A casual passerby who entered the Stories of Change reception yesterday at Cafe Terigo might not have realized that the event was a Sundance Institute function. There were more journalists than filmmakers there, for starters. The Stories of Change partnership between the Institute and the Skoll Foundation, which invests in social entrepreneurs and other innovators dedicated to solving the world’s most pressing problems, was formalized in 2007 after both organizations realized that the people they serve - storytellers, in the case of Sundance Institute, and the Skoll Foundation’s social entrepreneurs - each have an entire world to offer one another.
“Each sees in the other what they wish they had a little more of,” Sandy Herz, the Skoll Foundation’s director of strategic alliances, said at the reception. She would hear the social entrepreneurs say about documentary filmmakers, “My god, if I could tell stories the way you tell stories, imagine the change I could create in the world.” And filmmakers would say, “Are you kidding? I make movies. You’re affecting millions of people’s lives. You’re amazing.” The two groups “got on like a house on fire,” Herz says. And so in 2007, the Institute and the Skoll Foundation began a series of global “convenings” - in the United States and international locales - where established social entrepreneurs trying to create positive change in the world got to meet documentary filmmakers who wanted to tell stories about those entrepreneurs and their work. “This is actually a very unique partnership within the Institute because we are reaching out beyond artists and filmmakers,” says Kristin Feeley, the manager of the Institute’s Documentary Film Program. The two nonprofits are “really bridging the gap in storytelling and harnessing the power of storytelling” to effect social change, Feeley says.
Sandy Herz and Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam. Photo Credit: Brandon Joseph Baker
In addition to creating forums for documentary makers, social entrepreneurs, and now journalists to meet and share their knowledge, in 2009 the partnership funded 10 grant awards (out of 300 submissions) for production and development funding to filmmakers working on feature-length documentaries about social change (Gayle Ferraro’s To Catch a Dollar: Muhammad Yunus Banks on America is one of those films, and it was featured at the 2010 Festival). For the Skoll Foundation’s Sandy Herz, a former investment banker, watching the ways in which storytelling can create change in the world has been “fascinating,” she says,” and growing the partnership between the two organization has been thrilling. “It’s been a wonderful discovery of the power of storytelling and an appreciation for how storytelling can be married with bottom-line business and social goals to make the combination more powerful than either could be on their own,” she said.