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History

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 issues.

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 updates.

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.
 
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