President Donald J. Trump’s proposed budget cuts have directly impacted two Loyola professors producing a documentary using federal arts funding.
Fr. Mark Bosco, S.J. — an associate professor in both Loyola’s English and theology departments and director of Loyola’s Center for Catholic Intellectual Heritage — has spent the last five years producing, writing and directing a documentary in conjunction with Dr. Elizabeth Coffman, an experienced documentarian working at Loyola as an associate professor of film and digital media.
The documentary is about Catholic novelist and short story writer Flannery O’Connor, author of “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” The professors are producing the film as part of PBS’s “American Masters” series. The two professors were partly funded by a federal grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
Bosco has both written and taught about O’Connor at Loyola and belongs to a group of scholars which holds conferences regularly.
“We did a conference at Loyola on Flannery O’Connor that I put together in 2011,” said Bosco. “That was really the start of this idea of doing a documentary. No one has ever done a documentary [as extensive as this] on her, and we had such great interviews.”
Now, the film is in danger of being delayed because of the Trump administration’s plan to eliminate funding for the NEH and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
Former President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the NEA and NEH into law in 1965, and the money appropriated can change yearly.
Bosco and Coffman said the film is expected to cost less than $500,000. Most of the film was funded by $185,000 they raised themselves through private donations, but the post-production was being funded by a $150,000 federal NEH grant.
The first $50,000 came during former President Barack Obama’s administration. The other $100,000 is now in jeopardy due to the proposed budget cuts.
The Senate passed a continuing resolution — which is to fund the government until a budget can be passed before a later date — on Dec. 9. Congress has until April 28 to pass a budget. Until then, the fates of the NEA and the NEH are unclear.
Bosco said the film can still be completed, but now it’s just a matter of when.
“We thought much earlier in January we would have word … if all the money would be delivered and when. It looks like now it’s perhaps end of March, April [or it] could even be May for all we know,” he said. “We’re running out of funds now to do the post-production … We hoped to have this done in June, but we’re trying to find other avenues [of funding] now.”
Coffman said the need to finish the documentary is urgent. The filmmaking duo originally planned to screen the documentary at a conference in Seville, Spain, in June with Loyola’s sister school, Universidad Loyola Andalucia.
“We have to finish right now. We need this money right now, and we don’t know from the NEH because [Congress] could delay [setting the budget] for months,” Coffman said. “We are already assuming that we may not have [the remaining money].”
This delay hits particularly hard for Bosco, who considers himself a big fan of O’Connor. He spoke enthusiastically about his love for the writer and said he believes her name recognition was a contributing factor in him and Coffman getting the grant.
“[O’Connor is] such a commodity. Everybody wants to know about her because her short stories are so powerful and still being taught in every high school and college in the United States today,” Bosco said.
Adam Gonzalez, a 21-year-old senior who had Bosco for two courses, described him as passionate, and said he doesn’t think a lack of money will stop him.
“Knowing [Bosco], I know he’s not going to give up on [the film],” Gonzalez said.
Bosco said the uncertainty of getting the rest of the grant money has made him anxious.
“I didn’t think we had to worry about raising money this semester, and so I had other tasks that I was supposed to be doing,” Bosco said. “All of a sudden, I’ve spent the last week trying to figure out with Dr. Coffman … exactly how much money we need.”
The pair said they plan to possibly reach out to donors or start an online Kickstarter project if the rest of the $100,000 doesn’t come through in time.
Bosco said he believes cutting federal arts funding is solely symbolic because it’s not a significant portion of the budget.
“The money is there to spur on our own cultural consciousness [and] our history of America,” he said. “They want to cut this little bit of money that does so much goodness for the country.”