One day before the start of the Sundance Film Festival, a program of the Sundance Institute, and its gathering of independent filmmakers from around the world, the Ford Foundation announced a five-year, $50 million initiative to help find and support a new generation of filmmakers whose works address urgent social issues.

The new initiative, called JustFilms, will invest $10 million a year over the next five years to support and expand the community of filmmakers and mediamakers around the world focused on creating documentaries with passion and purpose, but who often lack funding to realize their visions or reach audiences.

“With the growth of the Web and social networks, the potential global audience for filmed content with a social conscience has exploded,” said Luis Ubinas, president of the Ford Foundation.  “We want JustFilms to support visionary filmmakers from around the world to create works on urgent social issues, and help them reach and engage audiences.”

JustFilms will build on the foundation’s longtime support for documentaries, including such landmark productions as “Eyes on the Prize,” “State of Fear” and “Why Democracy,” among scores of others. It will also leverage the foundation’s global network of 10 regional offices to identify and lift new talent from around the world and to strengthen emerging communities of documentary filmmakers.

“Storytelling is a unique and powerful way of helping us understand our past, explore our present and build our future,” said Darren Walker, vice president of Ford’s Education, Creativity and Free Expression program. “We see these stories as vital ingredients to social change, translating how people engage with the world and the issues that define our time.”

The foundation said JustFilms would focus on film, video and digital works that show courageous people confronting difficult issues and actively pursuing a more just, secure and sustainable world. The initiative will pursue three distinct funding paths: 

* Partnerships with major organizations such as the Sundance Institute, the Independent Television Service, and others;
* An ongoing open application process that will help JustFilms stay attuned to fresh ideas and stories wherever they may emerge; and
* Partnership with other Ford Foundation grant-making programs where the introduction of documentary film could help draw attention to an issue or advance a movement.

Directing the JustFilms initiative will be Orlando Bagwell, an internationally respected, award-winning filmmaker who has supported documentary film and other narrative art forms over the past six years as a program officer and director in the foundation’s Freedom of Expression team. 

“This major new commitment to documentaries reflects our recognition that individual stories— meaningful and well-told—can be a powerful instrument of change,” Bagwell said. “The test of JustFilms will be its ability to lift the voices of independent filmmakers and mediamakers from outside the mainstream, to build audiences for social justice stories, and to enlarge the conversation on critical but often less visible issues.  It’s work that at its essence is really about capturing imaginations.”

Key Background

Mr. Ubinas, Mr. Walker and Mr. Bagwell—along with several members of the Ford Foundation Board of Trustees —will be in Park City, Utah, this week to launch a major five-year partnership with the Sundance Institute as a key part of the JustFilms initiative. “We couldn’t be more delighted to have the Sundance Institute as a premier partner as we launch JustFilms,” Mr. Walker said. “Robert Redford, Keri Putnam, and Cara Mertes have shown incredible leadership in supporting documentary filmmakers, and we are proud to be joining with them in this partnership.” 

JustFilms will contribute $1 million a year over five years to support the Documentary Film Program at the Sundance Institute.  The resulting Sundance Institute/Ford Foundation Documentary Film Fund will support international and U.S. productions that focus on human and civil rights, free expression, economic opportunity, and other critical topics. It will also support filmmaker labs that enhance storytelling through cutting-edge editing, producing, and film scoring workshops. And it will support panels and dialogues at the Sundance Film Festival to enhance understanding and recognition of documentary film as a key component of social change.

Throughout the year, JustFilms will announce its work with the other key partners. 

JustFilms will spend roughly one-third of its annual budget on each of its three core funding paths (strategic partnerships, open applications, engagement with Ford Foundation grantees).  The initiative has also set aside funds for marketing partners who will help filmmakers promote their work and engage directly with audiences. 

Some examples of works JustFilms is already supporting:

* “Women, War & Peace,” a four-part PBS special, examines the enormously disproportionate suffering of women in today’s wars, but also how they are emerging as leaders in brokering peace and forging new international laws governing conflict.
* “Higher Ground” explores the efforts of Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed to petition world leaders to save his island from rising sea levels as a result of climate change.
* “Detroit Hustles Harder” (working title) chronicles the lives of courageous individuals who have made the conscious choice to stay in Detroit to help turn the city around. Their lives and dedication represent not only what can transform the city, but what can renew America.

Learn more about JustFilms at

Explore the expansive collection of documentaries the foundation has supported over the years.

The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than half a century it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

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