Meeting Kindred Spirits at the Skoll World Forum

My recent travels to the Skoll World Forum were a source of great pride. Not only was I representing Sundance Institute, I was representing the tight-knit and passionate community of independent filmmakers that I have grown to know over the years. We’re an interesting bunch: artists committed to bringing stories to the screen no matter what. We do it again and again because we believe in the power of storytelling. We’ve seen that power catalyze changes in legislation and public opinion around vital social issues. But we’ve also seen how a simple, well-told story can profoundly deepen one person’s insight into what it means to be connected to a community, a country, or a world. And when films touch hundreds, thousands, and sometimes millions of hearts and minds – when these insights can be scaled up – the results are powerful. Of course, the best entrepreneurs know how to bring things “to scale.”

When I met the first group of social entrepreneurs at the Sundance Film Festival this past year, I was struck at the similarities between the independent filmmaker and the social entrepreneur. We are kindred spirits, bonded by the struggles of fundraising and project development but driven by the hope and promise of our work. We seek to inform, challenge, reach, engage, and inspire. We just go about it in different ways. As I’ve developed relationships with these kindred spirits I’ve found myself thinking about my own work differently. This marriage of sorts has undoubtedly impressed the entrepreneurs as well.

I believe that the stories we tell are ultimately a reflection of ourselves. We do not pick subjects randomly. It is a conscious choice, one driven by unconscious memory. Creating a framework for the filmmaker and social entrepreneur to share these stories, come together and “exchange notes” is a powerful idea. It will undoubtedly lead to the type of stories that can make a lasting impact.

PETE NICKS feature documentary, The Waiting Room,  which chronicles a day in the life of an Oakland, Calif., hospital waiting room, was released in 2012 to critical acclaim. It was named by the San Francisco Film Critics Circle as the best documentary of 2012 and shortlisted for an Academy Award. The Washington Post named  The Waiting Room  one of the "10 best films of 2012," and the film garnered numerous accolades, including the Stella Artois Truer Than Fiction filmmaking grant, Gotham IFP and Independent Spirit Award nominations for best documentary, and a Cinema Eye nomination for best debut feature. Pete was invited to speak at TEDxMaastrich in 2012 and at the Mayo Clinic's TRANSFORM conference in September 2013. Prior to his recent work in film, Nicks worked in television for several years and earned an Emmy for "Blame Somebody Else," which explored human trafficking during the Iraq War. Nicks is now developing the second of a trilogy of character-driven films exploring health care, crime and education in Oakland. Nicks received his B.A. in English from Howard University and his M.A. in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley.

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