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The Moral Imagination: A ‘Stories of Change’ Discussion at the Sundance Film Festival

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©Skoll Foundation | Gabriel Diamond

Richard Ray Perez

The task is first of all to identify the immoral imagination. To shine a light on it. To help people see how it works. It’s mechanism. Then, to help people imagine the terrible consequences of it. The fear. The silence…To see how urgently needed the social change is that might make possible the realization of a genuinely moral imagination.”

— Joshua Oppenheimer, director, The Look of Silence

It takes creativity and imagination to build, form, and give birth to that which must exist. This is as true for art as it is for establishing a compassionate universe. This was the focus of an urgent and timely discussion at the Sundance Film Festival where the Skoll Foundation and Sundance Institute convened the documentary film community to celebrate the galvanizing effect of storytelling for social change through the Sundance Institute| Skoll Foundation Stories of Change initiative.

Filmmakers Joshua Oppenheimer (The Look of Silence), Cori Shepherd Stern (Bend the Arc), and Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami (World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary winner, Sonita) joined Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tracy Kidder (Mountains Beyond Mountains), Skoll-Awarded Social Entrepreneur Chris Jochnick (Landesa) and musician, rapper, and anti-child-marriage activist Sonita Alizadeh (@SonitaAlizadeh) in a passionate and lively conversation. Moderated by Tabitha Jackson, Director of Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program, the distinguished panelists of artists and change-makers shared their insight and inspiration behind their work and processes for “(finding) the crack where the light comes in,” as described by Cori Shepherd Stern.

We captured some special moments on video, including profound advice from the panel’s youngest member, Sonita Alizadeh.

Sonita, the subject of the Sundance Film Festival documentary of the same name, shared the map she developed – the field guide she used to achieve her dream of becoming a rapper and artist who overcame persecution as an undocumented Afghan refugee in Iran, and rebelled against her mother’s plan to sell her into an arranged marriage for $9,000.

Learn more about the global effort to end child marriage by visiting Girls Not Brides.


Stories of Change

The mission of Stories of Change is to connect and engage independent storytellers with renowned social entrepreneurs to foster the enhancement of story skills and networking among these communities, and to support the creation of compelling films about solutions to urgent social issues that enlighten and inspire audiences.


About the Author

Richard Ray Perez, is the Producer, Creative Partnerships Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program where he oversees a portfolio of Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program (DFP) partnerships including Stories of Change, the Sundance Institute TED Prize Filmmaker Award, and the Sundance | CNEX (China Next) Documentary Workshop. In addition to his work at Sundance Institute, Mr. Perez Executive Produced and Directed the feature documentary, Cesar’s Last Fast, a film that premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

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Sundance Institute Piloting Direct Individual Support for Mediamakers Through the Sundance Institute | Humanities Sustainability Fellowship

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic upended life in general, and halted production and distribution for many creatives, the nonfiction field was plagued by issues of sustainability. For several years, sustainability has been an urgent and vigorous topic of study, debate, and organizing, as more and more filmmakers find it difficult, if not impossible, to make a living solely on the basis of their creative work. 

In Memoriam: Diane Weyermann (1955–2021)

A singular force within the documentary film world with a global reach, Diane Weyermann passed away at age 66 after battling cancer. Over the course of her 30-year career as a funder and an executive, her work elevated the documentary form and expanded its cultural impact.

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