NEW YORK, 19 January 2012 — Just one year after its launch, JustFilms, the Ford Foundation’s documentary film fund, is providing major support to five independent films selected for competition and premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, the world’s leading showcase for independent filmmaking.

Each of the five embodies JustFilms’ vision of the power of independent film to illuminate the world in which we live and inspire people to engage in pressing social challenges, from the untold story of bravery and activism that opened access to AIDS drugs in the United States, to a poignant account of Detroit residents reimagining their city.

“We’re extremely pleased that five projects receiving major support from JustFilms have been selected to premiere at Sundance,” said Darren Walker, vice president of Ford’s Education, Creativity and Free Expression Program. “This is exactly what our initiative is all about—ensuring that talented filmmakers who are tackling tough social issues can break through to large new audiences in a timely way.”

JustFilms was launched one year ago, a day before the start of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. In its inaugural year, the initiative has made more than $10 million in grants to support more than 100 filmmakers and mediamakers around the world.

“We believe that Sundance is just the beginning of an opportunity for these filmmakers, and many others like them, to reach a new audience of engaged people who are hungry for stories about issues shaping our future,” added Walker.

JustFilms focuses on film, video and digital works that show courageous people confronting difficult issues and actively pursuing a more just, secure and sustainable world. Through 2016, it will invest $10 million every year 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.

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

Love Free or Die (U.S. Documentary Competition)
Director: Macky Alston
Ford Foundation Support: $400,000
Explores the story of Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop.

Detropia (U.S. Documentary Competition)
Directors: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
Ford Foundation Support: $450,000
Tells the dramatic story of the economic challenges facing Detroit and its most innovative residents.

How to Survive a Plague (U.S. Documentary Competition)
Director: David France
Ford Foundation Support: $400,000
Chronicles the battle to find life-saving drugs to fight AIDS in the United States.

The House I Live In (U.S. Documentary Competition)
Director: Eugene Jarecki
Ford Foundation Support: $600,0000
Filmed in more than 20 states, explores how America’s war on drugs has led to high rates of incarceration and the growth of a U.S. prison industry.

Red Hook Summer (Premiere)
Director: Spike Lee
Ford Foundation Support: $200,000
A feature film about a young Atlanta boy who spends a summer in Brooklyn with his grandfather, whom he’s never seen before.

And more

An additional nine films are receiving funding through JustFilm’s partnership with the Sundance Documentary Film project and the Independent Television Service (ITVS).

“While focusing on issues as diverse as human rights, poverty, cultural expression and sustainable development, every project supported by JustFilms has one thing in common—the power of good storytelling, ” said Orlando Bagwell, director of the JustFilms initiative at Ford. “These films make complex and often difficult issues accessible and entertaining, opening up whole new opportunities for audiences to engage on topics that may have once felt overwhelming or simply out of reach.”

With the explosion of digital media production over the past decade, there is far more film and video content available from which audiences can choose. But it remains a challenge for most documentary filmmakers to find support—and audiences—for works that address social issues in meaningful and compelling ways. JustFilms seeks to support courageous filmmakers to complete their important works and to help them reach a growing audience of engaged and socially conscious viewers.

The foundation pursues a three-part strategy to ensure that it is able to identify and support a wide range of innovative filmmakers:

  1. Signature Partnerships for Creativity and Change
    JustFilms partners with major film industry and public media organizations such as the Sundance Institute, the Independent Television Service and the Tribeca Film Institute, to help open doors for our filmmakers and broaden the reach of their work.
  2. Strategic Films to Advance Social Causes
    Building linkages across the work of the Ford Foundation globally, JustFilms uses about one-third of its resources to support projects that advance public understanding and engagement on issues aligned to the efforts of our grantees worldwide. This path invests in filmmakers working to bring voice to some of the toughest issues confronted by the people and organizations we support.
  3. New Ideas that Expand Horizons
    Remaining open to new ideas wherever they may emerge, JustFilms devotes a third of its grants to projects that it discovers through an ongoing open application process. This path will help ensure JustFilms stays attuned to creative and innovative trends and aware of emerging artists and ideas from around the world.

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.

To view the films the Ford Foundation has supported over its history, visit the Ford Foundation’s film collection

To learn more about JustFilms, visit its strategy and partners pages, as well as an overview of its grantmaking.

The Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent organization working to address inequality and build a future grounded in justice. For more than 85 years, it has supported visionaries 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. Today, with an endowment of $16 billion, the foundation has headquarters in New York and 10 regional offices across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

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