The Media Impact Funders team has just returned from the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where we convened a highly engaged group of media funders to discuss innovative new collaborations among funders and filmmakers, and social impact campaigns designed to move the needle at the community level.

Sandy Herz, Director, Global Partnerships at the Skoll Foundation, and Brenda Coughlin, Director, Producing and Impact Strategy at the Sundance Institute, kicked off our funder event with a discussion about their Stories of Change partnership. Together, they discussed the evolution of impact producing and the capacity-building support they provide to social entrepreneurs to drive long-term change. They underscored the value of bringing stakeholders together early in the process and providing a pipeline of support; the challenges of navigating tensions between artist/storyteller, and policy or programmatic goals; and the urgency to think deeply and act quickly.

We also heard from Penelope McPhee and John Bare of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, which believes that film’s greatest power is the power to convene. To that end, the foundation recently launched a series of year-long training programs designed to build the capacity of film as a convening tool to generate impact in their hometown of Atlanta. Penelope and John hope that a cohort of other cities will join them in this endeavor.

Finally, in a breakout session, Megha Agrawal and Max Steinman from Exposure Labs shared their vision of how advocacy organizations and media makers can work together to generate impact. Drawing from the learnings from social impact campaigns they created around the feature documentaries Chasing Coral and Chasing Ice, Exposure Labs has launched a new campaign, Unstoppable, which works to rally audiences at the local levels in order to garner attention from political leaders and promote change, especially around climate change and environmental issues.

Throughout the event, we had a lively Q&A with more than 40 attendees representing foundations, funds and federal agencies, who also shared insights into their own organizations, priorities and models for change. We’re so glad so many MIF members were able to join us in Park City, and extend our thanks to those who presented throughout the event.

The MIF team also took in a series of provocative and compelling new films, including The Great Hack and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, American Factory and more.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind won the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Feature Film prize as part of the Sundance Institute’s Science-in-Film Initiative, which is made possible by funding from Sloan. During last year’s funder gathering at Sundance, we heard from Doron Weber, Sloan’s vice president and program director, who talked about the foundation’s process for supporting entertainment films that carry science messages. Sloan’s interest in the public’s understanding of science began two decades ago when it launched an initiative to create more compelling stories of science and tech in pop culture. Read more about the Sloan Foundation’s interest in science.

We hope to share some of these excellent films with our members in various ways in upcoming programs. Stay tuned for more information on those exciting developments.

Sundance isn’t over yet! Go to sundance.org for more information on livestreams, photo galleries, films, meetings and more.

About the Author
Erica Meehan

Erica Meehan

Director of Development & Member Engagement

Erica has spent nearly 20 years at the intersection of media and philanthropy, with an emphasis on science programming. Through her consulting business, Meehan Media Consulting (launched 2010), she has collaborated with some of the world’s leading producers and learning institutions, including PBS, National Geographic, Disney, the Smithsonian Institution and more, to create powerful media and community programs that engage and inspire. She partners regularly with noted researchers to build on pedagogical research and conduct evaluations that demonstrate impact, and has a rich history with the National Science Foundation, including serving as a film project co-PI and panel reviewer for NSF funding. Erica previously served as Associate Vice President of Strategic Alliances at the Jane Goodall Institute and Manager of Film Production at National Geographic. She holds a degree in Radio/TV/Film from Northwestern University and Associate Producer credits on a series of National Geographic IMAX©-format feature films.