By Ray Pride

Ford Foundation JustFilms Supports Eight Films Set for World Premiere at Sundance Film Festival

Initiative supports works that address urgent social issues

NEW YORK, Jan. 18, 2013 — JustFilms, the Ford Foundation’s social justice film fund, is providing major support to eight independent films selected for competition and premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, the world’s leading showcase for independent filmmaking.

Launched in 2011, JustFilms fosters film and media makers who are creating passionate and purposeful narratives. Film is an ideal medium to present a wide range of complex issues in a way that engages and inspires. Over the course of two years, JustFilms has given grants totaling $20 million to hundreds of exceptionally talented individuals and has partnered with numerous organizations such as the Sundance Institute, ITVS, HBO, Tribeca Film Institute, the Princess Grace Foundation and many others.

One of the five JustFilms-funded projects that premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, “How to Survive a Plague,” has been nominated for a 2013 Academy Award in the category of Best Documentary Feature. This powerful, inspiring movie exemplifies film’s ability to educate and motivate.

“We are constantly thinking of ways to inspire and bring attention to the intractable issues of our time,” said Darren Walker, vice president of Ford’s Education, Creativity and Free Expression program. “Our JustFilms initiative seeks inventive ways to creatively, financially and programmatically support underrepresented and deserving filmmakers who highlight courageous people confronting difficult issues and actively pursuing a more just, secure and sustainable world.”

The Ford Foundation works with many partners in an effort to lift up worthy films during the long cycle of production. In addition to the films that received major support from the Ford Foundation, twelve films premiering at this year’s festival were produced by the foundation in collaboration with the Sundance Documentary Film Program. A partnership with ITVS yielded “Fallen City” by Qi Zhao, furthering the international perspective of JustFilms. And the film “When I Walk,” a moving chronicle of filmmaker Jason DaSilva’s experience of learning to live with multiple sclerosis, received a finishing grant from the Princess Grace Foundation in support of South East Asian American filmmakers, funded by the Ford Foundation for this very purpose.

“Through collaboration with our valued partners we endeavor to find support for under-represented and deserving filmmakers,” said Orlando Bagwell, director of Ford’s JustFilms initiative. “The fruits of those labors are on display at International Festivals like Sundance, in creative and dramatic films that bring social justice issues to the forefront.”

The Ford Foundation’s JustFilms initiative builds on the foundation’s longtime support for scores of documentaries, including such landmark productions as “Eyes on the Prize,” “State of Fear” and “Why Democracy” It also leverages 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.

The eight films premiering at the Sundance Film Festival with major financial support from JustFilms are:

American Promise (US Documentary Competition)
Directors: Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson
As two African-American boys journey from kindergarten through high school graduation at an elite prep school, they encounter hurdles both in and out of the classroom.

Citizen Koch (US Documentary Competition)
Directors: Carl Deal and Tia Lessin
Following the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United, corporate money played a political role during a contentious decision on organized labor in the state of Wisconsin.

Gideon’s Army (US Documentary Competition)
Director: Dawn Porter
Three young public defenders in the Deep South face long hours, heavy caseloads and minimal resources in their efforts to ensure that justice is served.

God Loves Uganda (US Documentary Competition)
Director: Roger Ross Williams
With values imported from America’s Christian Right, missionaries in Uganda attempt to eliminate “sexual sin” and advance anti-gay legislation.

Mother of George (US Dramatic Competition)
Director: Andrew Dosunmu
One immigrant struggles to balance the expectations of her native Basotho culture and the opportunities of her new life in America.

Outlawed in Pakistan (Shorts Competition)
Directors: Habiba Nosheen and Hilke Schellmann
Pakistani teenager Kainat Soomro, accuses four men from her village of gang-raping her. She takes her case to the Pakistani courts and faces a deeply flawed criminal justice system.

Valentine Road (US Documentary Competition)
Director: Marta Cunningham
In 2008 a 8th grader’s murder of his classmate shocked the nation. But both the murderer and the victim had troubled lives that complicate our very notion of justice.

Who is Dayani Cristal? (US Documentary Competition)
Director: Marc Silver
After one migrant finds himself in a deadly stretch of Arizona desert known as “the corridor of death,” his life becomes testimony to the tragic results of the U.S. war on immigration.

JustFilms will also host two panel discussions at the Sundance Festival, at which filmmakers and others will focus on the medium’s ability to foment change.

Turning the Tide (Friday, January 18, 1-2:30 pm) 

Changing the direction of national discourse can seem an impossible task, but sometimes film can inspire a sea change. From immigration to health to the economy, this year’s films suggest that political dialogue is inextricably bound to cultural expression. Artists and activists Pablo Larrain (No), Gael Garcia Bernal (Who Is Dayani Cristal?, No), Jehane Noujaim (The Square) and Robert Reich(Inequality for All) join moderator Orlando Bagwell (Ford Foundation JustFilms) to explore the ways film can activate grassroots campaigns that alter the course of history.

OP-DOCS (Tuesday, January 22, 4-6 pm)

Op-Docs is The New York Times editorial department’s forum for short, opinionated documentaries, created by both renowned and emerging filmmakers, and produced with wide creative latitude and a range of artistic styles, covering current affairs, contemporary life and historical subjects. Filmmakers Heidi Ewing (Detropia),Laura Poitras (The Oath),Dawn Porter (Gideon’s Army) and Roger Ross Williams (God Loves Uganda ) join Orlando Bagwell (Ford Foundation JustFilms) and Jason Spingarn-Koff (The New York Times) to discuss the new frontiers of online documentaries and the intersection of filmmaking and opinion journalism.


To view the films the Ford Foundation has supported over its history, visit the foundation’s Film Collection.

Learn more about JustFilms’ strategy and partners, and explore its grant making.

The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than 75 years 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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“People used to love to call me a maverick, because I had a big mouth, and I’d say, ‘That bum!’ or something like that when I was young. Mainly, because I believed it, and I didn’t know there was anybody’s pain connected to the business. I was so young, I didn’t feel any pain. I just thought, ‘Why don’t they do some exciting, venturesome things? Why are they just sitting there, doing these dull pictures that have already been done many, many times, and calling them exciting? That’s a lie — they’re not exciting. Exciting is an experiment… That reputation keeps with you, through the years. Once the press calls you a maverick, it stays in their files. I’ll be dead five years, and they’ll still be saying, ‘That maverick son-of-a-bitch, he’s off in Colorado, making a movie.’ As if they really cared. You know, in this business, it’s all jealousy. I mean, this is the dumbest business I’ve ever seen in my life. If somebody gets married, they say, ‘It’ll never work.’ If somebody gets divorced, they say, ‘Good. I’ll give you my lawyer.’ If somebody loses a job, everyone will call him — to gloat. They’ll discuss it, they’ll be happy, they’ll have parties. I don’t understand how people that can see each other all the time, and be friends, can be so happy about each other’s demise.”
~ John Cassavetes


“There’s a culture of friendship in Latin American cinema, between people like Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro, which they in turn inherited from others. They’re a sensation of brotherhood, that people care abut you, look after you, which we’ve sought to maintain consciously. That ‘brotherhood’ is the best way to survive, to make better films, but it also a way of coming close to the biggest reason to make films. Filmmaking for me is like a fraternal act, like being with your family, and feeling that what we’re doing, when the film is over and makes some impact, is worth it. That intense encounter with all those people flowers, emanates for ever. You’re a kind of cousin, brother, lover, father, son of all those people with whom you worked. It’s a beautiful sensation.”
Gael García Bernal


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