Apply for Spotlight Doc

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

The Spotlight Documentary Residency application is in two parts - written and supporting materials. The written portion is to be submitted through an online application form, and the supported materials uploaded through the Dropbox file request linked below. To support the strongest possible applications, this page includes an overview of all application components, details on how to submit, links to application and budget templates, and an overview of the entire selection process including criteria. Please read the Rules and Guidelines in full before submitting your application.

Application Questions

Share an overview of the story you would tell if awarded a Spotlight Documentary Residency. Please include details on the tactics you intend to use (e.g., archival footage, interviews, animation, reenactments, etc.) with the understanding that these may be subject to change. (max. 400 words)

How do you plan to structure your series? How many parts do you intend to make? Would they need to be viewed sequentially or could they be seen out of order? What story beats will each contain? (max. 150 words)

Why is your story important for audiences to learn about? Why do you believe it will resonate with them? (max. 150 words)

Why are you the right team to tell this story? Describe the connection(s) your team member(s) have to the women and/or communities featured in your proposed series. We encourage you to include an overview of the community relationships and collaborative process that will support your ability to tell your proposed story. (max. 300 words)

Who are the members of your team? Please share bios for the team leads and up to two other team members. (max. 75 words per bio, up to 4 bios)  

Describe your team’s prior filmmaking and community engagement experience. Please expand on bios to focus on what’s most relevant to this residency, including details on their roles in prior work. How has that experience prepared your team to complete a high-quality, short-form series that tells a compelling, historically accurate story during the six-month residency? (max. 400 words)

Please share links to streaming samples of previous work highlighting the team’s filmmaking experience (max. 3 links, 3-10 min in total length). Please include any required login credentials and upload a pdf document containing credits for all included clips.

Supporting Materials

We are collecting supporting application materials through a Dropbox file request. Please provide all materials listed below in PDF format, named as follows "series working title_file name.pdf" with file names in bold below. For resumes please add each team lead's last name after the file name. Complete applications must include all required materials. Incomplete applications will not be considered. 

  1. Budget top sheet  

  1. High-level, phased production plan for the six-month residency  

  1. Mood board expanding on your visual approach (5 pages max.)   

  1. Credits for previous work samples linked in your application form

  1. Resumes or CVs for team leads 

Submitting Your Application

The submission portal is now closed (as of May 31, 2024, at 11:59pm HDT (GMT-10)). We will review applications for completeness on a rolling basis, with the selection process beginning in earnest after the submission window closes. To apply, you must complete an online application form and upload the requested materials through Dropbox. Applications must include all above outlined elements; incomplete applications will not be considered. 

PLEASE NOTE: The application form does not track text length, but our application does have length requirements! Reviewers will be instructed to disregard responses longer than the prescribed length for each question. To simplify the process of adhering to length requirements while developing your application, we have created an application template, linked at the top of this page. 

Selection Process

Prior to beginning formal review, applications will be assessed to ensure that teams meet requirements outlined on the program page (content, format, and experience) and that the application includes all necessary components. This assessment will happen on a rolling basis, with the selection process beginning in earnest after the submission window closes.  

Applications that pass these checks will advance to a three-round review process. Round one is independent scoring by two Smithsonian reviewers. In the case of a significant difference between the two scores, that application will be evaluated by a third reviewer, and the scores will be averaged. Top scoring applications (semifinalists) will then be advanced to round two – this time assessed by external industry peers following the same format as round one.

Of the highest scoring round two applications, finalists will be invited to an online interview that will further explore the proposed story idea as well as the applying team’s ability to complete the proposed video series during the six-month residency. Final selection will be made by museum leadership, taking into account input provided through the review process and consistency with the purposes of the museum’s mission and programs. Of all applications received, no more than four teams will be selected to participate in the 2024 residency. Information on selection process and criteria is included in full in the Rules and Guidelines

Selection Criteria

Applications will be evaluated against the following criteria.

Does the story have historical significance? Is it underrepresented or absent from mainstream narratives of American history? 
The ambition of this program is to facilitate the telling of stories that should be included in the historical record. Is it clear from your application why this story should be included? Does the story and/or the way you plan to tell it demonstrate meaningful historical impact of the people or events you’re going to highlight? Is the story you are proposing underrepresented or absent from mainstream history texts?  

Is the proposed story clear, compelling, and well-suited for short format?  
Is the structure and content of the story clearly articulated in the application? Is the story itself compelling? Is it detailed enough to be interesting and focused enough to be well-told in a short format?    

Can this story appeal to a wide audience?  
Is the story highlighting relatable and/or universal themes, such that it has the potential to be appealing to a wide variety of people? Does the application show thoughtful consideration of what audiences the story might appeal to and why? Will the series be appropriate for audiences of all ages?   

Based on the contents of the application, is this project feasible within the time allotted for completion? Are the team’s spending priorities in line with the stated ambitions of the program (community-engaged, people-focused storytelling creatively presented, in a digestible format)?  
When taken together, do your proposed story, creative intention, budget, budget narrative, and skill level present a project that seems achievable at a high quality in 6 months? Creativity and ambition are fantastic, but we encourage teams to do your best in proposing something that you can achieve without rushing your way through it. That means prioritizing the most important and impactful parts of the story and assembling the right team with the right skills to bring it to life.  

Does the team have sufficient experience creating high quality non-fiction films and working with communities/community members? What is the connection between team members and the story they wish to tell?   
Does the application clearly articulate your team’s experience in non-fiction filmmaking, and community engagement? Does your team possess the necessary personal or community relationships to tell the story with respect and care? Is there a plan in place for working with community members equitably? Does your application effectively demonstrate this experience and planning?