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Council on Foundation’s Film and Video Festival

April 07, 2011

(Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her previous post, she wrote about memory as an instrument of peace.)

Cof_logo Attendees at this year's Council on Foundations conference (April 10–12) in Philadelphia will have the opportunity to view some excellent documentary films during the conference's Film and Video Festival. Held in cooperation with Grantmakers in Film + Electronic Media (GFEM), the festival is a regular feature at the annual CoF conference and this year will feature a number of special screenings co-sponsored by council affinity groups like the International Human Rights Funders Group and Funders Together to End Homelessness. There will also be a presentation for funders on how to use short videos and other media to educate the public and explore community issues.

As I described in a previous post, documentary films are growing in popularity, both at festivals and via television and the Internet. Indeed, grantmakers and nongovernmental organizations increasingly grasp the potential of documentary films to tell their stories and advance their priorities -- not only in terms of traditional "public relations," but by conveying with deep-felt passion a subject or story that aligns with their own interests.

The Council on Foundations recognized the importance of film and video early on, launching a film and video festival ("in a closet," as Phil Hallen, formerly of the Falk Foundation, puts it) at an annual conference in the late 1960s. Today, the festival, a regular feature of the conference since then, is a juried exhibition of a dozen films with its own on-site screening room; conference participants can also borrow a DVD of any film to watch on their hotel television sets or their laptops.

For funders particularly interested in the impact of documentaries, the festival offers examples of how films can contribute to social change. Several years ago, I blogged about Traces of the Trade: A Story From the Deep North, a featured documentary at the council's 2008 conference that explored the history of slavery in the North through the lens of a Rhode Island family’s struggle to come to terms with its legacy as descendents of slave traders. At the time, the filmmakers created an extensive educational program around the film -- work now being carried out by the Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery, which was founded in 2009 to advance the conversation sparked by the film.

At the 44th Film and Video Festival this weekend, three films have been selected for special attention.

On Saturday, April 9, Budrus, a documentary about a community organizer who unites Palestinians and Israelis to save his village from being razed, will be screened. The film is one of two at the festival that will be honored with the Henry Hampton Award for Excellence in Film and Digital Media. Following the screening, producer Ronit Avni will join Elise Bernhardt, president of the Foundation for Jewish Culture, a funder of the film, for a discussion.

On Sunday, April 10, the second Henry Hampton Award winner will be screened. Crime After Crime is a documentary about a woman, Debbie Peagler, who killed her abusive partner. Such abuse is mandated by California law to be considered at sentencing but was not; the film follows a team of young lawyers who appeal Peagler's case. A national advocacy campaign around the issue of domestic violence and abuse is a component of the outreach associated with the film. Filmmaker Yoav Potash and Marion Dienstag, COO at the Foundation for Jewish Culture, a funder of the film, along with one of the lawyers and Peagler's daughter, will be present for the discussion.

A third film at the festival will feature a post-screening discussion as well: Lost Angels portrays life on the streets for denizens of Los Angeles' skid row, a diverse and eccentric population. Following the screening, representatives of Funders Together to End Homelessness will lead a discussion featuring Thomas Napper, the film's director, and producer Agi Orsi.

If you're in Philadelphia for the conference this weekend, be sure to check out one or all of the above. It will be time well spent. And for more information about the festival, click here.

-- Kathryn Pyle

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