Oxford, England. Photo courtesy of Skoll World Forum.
Richard Ray Perez
Some filmmakers are reactive and volatile – especially the independent ones. The “reactive and volatile” I’m talking about aren’t the high maintenance ones prone to unnecessary drama. I’m referring to ones who are like atoms that readily react with other atoms when the conditions are right – when they’re stimulated to form molecules and compounds. Motivated. Inspired. These volatile filmmakers make the best storytellers and thrive in environments like the Stories of Change Convening at the Skoll World Forum.
The Stories of Change Convening at the 2015 Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship was an intensive series of workshops, meetings, presentations and discussions about storytelling and its relationship to the work of social entrepreneurs – innovative change-makers who are confronting the world’s most pressing problems. You might wonder what the disparate fields of independent storytelling and entrepreneurial social change have in common. Perhaps nothing – on the surface. But if you bring some of the best practitioners in these fields together in the same environment, worlds collide – sometimes like atoms in an atom smasher, sometimes like elements in a beaker. Slowly or quickly, ideas emerge, evolve, and develop just like chemical compounds in a laboratory.
That’s what this year’s Stories of Change Convening was like – a carefully selected combination of elements brought together like in a laboratory experiment. And much like a laboratory experiment, we didn’t know exactly what the outcomes would be. But we know some interesting chemistry would happen.
And it did. Sundance filmmakers and digital platform storytellers Nicole Newnham, Cori Shepherd Stern, Dawn Porter, and Anjali Nayar, along with Institute staffers Anne Lai (Feature Film Program), Kamal Sinclair (New Frontier), and Documentary Film Program Senior Institute Consultant Wendy Levy were tossed into a massive beaker that is the Skoll World Forum. Over the course of five days in Oxford, England, they had scores of meetings with Skoll Awarded Social Entrepreneurs.
And magic emerged in the form of wonderfully inventive ideas for projects: an animated superhero rat that dismantles landlines and diagnoses tuberculosis; a virtual reality project where the viewer is detained by police and tortured until they confess to a crime; and the story of an involuntary witness whose life is transformed when they happen to capture human rights abuses on their cell phone camera. This sounds like fiction but these ideas are rooted in the very real work of organizations like Apopo, which trains African Giant Pouched Rats to sniff out landmines; International Bridges do Justice, a group dedicated to protecting the basic legal rights of ordinary citizens in developing countries; and Witness, an organization that trains activists and citizens around the world to use video to expose human rights abuse.
While we could have never predicted these outcomes, we knew what we were doing when we immersed Sundance storytellers and Skoll-Awarded Social Entrepreneurs into a situation where they could produce the unexpected. You could call this approach “Calculated Serendipity.”