Entrepreneurs and Filmmakers Find Common Ground

On Tuesday, Sundance Institute and the Skoll Foundation held a reception for journalists, social entrepreneurs, and filmmakers who are involved in the two nonprofits’ Stories of Change initiative. Stories of Change is a collaboration founded in 2007 in the belief that the two constituencies the organizations serve - storytellers in the case of Sundance Institute and social entrepreneurs in the case of the Skoll Foundation - will achieve their respective goals better if they meet one another and join their talents. Social entrepreneurs need documentary filmmakers to make and broadcast compelling stories about their work, and documentary makers need the raw, inspiring stories that the work of social entrepreneurs readily provides.

On Wednesday, the collaboration took a new step and brought real-world advice to the filmmakers and journalists involved in Stories of Change. Filmmaker and social entrepreneur Bill Haney, whose engaging, sobering documentary The Last Mountain is screening in the U.S. Documentary Competition, spoke to the filmmakers about his hybrid life: part businessman, part storyteller, Haney is “a perfect example for us,” said Cara Mertes, the director of the Institute’s Documentary Film Program who is crucially involved in the Stories of Change initiative. “We’re really excited to talk to him and hear how he’s used his entrepreneurial skills to build movements and cover stories and his filmmaking skills to take those messages out into the world,” she said.

Photo Credit: Jemal Countess

Starting and operating high tech companies - which Haney has done for the past 30 years - may seem vastly different from being a documentary filmmaker, but Haney argues that the two endeavors have much more in common than may be first evident. In both tasks, “you begin with a notion and there’s no resources,” he said. If you want to start a company, to raise capital and get others engaged in the company, “you begin weaving a narrative to compel the resources you’re looking for.” Documentary makers do much the same work. Haney had other advice as well: “I think the first thing is to know what you’re trying to do and know what you’re good at. And then just start,” he said. “The truth is, most people get stymied by the fact that they have a tough time beginning. And if you can begin and you’re self-aware and comfortable enough to admit when you make a mistake so you can correct quickly, you can do anything.”

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