Social Entrepreneurship in Focus Through Documentary

Films The Revolutionary Optimists
The Revolutionary Optimists

The Revolutionary Optimists

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Children are saving lives in the slums of Calcutta. Amlan Ganguly doesn't rescue children; he empowers them to become change agents, battling poverty and transforming their neighborhoods with dramatic results. The Revolutionary Optimists follows Amlan and the children he works with – Shika, Salim, Kajal and Priyanka - on an intimate journey through adolescence, as they bravely fight the forces that oppress them. Using street theater, dance, and data as their weapons, the children have mounted vaccination drives to close the final mile with polio vaccination, turned garbage dumps into playing fields, and conducted education campaigns that have resulted in a significant drop in malaria and diarrhea in their neighborhood. Through intimate footage with the children, we witness not only the changes they are able to make in their neighborhood, but also the changes in the kids themselves.

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In production since 2008, the Revolutionary Optimists has evolved into a short film, multi-platform tool as well as a feature film. In 2010 the filmmakers participated in the BAVC Producers Institute to develop Map Your World, an innovative way to track clean water and other public health issues. The short film, The Revolutionary Optimists, premiered a TEDx event, introduced by Melinda Gates. The feature film was part of the 2011 Sundance Documentary Edit and Story Lab at the Sundance Resort.

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Director: Maren Grainger-Monsen and Nicole Newnham

Maren Grainger-Monsen is a physician, filmmaker-in-residence and director and founder of the Program in Bioethics in Film at the Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics. Maren directed Hold Your Breath (2007) and Worlds Apart (2003), a large-scale project on cross-cultural conflicts in medicine, which was broadcast on national public television and is currently being used in over 60% of US medical schools. Her film, The Vanishing Line (1998), exploring the art and issues of dying, was broadcast on the national PBS POV series. She won a regional Emmy Award for her film, Where the Highway Ends: Rural Healthcare in Crisis (1996). Maren studied film at the London International Film School, received her medical doctorate from the University of Washington and her emergency medicine residency at Stanford. She lives near Stanford with her husband, medical device entrepreneur and mandolin player Jeff Grainger, her two children Solenn and Tilson, and five chickens.

Nicole Newnham is a documentary filmmaker and writer, currently co-producing The Revolutionary Optimists with Maren Grainger-Monsen as a filmmaker-in-residence at the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics Program in Bioethics and Film. Nicole recently co-produced and directed the critically acclaimed The Rape of Europa, about the fate of Europe's art treasures during WWII. Nicole was also nominated for a national Emmy Award for co-producing and directing the documentary Sentenced Home (2006) which follows three Cambodian refugees in Seattle who are deported back to Cambodia after 9/11. With Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer Brian Lanker, she co-produced They Drew Fire (2000), a widely-acclaimed special for PBS about the combat artists of World War II, and wrote the companion book distributed by Harper Collins. Nicole graduated from Oberlin College and has a Master’s degree in Documentary Film from Stanford University. She lives in Oakland with her husband, education reformer Tom Malarkey, and her sons Finn and Blaine.

Producer: Maren Grainger-Monsen and Nicole Newnham

Social Entrepreneur: Amlan Ganguly, Prayasam

A qualified lawyer, Amlan began his career as an apprentice to the most reputed criminal lawyer in Calcutta. He was soon disillusioned with a legal system that provided little justice to the poor unable to pay fees and withstand the long drawn legal process.

In 1996, Amlan decided to make a complete switch and joined Lutheran World Service India. In 1999, Amlan registered Prayasam with a few friends with the intention of enabling children to participate in the decisions and factors that affect their lives. Under Amlan’s leadership, Prayasam has emerged as a regional expert and trailblazer in child rights programming and workshops. Amlan is best known for his use of popular media to engage and educate children in an interactive, problem-posing approach. A self-taught choreographer and fashion designer, Amlan incorporates both contemporary and traditional art forms into Prayasam’s alternative education models, which range from song, dance and comics to puppetry and storytelling. Amlan has made mentorship a hallmark at Prayasam, which has become a platform for introducing young people of diverse backgrounds to the social sector. Amlan is best known for his use of popular media to engage and educate children in an interactive, problem-posing approach.

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