By Philip Hallen
The year was 1968. The Council on Foundation's annual meeting, attended
by a record setting crowd of 400, was in progress in Kansas City.
The program committee had caved in to my campaign to show films
during the annual meeting, and I was holed up in a closet-sized
room with a 16mm projector and a skeptical audience averaging 4
to 5, watching the first 15 films that would be the genesis of the
Council's Film & Video Festival. The next year's annual meeting
in New Orleans included just four films. But the San Francisco meeting
the following year, 1970, nearly scuttled the Festival's future,
with an overwhelming schedule of 66 selections!
From those early experiments, the Film & Video Festival has come
to be a highly respected annual showcase for a dozen or so highly
engaging, creative and responsive media projects funded by foundations.
Even more important, it has been a vibrant example of how film and
video documentary projects can help to communicate foundations'
points of view, and encourage public policy debate about new social
The Festival has been an increasingly forceful demonstration of
film and video as tools that can expand and enhance understanding
of complex issues and allow foundations greater impact in their
areas of interest. Aside from on-site screenings and filmmaker-attended
events, the Festival has pioneered practical innovations, such as
hotel in-room screening (introduced at the Council's 1980s conference).
The festival catalog, added in the late 1970s, has been an invaluable
resource for its essays and film profiles, featuring timely context
showing how the festival selections have made a difference.
Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media or GFEM has generated financial
support for the festival. It has participated in the Council's program
committee, integrating media issues into panels and plenaries. Excerpts
from the films themselves have been woven into sessions. GFEM members
have worked with the Council to respond to changing technology issues
and to expand the mandate of the festival.
The Festival selection committee hired its first curator in the
mid-80s, creating a greater congruence between conference program
themes and the festival selections. Since 1996, noted critic Pat
Aufderheide, Director of the Center for Social Media at American
University, has curated the festival, bringing it further prestige.
This year, we take another big step by inaugurating the Henry Hampton
Award for foundation funded documentary films in the festival. This
new award honors Henry Hampton whose many achievements were aided
by foundations at every step.
We have developed this web site www.fundfilm.org with information
on the film & video festival including a searchable database of
past winners, and up-to-date information on how to fund media with
descriptions of cutting edge programs. A print publication on “Why
Fund Media, Stories from the Field” is also available to complement
the web resource. Our integrated approach to developing content
for the web and the print publication allows us to use the web for
Foundation support of media projects, largely stimulated by positive
examples presented in the festival, has increased significantly
since the beginning. Many smaller foundations are now more receptive
to inquiries about media funding, and all kinds of media tools—shorts,
“trigger” films, documentaries, conference, advocacy and
training videos, works of art and well-told stories-have become
a routine part of the toolkit for philanthropy.
Grantmakers are increasingly willing, even enthusiastic, to make
grants for film and video projects that further their goals. This
year's celebration is an indication of the Council's awareness of
this trend, and of members' support. It is a strong and well-built
platform for future involvement of foundations in the new media
environment just around the corner.