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Stories of Change Fellows Share Takeaways from Skoll World Forum

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Photo courtesy of Skoll World Forum

Sundance Institute

The Stories of Change Convening at the Skoll World Forum in April brought seven Sundance Institute Storytelling Fellows together with Skoll Awarded Social Entrepreneurs to explore storytelling potential. Here are some post-Forum reflections on story and change from our Fellows.

On the relationship between change and stories filmmaker Jerry Rothwell asks, “How do we square the visionary idealism required to imagine a better world, with the pragmatic politics that might take us there? What’s the relationship between demanding change (campaigning, protesting, speaking out) and making change (through community action, government, political parties)? How does a movement relate to the organizations it gives birth to? And what part do stories and images play in this process?”

Rothwell points out the kinds of stories that inspire change. “At the Skoll World Forum we had the opportunity to discuss how visual stories might do this in specific situations – community health systems in Uganda, village-based paralegals asserting their land rights in Sierra Leone, a literacy programme in India. Together we explored stories which weren’t simplistically instrumental – a message or a call to action – but which might immerse an audience in a singular personal story which also grasped the wider dynamics of its world. We discussed ways of telling those stories from the inside, through collaborations with local filmmakers or self-shot footage or filmmakers in residence over long periods. Stories alone may not change the world, but people do, and stories change people by motivating them to think and act in new ways.”

Connecting story with change is what stayed with documentarian Kat Cizek. “At the Sundance/Skoll Stories of Change program, it’s a crucial confrontation between different ways of working in and making meaning of the world . How can we connect story with systemic change and make justice possible?”

Filmmaker Leah Mahan talks about story speaking to bigger picture in issue-based work.

“The storytellers, coming from different backgrounds and working in diverse media and platforms, tended to press the social entrepreneurs to mine their experience for stories rooted in human experience and transformation. In our conversations, we often circled back to a basic question about how “the story of one” could speak to the bigger picture, to illuminate the systems at work and the possibility for change.”

Sparking empathy is also a crucial element of storytelling to Mahan: “This business of sparking empathy is at the heart of what drives me as a nonfiction storyteller. More crucial, as Farmer astutely observes, is the question of how to connect the story of one to an ecosystem of change. Wrestling with these questions with the social entrepreneurs and other storytellers I greatly admire was a privilege that raised more questions than it answered and will forever enrich my life as an artist.”

Finally, Producer Howard Gertler point out that, “The story itself is not the tool; the impact campaign turns it into one. Great art often doesn’t make great advocacy, and vice versa. As our mantra at Stories of Change went, the story asks the questions. The advocacy that it inspires answers them.”

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