Nicole Newnham, Director / Producer
I came into the Sundance Institute | Skoll Foundation Stories of Change family through its support in 2010 for The Revolutionary Optimists, a film I co-directed with Maren Grainger-Monsen. The film profiles Amlan Ganguly, an extraordinary social entrepreneur, as he organizes and empowers youth living in some of Kolkata’s worst slums to transform their communities.
At the time, the partnership made sense to me; our film was about a social entrepreneur. I did not realize then that I was entering a community that would change the way I think about my work and art. Or that, essentially, I was a participant in Stories of Change’s strategy to put storytellers and social entrepreneurs together in the belief that out of those connections, magic would happen.
At this year’s Skoll World Forum in Oxford, I was able to look back across the five years of my involvement, and to consider its profound impact. Magical is a word I would use to describe my experience in Oxford this year. It feels very much like being a part of a tribe – a tribe of people who see the possibilities for making progress, achieving justice, and affirming the existing and potential beauty in this world. And who just can’t stop trying to express these possibilities through stories. The social entrepreneurs tell them every day, with incredible passion, to woo funders and partners and to deepen and scale their work for change. As filmmakers, we tell the stories through narrative art.
Through the social entrepreneurs, we find more than great stories to tell. We find friends, comrades, mentors and huge inspiration. Simply being around them is like a giant gust in the sails of what can often feel like the lonely, little boat of an independent filmmaker. And the relationships with these Skoll-Awarded Social Entrepreneurs (SASE) helped to create Map Your World, a digital mapping platform and curriculum for young change-makers which grew out of The Revolutionary Optimists. We debuted Map Your World at the 2014 Skoll world Forum, and we continue to work with SASE organizations—Visayan Forum, Gawad Kalinga, and YouthBuild, among others—to support their efforts in building youth movements for change.
But the impact has echoed much beyond that. The desire to push forward and support the work of organizations I’ve met through Stories of Change has pushed me into new aesthetic and creative realms as an artist. Working with GoodWeave, I created Stand With Sanju, the story of a child rescued from the carpet industry in Nepal. In order to tell this critical story in an emotionally-resonant way, I chose to animate the film.
The more I work in this world, the more I see the connections between the struggles and campaigns within the SASE community and the stories I feel compelled to tell. I’m currently working with Healthcare Without Harm and Health Leads on two different short film projects in two radically different styles. But there is overlap between their two campaigns. One inspires the healthcare industry to fight for environmental justice, while the other works to move the same industry into a place where it can address patients’ social needs in order to deliver on the promise of creating health.
And both campaigns are deeply connected to the work of Partners In Health (PIH) and Bend the Arc, Stories of Change filmmaker Cori Shepherd Stern’s documentary about PIH and the social justice movement in global health. At the Forum, Cori, Gary Cohen, Rebecca Onie and I were able to connect, talk, plan and strategize about how these different stories and campaigns might leverage each other and work together toward more powerful outcomes.
In fact, Cori and I have been so struck by the depth, beauty and power of the stories within the work of the Skoll awardees that we are developing a handful of projects through a newly formed production company we were inspired to launch at the Forum, Infinite Field. By creating a community of change-makers and storytellers, Stories of Change is facilitating this kind of cross-pollination and synergy, and making meaningful contributions to our shared dialogue.
Nicole Newnham (@NicoleNewnham) is an Oakland-based filmmaker and writer who recently co-produced and directed the Emmy-nominated Independent Lens documentary, The Revolutionary Optimists. Works directed and co-produced by her include The Rape of Europa, Sentenced Home, and They Drew Fire.