Stories of Change Convening at the Sundance Film Festival-2014

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Behind the scenes and screens of the Sundance Film Festival, the Sundance/Skoll Stories of Change program quietly comes to life. For four days while the Festival is in full swing, smack in the middle of premieres, panels and parties, two groups of international award winners – Sundance filmmakers and Skoll Foundation social entrepreneurs – come together to explore the power of storytelling to deepen social movements.

We form an intimate tribe – four inspired story experts are paired with four visionary nonprofit groups, and over the course of the Convening we engage in a wide range of activities together (from walking and talking to pecha kucha) to help the social entrepreneurs develop authentic and strategic approaches to storytelling in the context of their world-shifting operations, and to provide a vibrant experience for filmmakers where they can access and share their creativity in wholly new ways.  I was in the room as facilitator, moderator, technology geek and spirit guide.

This year, the groups were all from the global health sector: Health Care Without Harm, Vision Spring, Basic Needs and Saude Crianca. The idea behind choosing single sector organizations was that the alignment might strengthen networks, facilitate new collaborations, increase the opportunities to share best practices, platforms and tools.  Gary Cohen, the CEO of Health Care Without Harm wrote after the convening:

“Just wanted to say how grateful I am for out time together last week at Sundance….Not only was the week inspiring and incredibly helpful, but it also helped me develop a much broader understanding of what the other Health groups are trying to achieve in the world and how their work relates to our own. I see that there are common themes in all our work, including moving toward prevention, addressing the upstream social and environmental determinants of health, and bringing innovation to scale across a broader geography.”

The storytellers who served as Media Advisors included two veteran doc filmmakers, Nicole Newnham and Pete Nicks, one Academy Award-nominated producer (who also runs her own NGO) Cori Stern, and one innovative media communications designer, Deborah Alden. The creative brain trust in the room was incredible. Over the course of four days, we went through a series of “Story Challenges”— collaborative group exercises inspired by how filmmakers find and tell stories, designed to help the social entrepreneurs dive into their own narratives the way they dive into social problem solving. This was not about effective brand marketing;  21st century storytelling is no longer only about the stories we tell to audiences on whatever platforms we can find them. Storymaking is about collaborative co-creation. Distribution – and that old school term “outreach”– is now about openness and creating an experience of “reaching in” – sharing the creative responsibilities and opportunities with a community hungry to participate.

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~ Wendy Levy

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