January 22, 2011

Ford Foundation Launches $50 Million Fund for Next Generation of Doc Filmmakers

Timed with the opening of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, the Ford Foundation announced a five-year, $50 million initiative to help find and support a new generation of filmmakers whose works address urgent social issues.

The new initiative, JustFilms, will invest $10 million a year over the next five years to support and expand the community of filmmakers and mediamakers around the world focused on creating documentaries with passion and purpose, but who often lack funding to realize their visions or reach audiences.

“With the growth of the Web and social networks, the potential global audience for filmed content with a social conscience has exploded,” said Luis Ubiñas, president of the Ford Foundation, in a statement. “We want JustFilms to support visionary filmmakers from around the world to create works on urgent social issues, and help them reach and engage audiences.”

JustFilms will build on the foundation’s longtime support for documentaries, including such landmark productions as Eyes on the Prize, State of Fear and Why Democracy, among scores of others. It will also leverage the foundation’s global network of 10 regional offices to identify and lift new talent from around the world and to strengthen emerging communities of documentary filmmakers.

“Storytelling is a unique and powerful way of helping us understand our past, explore our present and build our future,” said Darren Walker, vice president of Ford’s Education, Creativity and Free Expression program. “We see these stories as vital ingredients to social change, translating how people engage with the world and the issues that define our time.”

The foundation said JustFilms would focus on film, video and digital works that show courageous people confronting difficult issues and actively pursuing a more just, secure and sustainable world. The initiative will pursue three distinct funding paths: 

  • Partnerships with major organizations such as the Sundance Institute, the Independent Television Service, and others
  • An ongoing open application process that will help JustFilms stay attuned to fresh ideas and stories wherever they may emerge, and
  • Partnership with other Ford Foundation grant-making programs where the introduction of documentary film could help draw attention to an issue or advance a movement.

Directing the JustFilms initiative will be Orlando Bagwell, an internationally respected, award-winning filmmaker who has supported documentary film and other narrative art forms over the past six years as a program officer and director in the foundation’s Freedom of Expression team. 

“This major new commitment to documentaries reflects our recognition that individual stories--meaningful and well told--can be a powerful instrument of change,” Bagwell said. “The test of JustFilms will be its ability to lift the voices of independent filmmakers and mediamakers from outside the mainstream, to build audiences for social justice stories, and to enlarge the conversation on critical but often less visible issues. It’s work that at its essence is really about capturing imaginations.”

As a key component of the initriative, JustFilms will launch a major five-year partnership with the Sundance Institute, contributing $1 million a year over five years to support the Documentary Film Program at the Institute.  The resulting Sundance Institute/Ford Foundation Documentary Film Fund will support international and US productions that focus on human and civil rights, free expression, economic opportunity and other critical topics. It will also support filmmaker labs that enhance storytelling through cutting-edge editing, producing, and film scoring workshops. And it will support panels and dialogues at the Sundance Film Festival to enhance understanding and recognition of documentary film as a key component of social change.

JustFilms will spend roughly one-third of its annual budget on each of its three core funding paths (strategic partnerships, open applications, engagement with Ford Foundation grantees).  The initiative has also set aside funds for marketing partners who will help filmmakers promote their work and engage directly with audiences.