommend you consider the audiences you'd most like to reach when thinking through style and tone.    

We imagine using these videos as educator resources, on social media, and on other video platforms. To ensure audiences of all abilities can experience the work, completed series must include closed captions, and teams must create audio-described versions.



A significant intention for this inaugural open call is to inspire and support new and existing collaborations between professional filmmakers and experienced community builders. To be considered, each application must name two team leads.  

To ensure community perspectives are emphasized and respected, at least one of the team leads must have a personal connection to the person or community featured in the proposed story. This connection must be described in the application. If a single team lead has both the requisite community and film experience, a second team lead should still be named who augments this experience. 

Team leads must have 5+ years of non-fiction film production experience, and 3+ years of community engagement experience between them.    

How to Apply

Applications are now closed. The deadline was May 31, 2024 at 11:59pm HDT (GMT-10).  

The application is in two parts – a written portion and a set of supporting materials. The written portion must include the following: an overview of your story, why it's important for audiences to know about, your visual and structural approach to making the series (understanding that some details may change), and a description of your team's connection to the person or community featured in your story. Supporting materials include: a mood board, budget top sheet, high-level six-month production plan, previous work samples, team lead resumes or CVs, and credits for all work samples. Details about each application component and selection process and criteria are covered in detail on our apply page.  

Questions? Email us at We will collect questions submitted via email until April 8th and publish answers in an FAQ accessible via this webpage no later than April 15th. Answers to questions submitted after the FAQ is published that are deemed relevant to all applicants may be subsequently added.

Learn more about the application process 


Frequently Asked Questions

These FAQs were last updated on May 28, 2024. Questions added since the last update of this document are denoted with **. Please email additional questions to We will continue to update this document with responses relevant to all applicants throughout the application period.  

Read FAQ's

1. What are the main requirements of the residency? (Complete requirements in program Rules and Guidelines

  • Complete a limited documentary series that meets content and format requirements   
  • Both team leads attend in-person gatherings  
  • At least one team lead and relevant team members participate in regular review meetings and mentorship (online) 


2. **Is it possible to apply to Spotlight as an individual or must I be connected to an organization or company?

It is not necessary to be connected to an organization or company to apply for Spotlight, or to accept a position in the residency, though participation does require a legal contract. However, the program does require at least two team leads.


3. **Not all of our team members have updated resumes/CVs (especially those who are elders and/or retired). Would a long form or narrative bio work instead of a resume?

Yes, it’s fine to submit a bio in place of a resume if that’s necessary. If you do this, please ensure that years of experience, and other details about work are included.


4. **What kinds of materials can I include in my moodboard?

The purpose of the moodboard is to show the kind of visual style that you intend to use in your series. We do not have any restrictions about what you can/cannot use in the moodboard, but probably best to design it to be as easy as possible for reviewers to understand your intentions. Consider this when deciding to include links versus pulling stills, for example.


5. What does the mentorship program include?

Mentorship programming will give residents an opportunity to meet and learn from experienced industry practitioners across a range of topics related to film production and distribution. Some of these meetings will be more hands-on to provide opportunities to receive creative feedback on the in-progress work.


6. What are review meetings?

Review meetings are periodic check-ins with the program team to ensure projects are on time and align with submitted plans


7. What if the woman our team wants to focus on wasn’t born in the US or isn’t a citizen? What if she was American by birth, but moved abroad?

For a story to be eligible, the woman or women in question would need to have made a significant impact on American history while living here, regardless of origin or citizenship status. Expat American women are also eligible, noting that the application must effectively argue their importance to American history or culture.


8. Do all parts of my series have to focus on the same person/people or can my team make a series that covers different individuals in each part?

The parameters of the program leave space for a variety of approaches. We imagine that most people will opt to propose a series in multiple parts about the same subject. However, it is also possible to propose something that covers multiple people, each in their own part. The important thing is that the proposal presents a compelling and coherent story with parts that are clearly related to each other, and also presents something achievable on time and with the available budget at a high quality. 


9. What do you mean when you say “American”?”

For this program, “American” refers to people and stories originating from and/or taking place within the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, The Northern Mariana Islands, and the US Virgin Islands.


10. Where is the residency located?

Each of the four selected teams will live and work in the location of their choice for the duration of the residency. In most cases, participants will be working from the location where they already live. Participants will come together in person in Washington DC at the beginning and end of the program.


11. Will residency-related travel expenses co­me out of the production award?

The cost of attending required Washington DC gatherings will be paid for by the Smithsonian. However, production-related travel needs to be covered by the award.


12. If our team is selected, how long do we have to make our series?

The residency takes place over six months, from start to finish. Teams are required to complete the limited series during that time, which means post-production is over and the series is ready for audiences. Though Spotlight Doc will provide mentorship for each stage of production, this timeline will require that teams come prepared with a good idea of the story you want to tell and a well-considered plan for how you would produce it.


13. I don’t think I can accomplish my project in six months. What should I do? 

If you wish to apply to the program, we recommend that you reconsider the scope of your project to align with a six-month timeline. Selection will be based not only on the quality of the idea, but also on a team’s ability to complete their series within the program timeframe. (See question 8)


14. Does Spotlight allow the use of previously created assets?

Teams are allowed to use previously shot material that accounts for no more than 25% of your final series. Please include mention of this in your production plan and email with specific questions. 


15. Is my team allowed to expand the series budget beyond the $50,000 award, either by raising new funds or contributing existing funding?

In most cases, no. Please email us to inquire about your specific situation if you have questions. 


16. What if I've already spent some money and/or produced material for this project? 

If you've already spent money (up to $10,000 is allowed) on creating assets that account for 25% or less than the final film requires, please indicate that investment in your budget as "cost share" and mention it in the "notes" section of the top sheet. 


17. How do we note equipment we already own in the budget?

If members of your team own the necessary equipment to create your series, great! Please note that as a cost share in the budget you submit to with your application. However, teams are not required to own their equipment, and equipment expenses can also be identified in the budget as part of the total award.


18. **Is it permitted to add items/lines to the budget template or otherwise edit it?

Yes, it is permitted to add to/edit the budget template as necessary to complete your application. That said, our purpose for using a template is to be able to easily compare across applications, so please try to keep your changes to the minimum necessary.


19. **Is Errors and Omissions (E&O) insurance required?

No, Spotlight does not require E&O insurance, though there is a line for it in the budget. If you are not already planning to secure a policy, it is not necessary to do so for the program.


20. If my team is selected, will payment milestones be assigned, or do we choose?

Payment milestones will be assigned by the museum to selected teams. With that, it would still be helpful to understand the specific needs of each project. You may include notes in your production plan about the payment schedule that would best support you in completing your series on time.


21. Can I expand upon the project following the program?

As teams retain ownership rights to the series after Spotlight concludes, you are welcome to continue building on the project as you wish. See program Rules and Guidelines for additional information.


22. Do you allow honoraria as a cost?

YES!! Not only do we allow honoraria, but we actively encourage compensating collaborators of all kinds for their time and labor. Please email with any specific questions.