The Future of Film and Social Change

The future of filmmaking and funding is starting to look a little brighter. For the past few years, Hollywood executives who secretly care more about quality and less about the big box office dollar have bemoaned the dissolution of specialty arms like Warner Independent and the consolidation of groups like Paramount Vantage, but thankfully, The Tribeca Film Institute (TFI) is showing its loyalty to indie filmmakers and digital storytelling innovation the old fashioned way... by putting their money where their mouth is. Today, they just announced a partnership with Ford Foundation's Just Films Initiative, the grant recipients for the 2012 TFI New Media Fund. This diverse assortment of interactive, non-fiction, transmedia projects explores everything from Guatemalan street gangs to rural West Virginia community issues to collaborative problem-solving facilitated by a robot named Laika. The six projects from the U.S. and around the world have been awarded between $50,000 and $100,000 apiece and, in addition to receiving financial support, grantees will also take part in peer-to-peer meetings, as well as a lab to help them develop their projects and build advocacy with audiences, similar to The Sundance Institute's New Frontier Story Lab.

Why is this unique?

Because The TFI New Media Fund and Ford Foundation's Just Films project are supporting non-fiction film projects that go beyond traditional screens, exploring storytelling that is interactive, multi-platform and participatory with issues that matter most: social justice and equality.

"We continue to witness the power of storytelling in addressing the most relevant topics of today in unique and experimental forms," Orlando Bagwell, director of the Ford Foundation's JustFilms initiative, said. "The opportunities to inform and engage audiences on complex issues are limitless and the variety and diversity of these projects embody the potential to advance social justice."

This just demonstrates that, for at least one organization, box office blockbusters aren't going to overshadow the true goal of filmmaking: to tell evocative stories that matter and to contribute to the emerging field of interactive digital storytelling.

From Alma, A Tale of Violence, a moving confession of a former member of one of Guatemala's most violent gangs, where Alma tells her story in an interactive web/tablet concept in which the viewer moves between two screen levels, a face-to-face experience and a visual evocation of Alma's recollections to Laika's Adventure, an ongoing experiential, educational story world that plugs into Connected Sparks, an online social change platform for children, Laika, a traveling robot, facilitates collaborative problem solving among students, teachers, storytellers and a global audience. At its core, Laika's Adventure looks to harness the power of storytelling, technology and creativity to inspire micro-actions of change.

This evolving mediascape may continue to be under-the-radar and consistently in search of funds, but it could also very well mark the future of film -- at home or in the theater. Last year, The TFI New Media Fund was complemented by TFI Interactive, a one-day event held during the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival that brought together speakers from film, journalism, game design, and education to explore this new landscape and discover how different industries and disciplines can cross-fertilize and learn from each other. Another edition of TFI Interactive is planned for the next edition of the Tribeca Film Festival, which runs April 17-28, 2013, so be on the look out.