How Film and Philanthropy Work Together


The DOC NYC Festival featured a panel examining the intersection between documentary filmmaking and philanthropy. Participating were Naomi Levine from New York University, Dan Cogan of Impact Partners, Sandi DuBowski, Director, and moderator Mary Domowicz, Academic Director at NYU-SCPS.

"How Film and Philanthropy Work Together" focused on why there was a natural affinity between documentary filmmakers and philanthropists. Levine said, "Today, non-profits are using film to promote their causes and gain visibility." Her good news was that there are 70,000 foundations that donate money annually. Levine recommended studying which foundations are giving money to what causes. She advised learning how to write a proposal to get in the door with the pitch line, "I have a project that I think will interest you."

There are 486 billionaires in the United States, and "many are interested in projecting their ideas," Levine said. "Don't forget the women!" she added. Referencing "the art of the ask," she defined how, "When someone says no, it can really mean 'not yet.'" For Levine, it's all about personal contact. "You don't get money through postage stamps--you get it through shoe leather."

Cogan broke down the four major types of funding for documentaries, parsing the pros and cons. They were: grants; television pre-sale and foreign co-production; private equity; self-funding/deferments. Typically, films use several of the forms, combining strategies.

DuBowski spoke about how boundaries have shifted. He said, "We are in a new frontier. The question now is, 'Who is a philanthropist?'" He suggested looking at other films as a "data source" for potential funders. He encouraged, "Take wild chances! Think creatively!"

On crowd sourcing and social media Cogan agreed, "That is the trend." He mentioned that the record amount raised on Kickstarter was $450,000. "If you use it right, it's an ATM. But it's not easy. It takes a lot of work. It's an art and science that is learnable." DuBowski proposed a thirty-day campaign format so that the outreach could "build and crest." It's about inviting people into our projects and building relationships." He emphasized, "As film makers, we're bringing value. We're not just beggars." However, he stressed the importance of the project having an "ethical impact that makes change in the world."

During the Q & A, the panel was asked, "How do you create a balance between fundraising and film making?" DuBowski, who sees himself as "a change maker," related how he had done twelve benefit parties with host committees in different cities. Most importantly, he concluded, "It's about the follow-up."

"Any disasters we can learn from?" was an audience question that brought laughs. Cogan answered without missing a beat. He related the tale of the film team that had treated investors poorly and had made a bad movie. His top elements for success are a great film, a compelling social issue, and an idea of how the film can effectuate change.

The bottom line take away was, "Service and take care of your investors and funders. Treat them as friends. Cultivate them with respect and care. It will grow over time."

This article originally appeared on the website cultureID.