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Telling Stories, Part Two


A few weeks ago, I gave several presentations at a conference called the Art House Convergence. In attendance were the owners and operators of about 150 theaters across America that specialize in featuring independent films and documentaries. The event was held several days before the Sundance Film Festival, which is one of the largest showcases in the nation for independent films.

According to the Convergence Web site, the conference was designed to “be a stimulating gathering that will provide a chance to get to know one another and to share our successes, our challenges, our anxieties, as well as our hopes and dreams.” One of the group’s biggest anxieties is over finding a sustainable business model. As a result, many of the theaters are nonprofit organizations, or in the process of converting to nonprofit status, and they were eager to learn more about how nonprofits operate.

Like most of us, the art house theaters face increasing competition as new ways are created for distributing films and documentaries. I reminded the audience that people are looking for more than just more choice—they are also looking for a sense of community. People are looking for ways to network. To link in. To engage. For a sense of belonging.

I think art houses have the potential to become indispensible community institutions, as important as the public library or the public school or a community center or green space.

The opportunity is to use thought-provoking films as the centerpiece for bringing people together, where they share ideas, debate, learn from others. Maybe work together to make their community better.

The Skoll Foundation not only understands what I told the Art House Convergence, they are leading the way. Last year it launched a $3 million three-year partnership with the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program. The project, called Stories of Change, is designed to explore the role of film in advancing knowledge about social entrepreneurship. Here’s how their Web site describes it:

This partnership creates new opportunities for leading social entrepreneurs and outstanding documentary filmmakers to collaborate and to create new projects about the innovative approaches found in both fields. The development and production grant awards support the creation of feature-length independent documentary films that examine social entrepreneurship as an innovative approach to the central challenges of our time. …

A combination of invited gatherings and documentary film project funding, the partnership believes that powerful storytellers and innovative changemakers can benefit from each other. In addition to funding the creation of new documentary films, Stories of Change supports convenings of leaders in both documentary film and social entrepreneurship at key gatherings globally over the course of the three year partnership, including the Skoll World Forum and the Sundance Film Festival.

Later at the Sundance conference, we saw one result of this partnership when a film called To Catch a Dollar featuring Mohammed Yunus of the Grameen Bank was featured. It’s definitely worth seeing.

I think there is an opportunity for exciting collaborations between the art house theaters and nonprofit organizations. I hope you’ll begin thinking about how you can use film as a way to inspire and motivate your community to do more.

Bob.jpgThe preceding is a guest post Bob Ottenhoff,  Chief Executive of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. With an entrepreneurial spirit, strong technology focus, and a quest to make an impact in the world, Bob has the ability to take an organization and lead it into strong performance, sustainability, and industry leadership.

Topics: Events Nonprofit