Sundance: Stories of Change

February 2, 2015
San Francisco School of Digital Filmmaking

Original Post: Here
Author: Sundance
<hr/ >

soc-logo-bgStories of Change is a multi-year initiative of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and the Skoll Foundation that brings together the power of independent storytelling with the impact of social entrepreneurship. Launched in 2007 this year, the initiative is expanding with an additional $2.5 million grant from the Skoll Foundation to include support for narrative filmmakers, new media artists, and continued support for documentary storytelling. In addition to funding the creation of new projects highlighting the work of global change-makers addressing the world’s most pressing problems, the initiative brings together leaders in both independent filmmaking and social entrepreneurship at key gatherings globally, including the Skoll World Forum (SWF), the Sundance Film Festival, and intensive workshops at the Sundance Resort.


Discover the impact of Sundance Institute and Skoll Foundation’s Stories of Change Initiative through the Sparkwise Dashboard


Since the launch of Stories of Change in 2008, the initiative has provided major funding and development support for 13 documentary film projects produced by award-winning filmmakers from around the world.  These films tell the stories of social entrepreneurs and other global change-makers confronting the world’s most pressing problems using innovative a scalable solutions.

In 2015 Sundance Institute and Skoll Foundation established the Stories of Change Content Fund to support a new generation of narrative film and interactive, transmedia, and non-fiction projects. Support for upcoming projects will be by invitation only.

The current slate of Stories of Change films are in various stages of development, production and distribution.

Stories of Change Films

Easy Like Water

Mohammed Rezwan is re-casting rising rivers as channels of communication—and transforming lives along the flood-prone river basins of Bangladesh. Rezwan, an innovative architect and social entrepreneur is building solar, powered floating schools. Replete with Internet connections, they’ve become mobile hubs for hundreds of communities facing the not-so-easy challenge of water taking their land and destroying their livelihoods. Can this soft-spoken inventor overcome both flooding and global indifference? With a concept that is elegant and home-grown, Rezwan is helping his country adapt to the new climate reality—and cultivating the next generation of problem solvers. While some still argue the reality of global warming as a man-made phenomenon, Bakers’ film shows the human face of climate disaster and highlights one simple, affordable adaptation that is changing lives by building a future that floats.


Washington, DC based filmmaker Glenn Baker spent 7 years in South East Asia as an adolescent and developed a life-long connection to the region. “I visited East Pakistan in 1971, at age 12, just two months before the bloody revolution that would rename it Bangladesh” His producing career focused on international affairs (Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria) and his first feature STAND UP: Muslims American Comics Come of Age is a cross-cultural comedy reflecting a post 9/11 nation’s perception of Islam. Baker returned to Bangladesh in 2008 in search of a personal, human story about climate change. Easy Like Water is the result of his commitment to this story: as of November 2011 the film is in post-production. Rezwan’s innovative strategies have expanded to libraries and health care facilities and have been featured on CNN and at the Cooper-Hewitt museums ‘Design with the Other 90%’ exhibit at the United Nations.



Glenn Baker is a filmmaker with more than 40 documentaries broadcast on PBS exploring global security issues. He produced and directed STAND UP: Muslim American Comics Come of Age for the PBS series “America at a Crossroads.” His productions on underrepresented groups, the military/media relationship, Cuba, conflict prevention and firearms violence have been recognized with more than a dozen national awards, including a CINE Golden Eagle to “Stand Up” for excellence in broadcast documentary.


Stephen Sapienza is a producer and writer of television programs for national and international distribution. Since 1992, he has produced documentaries for broadcast on PBS covering a wide range of military and global security issues, including the HIV crisis in Haiti, sex workers in the Dominican Republic, child soldiers in Sierra Leone, the Cuban military, and landmine survivors in Cambodia. He currently writes and produces for Azimuth Media’s global affairs TV series Foreign Exchange. He became Co-Director of the non-profit production company Azimuth Media in 2001.

Open Heart

Open Heart is the story of eight Rwandan children who leave their families behind and embark on a life-or-death journey to receive high-risk open-heart surgery in Africa’s only free-of-charge, state-of-the-art cardiac hospital, the Salam Center run by Emergency, an Italian NGO. Their heart valves, damaged and weakened by rheumatic heart disease, which develops from untreated childhood strep throat, leave them lethargic and weak. Some of the children have only months to live.

During their cross-continental journey, Open Heart reveals the intertwined endeavors of Dr. Emmanuel Rusingiza, Rwanda’s lone, overworked public cardiologist, and Dr. Gino Strada, the Salam Center’s head surgeon. As one of Emergency’s founders, he must fight not just for the children’s lives but for the tenuous financial future of the hospital.

There are an estimated 18 million people afflicted with rheumatic heart disease and in need of urgent surgery, almost two thirds of them children, and the disease kills 300,000 people per year. Despite those facts, the Salam Center remains the only facility in Africa capable of such high-standard cardiac surgery, free of charge. Salam is key in Emergency’s plan to treat and reduce heart diseases in an area three times the size of Europe and home to 300 million people. The idea that “the Right to be Cured” should be accessible and free of charge to every member of the “human community,” is part of Emergency’s operating ethos. To accomplish that, the Center serves as a hub for the program for pediatrics and cardiac surgery that Emergency is implementing throughout its own medical facilities and local hospitals across Africa.


Producer Cori Stern has worked with Partners in Health for many years. The team scheduled their first production trip shortly before the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010 and has been filming the unfolding story of Partners in Health groundbreaking work since.  While filming in Sudan, it became clear that the story unfolding on the ground merited its own film.



Kief recently completed Open Heart, which took him and a small crew to the heart of Rwanda and Sudan. He is concurrently filming a companion film about Dr. Paul Farmer and his organization Partners In Health, executive produced by Matt Damon and Damon Lindelof in collaboration with the Sundance Institute, Skoll Foundation and Tribeca Gucci.

He’s had international success from the award-winning feature-length documentaries, Kassim the Dream and The Devil’s Miner.Kief’s first feature, The Devil’s Miner, made its world premiere at the Rotterdam Film Festival and won over 15 awards at international film festivals.

He began his filmmaking career as editor on the Academy Award-nominated documentary, Blood Ties: The Life and Work of Sally Mann. He is the recipient of two Emmy nominations for his editing work with National Geographic and earned the International Monitor Award for Best Editing on the journalistic film, What’s News? Kief is a member of the Director’s Guild of America and is based in Los Angeles, California.


Cori Shepherd Stern is a writer and producer, working in both documentary and narrative film. In addition to Open Heart, she is currently producing a feature documentary in collaboration with the Sundance Institute, Skoll Foundation and The Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund about the revolutionary health care organization Partners In Health, also directed by Kief Davidson. Her other film projects include the major feature film release Warm Bodies directed by Jonathan Levine for Summit Entertainment and Lionsgate, and The Arizona Project for Miramax.

Beyond film, Cori is known for her work as a social change strategist and as a co-founder of STRONGHEART, an international residential community and accelerated learning lab for exceptional young people from extreme life circumstances across the globe including former child slaves, child soldiers, refugees, and other young survivors of conflict or poverty. The program – which has been called “R&D for brilliance in unlikely places” – combines groundbreaking neuroscience, social and personal change theory, and community psychology to affect significant change and create future influencers and advocates from exceptionally challenging backgrounds.

Cori’s work has been covered by BBC, CNN, NPR, and National Geographic among others. She was named O Magazine’s “Good Guy of the Month” and ABC World News “Person of the Week.”

Poor Consuelo Conquers the World

It all started by accident in 1969, when a Peruvian telenovela character worked her way out of poverty using a sewing machine; and suddenly sewing machines flew off the shelves by the thousands all over Peru. That incident, combined with the social modeling theories of psychologist Albert Bandura, demonstrating the power of fictional media characters to act as role models and influence behaviors of viewers, inspired a brilliant Mexican director named Miguel Sabido to create popular telenovelas designed both to entertain and to address urgent social issues. His first series were huge commercial hits and demonstrably contributed to skyrocketing enrollments in literacy classes and significant declines in population growth rates in heavily overpopulated Mexico. He revised and refined his formula until it became a scientific methodology that soon spread all over the world with success after success, and ultimately helped create an entire field, now known as Entertainment-Education. Sabido essentially created an affordable, exportable model for socially sustainable development, all while creating hit show after hit show. Like Sabido’s work, our documentary Poor Consuelo Conquers the World is both entertaining and solution-oriented in its approach to social change.


Storytelling, connecting with audiences via film and television with a goal of creating lasting social change is a core precept of the Stories of Change project. Poor Consuelo Conquers the World, looks at both historical and contemporary examples of Entertainment-Educational from a global perspective, ranging from Bolivia to Mexico, India to South Africa, and Afghanistan to the US. The focus is on empowering the poor and illiterate multitudes to make beneficial behavior changes that improve their daily lives. As one of the principal creators of this form of storytelling, Miguel Sabido’s innovation was to formalize the age-old notion of telling stories to educate a wide public, and adapt it for mass media in the form of telenovelas. He made it purposely entertaining but with specific aims that were often counter to the prevailing culture, such as a soap-opera addressing family planning at a time when family planning was illegal and even unconstitutional in Mexico. His family planning telenovela, made with the agreement of the government, the Catholic Church, and even the Communist Party, spurred a significant reduction in population growth rates in Mexico and persuaded India’s the-Prime Minister, Indira Ghandi, to invite Sabido to India to oversee the development of India’s first soap-opera, Hum Log. This lead to the creation of the first NGO dedicated to producing social-issue soap operas, PCI-Media Impact, now active in dozens of countries, and dozens of similarly dedicated NGOs/producers world wide including the Center for Media and Health in the Netherlends, the Vermont-based Population Media Council (PMC), Puntos de Encuentro in Nicaragua, The BBC World Service Trust in India, Search for Common Ground in Palestine and elsewhere, Soul City in South Africa, and many others.



Peter Friedman recently began shooting The Devil is in the Detail: Portrait of an Artist, an in-depth portrait of one of the world’s greatest and least famous artists at work. Friedman is also developing two features, Fatherless: A bipolar tragic-comedy and The Death of Philip Brooks. He has been making documentaries since 1980, when his first short was nominated for an Academy Award. Silverlake Life, in 1993, won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize among many other prizes, and is universally considered among the most important films ever made about AIDS. Death by Design, in 1995, is widely considered a landmark, and significantly influenced the way science is represented on film. Mana-Beyond Belief, (IDFA 2005), co-directed with Roger Manley, is a globally shot visual essay about the power of objects.


R. Paul Miller, now head of the Doha Film Commission in Qatar, produced of Snow Angels (2007), A Love Song for Bobby Long(2003), Prozac Nation (2000), Men with Guns (1998), and Lone Star (1993), as well as an associate producer on The Secret of Roan Inish (1994). In addition, Miller is Head of Production at Escape Pictures.


In 1984 Miguel Sabido, the father of Entertainment-Education (and the hero of Poor Consuelo), was invited by Indira Ghandi to develop and launch India’s first soap opera. Hum Log soared to the top of entertainment charts and drew a regular viewing audience of more than 50 million people. It also began to change family planning attitudes and practices thoughout India. The New York based NGO PCI-Media Impact was born, and to this day continues producing radio and television programs to promote family planning and many, many other issues in dozens of countries throughout the world.

During one of these programs a young character, Shandi, asked a question on the radio drama Taru that echoed throughout Bihar, India: Why don’t I have a birthday? See, little girls in Bihar didn’t celebrate their birthdays. Only boys did. Over the course of a few weeks, Shandi, aided by a social worker, Taru, planned and hosted her birthday party. Soon after the broadcasts, girls throughout Bihar began to celebrate their birthdays.

But the change didn’t stop there. Birthdays were symbolic of other inequalities – who went to school, who ate first, who received the best medical care. These things started changing too. An entire village decided it was time for all little girls to receive an education, so that year little girls got to go with their brothers to school.

Each of our 100 programs has a Shandi, someone who asks the seemingly simple question that transforms a society. These stories have reached 1 billion people in 34 countries. That’s the power of Entertainment-Education. We think it’s pretty cool and invite you to learn more by watching the video below and exploring the rest of our website.

Rafea, Solar Mama

Rafea is a Bedouin woman who lives with her four daughters in one of Jordan’s poorest desert villages on the Iraqi border. She is given a chance to travel to India to attend the Barefoot College, where illiterate grandmothers from around the world are trained in 6 months to be solar engineers. If Rafea succeeds, she will be able to electrify her village, train more engineers, and provide for her daughters.

Even when she returns as the first female solar engineer in the country, her real challenge will have just begun. Will she find support for her new venture? Will she be able to inspire the other women in the village to join her and change their lives?  And most importantly, will she be able to re-wire the traditional minds of the Bedouin community that stands in her way?

A 58-minute broadcast version of this film is currently available on YouTube, click to watch!


When Barefoot College founder Bunker Roy shared the stories of empowered grandmothers bringing the transformative power of light to their rural communities, he created a buzz of interest among documentarians on the lookout for a good story. Jehane Noujaim (Control Room, didn’t wait for a commission. Jehane picked up her camera and headed to Africa to follow Roy, a distinguished looking Indian, sell the opportunity become solar engineers to a village in Mali. With founding support from the ‘Stories of Change’ partnership, the film will be part of the global documentary project Why Poverty?



Jehane Noujaim was raised in Cairo where she began her career as a photographer. Following a B.A. in Film and Philosophy at Harvard, she directed Mokattam (1998). Noujaim went on to produce and direct (2001) in association with Pennebaker Hegedus Films and Control Room (2004). She was co-director on We Are Watching You. Noujaim has also worked as a cinematographer on Born Rich (2003), Only the Strong Survive (2002), and Down from the Mountain(2002), and as executive producer on Encounter Point (2006) and Budrus (currently in release).

Mona Eldaief is a director, director of photography, and editor on documentary film and television projects around the world. Born in Cairo, Egypt and raised in the United States, she graduated from New York University with a degree in political science and photography. Her documentary feature credits include Control Room, A Wedding in Ramallah, and Her Name Is Zelda. Television credits include programs for PBS Frontline World , Discovery Networks, Travel Channel, ABC News, and MTV News and Docs. Mona is currently directing and shooting Barefoot Engineers, a documentary feature about a Bedouin woman from the northeastern desert in Jordan who is struggling against the Patriarchal rules of her society to get an education as a solar engineer in India and put the women of her village to work to help alleviate poverty.


Mette Heide is an award-winning producer and owner of +plus pictures ApS. She has worked as an executive producer for the past 16 years. She has most recently produced Last White Man Standing (2010), The Invention of Dr. Nakamats (2009) andHonestly, Mum and Dad (2009), the best selling format in Danish television history. She has also produced Little Miss Grown Up(2008), winner of the 2009 Danish Academy Award for Best documentary, Milosevic on Trial (2007), the 2008 Danish Academy Award winner for Best Documentary, and Liberace of Baghdad, winner of the Special Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. In 2008, Heide, along with Mette Hoffmann Meyer and Weijun Chen, won a Danish TV-Oscar for Please Vote for Me, as part of the award-winning series “Why Democracy?”.


Established in 1972, the Barefoot College is a non-governmental organization that provides basic services and solutions to problems in rural communities, with the objective of making them self-sufficient and sustainable. These ‘Barefoot solutions’ can be broadly categorized into solar energy, water, education, health care, rural handicrafts, people’s action, communication, women’s empowerment and wasteland development.

The College believes that for any rural development activity to be successful and sustainable, it must be based in the village as well as managed and owned by those whom it serves. Therefore, all Barefoot initiatives whether social, political or economic, are planned and implemented by a network of rural men and women who are known as ‘Barefoot Professionals’. With little guidance, encouragement and space to grow and exhibit their talent and abilities, people who have been considered ‘very ordinary’ and written off by society, are doing extraordinary things that defy description.

The Revolutionary Optimist

Children are saving lives in the slums of Calcutta. Amlan Ganguly doesn’t rescue children; he empowers them to become change agents, battling poverty and transforming their neighborhoods with dramatic results. The Revolutionary Optimists follows Amlan and the children he works with – Shika, Salim, Kajal and Priyanka – on an intimate journey through adolescence, as they bravely fight the forces that oppress them. Using street theater, dance, and data as their weapons, the children have mounted vaccination drives to close the final mile with polio vaccination, turned garbage dumps into playing fields, and conducted education campaigns that have resulted in a significant drop in malaria and diarrhea in their neighborhood. Through intimate footage with the children, we witness not only the changes they are able to make in their neighborhood, but also the changes in the kids themselves.

Check here for upcoming special screenings.


In production since 2008, the Revolutionary Optimists has evolved into a short film, multi-platform tool as well as a feature film. In 2010 the filmmakers participated in the BAVC Producers Institute to develop Map Your World, an innovative way to track clean water and other public health issues. The short film, The Revolutionary Optimists, premiered a TEDx event, introduced by Melinda Gates. The feature film was part of the 2011 Sundance Documentary Edit and Story Lab at the Sundance Resort.



Maren Grainger-Monsen is a physician, filmmaker-in-residence and director and founder of the Program in Bioethics in Film at the Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics. Maren directed Hold Your Breath (2007) and Worlds Apart (2003), a large-scale project on cross-cultural conflicts in medicine, which was broadcast on national public television and is currently being used in over 60% of US medical schools. Her film, The Vanishing Line (1998), exploring the art and issues of dying, was broadcast on the national PBS POV series. She won a regional Emmy Award for her film, Where the Highway Ends: Rural Healthcare in Crisis(1996). Maren studied film at the London International Film School, received her medical doctorate from the University of Washington and her emergency medicine residency at Stanford. She lives near Stanford with her husband, medical device entrepreneur and mandolin player Jeff Grainger, her two children Solenn and Tilson, and five chickens.

Nicole Newnham is a documentary filmmaker and writer, currently co-producing The Revolutionary Optimists with Maren Grainger-Monsen as a filmmaker-in-residence at the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics Program in Bioethics and Film. Nicole recently co-produced and directed the critically acclaimed The Rape of Europa, about the fate of Europe’s art treasures during WWII. Nicole was also nominated for a national Emmy Award for co-producing and directing the documentary Sentenced Home(2006) which follows three Cambodian refugees in Seattle who are deported back to Cambodia after 9/11. With Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer Brian Lanker, she co-produced They Drew Fire (2000), a widely-acclaimed special for PBS about the combat artists of World War II, and wrote the companion book distributed by Harper Collins. Nicole graduated from Oberlin College and has a Master’s degree in Documentary Film from Stanford University. She lives in Oakland with her husband, education reformer Tom Malarkey, and her sons Finn and Blaine.



A qualified lawyer, Amlan began his career as an apprentice to the most reputed criminal lawyer in Calcutta. He was soon disillusioned with a legal system that provided little justice to the poor unable to pay fees and withstand the long drawn legal process.

In 1996, Amlan decided to make a complete switch and joined Lutheran World Service India. In 1999, Amlan registered Prayasam with a few friends with the intention of enabling children to participate in the decisions and factors that affect their lives. Under Amlan’s leadership, Prayasam has emerged as a regional expert and trailblazer in child rights programming and workshops. Amlan is best known for his use of popular media to engage and educate children in an interactive, problem-posing approach. A self-taught choreographer and fashion designer, Amlan incorporates both contemporary and traditional art forms into Prayasam’s alternative education models, which range from song, dance and comics to puppetry and storytelling. Amlan has made mentorship a hallmark at Prayasam, which has become a platform for introducing young people of diverse backgrounds to the social sector. Amlan is best known for his use of popular media to engage and educate children in an interactive, problem-posing approach.

Brown Gold

SH*T! follows radical solutions that turn human waste into green energy. From the bottom of the poverty ladder to the heights of power, $H*T! shows a transformation in thinking, where human waste is not a problem – it’s a resource. According to Co-director Annika Gustafson “’You can’t make a film about shit!’ is the number one comment we get when we tell people about our film”

The facts: a full third of the world’s population has no access to toilets. That’s 2.6 billion people who have no choice but to defecate in the open, posing the single largest threat to drinking water and public health on the planet.

At the center of SH*T! lies a simple innovation: the PeePoo bag. Invented in Sweden, it turns human waste in to fertilizer after a mere two weeksThe filmmakers followed the PeePoo team as they seek to make a viable business out of a good idea and launched a pilot project in Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum. Well-intentioned outsiders with high-stakes business goals (the model depends on local people creating micro-enterprises to sell the bags) meet cultural, philosophical and language barriers, all of which makes for some low-level humor and high drama.


Clean water is an important, and appealing cause. Picking up a bottle of Ethos at Starbucks you can help a child somewhere, somehow get clean water. But large-scale change is not neatly packaged; SH*T! faces an uncomfortable truth with a touch of humor and a heaping dose of humanity. Conventional development approaches to overpopulation, poverty and lack of sanitation and electricity in the world’s worst slums require lots of money, highly-functioning governments, and international cooperation. Meanwhile, a short-term way to deal with this most basic of human activities provides a dignified, safe and sustainable solution. It takes a brave storyteller to venture in to this subject, but Annika Gustafson and Phil Jandaly, partners in film and in life, fear not. Their unique approach – animated poo! – to telling this story of innovation in action makes an appealing story out of well, you know.



Annika Gustafson grew up on a pig farm in southern Sweden where she literally fell into the manure pit – an incident that ultimately drove her to look for a different occupation. KILLING TIME, her feature length documentary debut, won Le Grand Prix at the Montreal Human Rights Film Festival 2008.

Born in Birmingham, England, Phil Jandaly spent his first years in Lebanon before moving to Montreal. Phil mainly works as an editor and cut Annika’s award winning documentary Killing Time. He knows a thing or two about poop after Annika talked him into having two sled dogs and a baby.

Together they formed Bedouin Viking Inc. as a reflection of their respective Swedish and Syrian heritage. The fusion of two seemingly mismatched cultures stands as a powerful metaphor of curiosity and tenacity, and an illustration of the global vision in the filmmakers’ work. SH*T! will be the first production to fall under the banner. Annika Gustafson previously produced under Man & Motion Productions.


The Team

Kenya has long been Africa’s success story—stable and ethnically harmonious.

After the presidential election in December 2007, everything changed. Voting controversy split the country along ethnic lines. A thousand people were killed and half a million displaced, pushing Kenya toward civil war, if not genocide. Dignitaries intervened, brokering peace, and establishing a fragile power-sharing government, but the post-election fallout persists. An alternative local response to the post-election violence seems superficial by comparison but is potentially more impactful: produce a TV soap opera series, hoping taboo storylines can bridge ethnic divisions and help transform a nation. Starting in December 2008, a Kenyan production company began work on a TV drama series, “The Team”, following the struggles of a fictional soccer team to overcome their ethnic differences, both on and off the pitch.

There’s inherent drama behind any TV production: will deadlines be met; will it be good; will it find an audience? But here the stakes are exponentially higher: if you don’t captivate an audience, you risk further losing your country.

All the ingredients for a compelling feature film are here: a skilled team of filmmakers; a stunning location; an unfolding process that is inherently visual and dramatic; an uncertain outcome that could have repercussions for both other conflicts and media’s potential to make a difference. A place ripe for transformation, but that’s also teetering on the brink. What can a soap opera achieve in this volatile context? Watch and see.


Patrick Reed first met Search For Common Ground founder John Marks and partner Susan Collin Marks at a Stories of Change Convening at the Skoll World Forum. Patrick attended subsequent convenings at the Sundance Film Festival and went into production in 2009. The Team was completed and had its world premiere at IDFA in 2010 followed by a special screening at the Skoll World Forum in March, 2011.



A decade ago, Patrick Reed abandoned a PhD program in History to work on documentaries, first as a writer/researcher, then as a director. Reed has collaborated with Peter Raymont on several White Pine Pictures’ award-winning productions over the years, playing a key creative role on Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire which won the World Cinema Documentary Audience Award at Sundance 2006, and Best Documentary Emmy in 2007. Most recently, Reed directed the award-winning documentary Triage: Dr. James Orbinski’s Humanitarian Dilemma which had its North American premiere at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.


Filmmaker, journalist and writer Peter Raymont has produced and directed over 100 documentary films and series during a career of 34-years. His films have taken him to Ethiopia, Nicaragua, India, Rwanda, the High Arctic and throughout North America and Europe. His documentary feature, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire was honoured with the 2005 Audience Award for World Cinema Documentaries at Sundance Film Festival and the 2007 Emmy Award for Best Documentary.

Raymont’s most recent feature documentary film, A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman, which premiered at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival; is an exploration of exile, memory, longing and democracy, seen through the experiences of the best-selling American-Argentinean writer and playwright. Raymont is also the Executive Producer of The Border, the new 13 episode, 1 hour, dramatic series on CBC television.


Founded in 1982, Search for Common Ground works to transform the way the world deals with conflict – away from adversarial approaches and towards collaborative problem solving. We use a multi-faceted approach, employing media initiatives and working with local partners in government and civil society, to find culturally appropriate means to strengthen societies’ capacity to deal with conflicts constructively: to understand the differences and act on the commonalities.

To Catch a Dollar

In 1974 , a young economist in Bangladesh loaned a total of $27.00 to 42 families. Today, millions of women in the developing world have improved their lives through micro-lending programs of Muhammad Yunus’ Nobel Prize-winning Grameen Bank. Now, Grameen America is taking this simple yet radical concept to the streets of New York: 5 poor women- each with a dream- 5 low-interest loans, weekly meetings with group accountability, but no collateral, no guarantee. Can they build their American dream with a couple hundred dollars and a proven micro-credit model? Will Yunus’ model succeed in the financial capital of the world?


Director Gayle Ferraro made her first film about the Grameen bank in 2000, profiling an illiterate young woman in Bangladesh who borrowed enough to buy a chicken, then a rickshaw, and create a micro-business. Ten years later, she returned to film that same woman, now mother able to send her daughter to school. The success of To Catch A Dollar, is in how it interweaves the history of the founding of the first ever bank for the poor, with its introduction in the US following the financial crisis of 2008, showing how a world-changing innovation can be adapted to meet the changing needs of societies and communities.

Ferraro was already following Muhammad Yunus on his global mission to spread the word on microcredit when ‘Stories of Change’ issued the call for proposals. Since some consider Yunus the original social entrepreneur, it was only fitting that To Catch A Dollar was the first in the series to be complete. The film had its world premiere at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and was released theatrically in the Fall of 2011.



Gayle Ferraro, founder of Aerial Productions, brings personal accounts of extraordinary and socially compelling stories to the film circuit. To Catch a Dollar is Ferraro’s fourth independently produced and directed feature documentary. Ferraro’s previous works include: Ganges: River to Heaven (2003) where with unparalleled intimacy the film explores dying in the holy city o f Varanasi, India; Anonymously Yours (2002) shot clandestinely in Burma follows the harrowing world of sex-trafficking through the stories of four young women; and Sixteen Decisions (2000) an intimate look at one young woman’s challenges in rural Bangladesh to change her family’s life of extreme poverty. She received a Masters Degrees in Public Administration from Harvard University and Mass Communication from Boston University and studied International Human Rights Law at Oxford University.


Bend the Arc

MOUNTAINS BEYOND MOUNTAINS, Tracey Kidder’s Pulitzer-prize winning bestseller, made a kind of reluctant global health rock star out of the quietly charismatic Dr. Paul Farmer. Treating drug-resistant TB in Haiti, he and his partners openly defied the global public health care system by insisting on curing a disease that conventional wisdom said was incurable under the circumstances. Since that time, they’ve gone on to work in thirteen additional countries, significantly advancing the idea of health care as a human right throughout the world. Kief Davidson and Cori Stern’s documentary will go deeper into the story of PIH and their partners, to portray a range of remarkable and very human characters working in the field of global health care and social justice.

In the world of international development, success equals “sustainability, ” which usually means “economically feasible for a given population.” But Dr. Farmer and PIH focus on outcome: what will truly heal a patient regardless of inconvenience or cost. If a patient has tuberculosis and a leaky roof that contributes to their poor health, the PIH prescription is world-class TB medicine, a community health care worker monitoring daily progress, and a new roof, period. PIH – and their partners – view health care as a human right, and believes that we each have a moral imperative to act on that belief, no matter the cost. This view has become highly controversial: life-saving medicine and expensive technologies are commonplace in the West, but virtually unavailable to the world’s poor. Public health care and social equity are inextricably linked; and this film will tell the story of the doctors, nurses and patients who battle disease under difficult circumstances and overcome enormous obstacles to consistently connect even the poorest patients to the care they need.


When the earthquake hit Haiti – devastating all the major hospitals – Partners In Health immediately stepped in and became the fastest-responding, most coordinated organization on the ground – staffed primarily by 120 Haitian doctors and 500 Haitian nurses, many of whom lost their families, homes, and entire communities. In the massive media attention that followed, PIH became know in the mainstream. Meryl Streep even mentioned them at the Oscars. Suddenly a relatively obscure charity was heralded in the mainstream press. Following the success of Kidder’s book, the PIH team may have shied away from a documentary camera crew focusing on their work. But an in-depth film could reach exponentially more people with this remarkable approach to pulic health that defies expectation. Since producer Cori Stern is also a social entrepreneur, working in Liberia and Rwanda she’s connected with PIH as a person dedicated to poverty alleviation. Partnering with Kief Davidson who brings a stunning visual and a compassionate eye to direction, they are the right team to capture this multi-faceted story of one of the world’s leading health care innovators.



Kief Davidson is an award-winning feature film and documentary director, whose latest film Kassim the Dream, about a former child soldier turned boxing champion, premiered at the 2008 Tribeca film festival and won over 10 international film festivals including: AFI Fest – Best Documentary and Audience Award, and the Silver Docs award at AFI/Silver Docs film festival. Additionally, Kassim was nominated by the IDA for Best Feature and was released theatrically by IFC Films. His prior film, The Devil’s Miner, won over 15 awards at festivals including Tribeca, Hot Docs, and Chicago. He received the FIPRESCI Award, the DGA Award nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Documentary Directing and won the PBS Independent Lens Audience Award. The Devil’s Miner sold to over 45 countries and screened theatrically in over 200 cinemas internationally.


Cori Shepherd Stern divides her time between international NGO work and producing film. Her credits include The Arizona Project for Miramax, script by Sheldon Turner, Ben Affleck directing. The film is based on true events in 1970’s Arizona, which lead to 19 indictments of major crime figures and shut down mob activity in Goldwater’s Arizona. Cori is also executive producingWarm Bodies for Summit, written and directed by Jonathan Levine. Additionally, Cori is known for her work as a social entrepreneur and innovative strategist for poverty alleviation. Her projects have been featured on BBC, NPR, and Oprah. She was named by ABC World News as “Person of the Week” and O Magazine as “Good Guy of the Month.”


We are driven by three goals: to care for our patients, to alleviate the root causes of disease, and to share lessons learned with other countries and NGOs. We bring the benefits of modern medicine to those most in need and work to alleviate the crushing economic and social burdens of poverty that exacerbate disease.

PIH believes in 5 fundamental principles:

  • Providing universal access to primary health care
  • Making healthcare and education free to the poor
  • Hiring and training community health workers
  • Fighting diseases mean fighting poverty
  • Partnering with local and national governments

Youthbuild Documentary Project

The YouthBuild Documentary Project intimately captures the lives of four teenagers who make the cut for an innovative and demanding alternative education program – YouthBuild – in North Philadelphia, one of the roughest communities in America. Documenting their year long journey toward graduation, the film interweaves dramatic stories of poverty and opportunity, exploring the unforgettable personal struggles to reclaim communities and reinvent fragile lives. This film goes beyond stereotypes of disconnected youth to show how brutal boundaries can define a life, and how these four teens find the strength and courage to transcend them.

The dropout rate in Philadelphia’s public schools hovers at 50% and the crime rate is one of the highest in the nation. Over 2000 out-of-school youth have applied to YouthBuild Philadelphia for a program that offers 18-20 year olds a shot at a high school diploma and the holy grail – a job. There are only 200 slots. If you make it through the first round of interviews, you then must pass through a grueling emotional boot camp – known around here as Mental Toughness. If you’re one of the lucky 200 invited into the program, you’re about to enter a year that can remarkably change the course of your life.

Welcome to YouthBuild, where you go to class, you rebuild slums, you to go prom, you go to too many funerals, and you fight to make it to graduation. Last year, only 117 made it to graduation. Will these young people make it this year?


Youth Build USA is perhaps the least well-known and most successful youth intervention, education and support organization in the US: it has touched hundreds of thousands of lives since its founder Dorothy Stoneman (a Skoll Foundation Awarded Social Entrepreneur) began a program to teach and employ at-risk youth in Harlem to rebuild abandoned apartment building and provide housing for the homeless. Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern’s breakthrough films include both hard-hitting story of genocide in the Sudan, The Devil Came on Horseback and entertainment like the hit documentary A Piece of Work featuring comedienne Joan Rivers. The ‘Stories of Change’ connected Stoneman and Sundberg and inspired both filmmakers and social entrepreneur to explore ways to tell this story of thousands of lives, and numerous communities, transformed The 2010 short filmYouth Build from Sundance supported by the Gates Foundation is a preview of what’s to come.



Annie and RIcki are well known for producing and creating critically acclaimed documentaries and are sought after for their experience in directing dynamic personal journeys close to home, as well as mounting large international productions in challenging locations. Accomplished writers and directors in their own right, Ricki and Annie are the leading creative forces behind Break Thru Film’s productions and are known for crafting deft and cinematic journeys through unexpected territory. Each project tracks new landscape – from criminal injustice in the American South, to Darfur, to stand up comedy and celebrity culture – but all are centered on unforgettable people and their most human experiences.

In 2009, Annie and Ricki received a Sundance/Skoll ‘Stories of Change’ production grant to support a new documentary about the innovative education and anti-poverty program YouthBuild. Their new short for the Sundance Institute / Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) is soon to be released as part of the BMGF focus on the United Nations’ Millennium Goals.

Ricki’s additional credits include directing and producing In My Corner for POV/ PBS, Emmy nominated Neglect Not The Children(PBS) and as producer on HBO’s series Autopsy I, II, III and Murder 9 to 5. Ricki is the author of a children’s book series Beryl Bean: Mighty Adventurer of the Planet published by HarperCollins.

Annie was a director and supervising producer on the HBO 2009 series Brave New Voices and she developed and produced the feature film Tully, nominated for four 2003 IFP Spirit Awards. Additional directing and producing credits include a four part special on the Mayo Clinic for Discovery (2004) and the 1996 Academy Award and Emmy winning One Survivor Remembers, a co-production of HBO and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.



YouthBuild is a youth and community development program that simultaneously addresses core issues facing low-income communities: housing, education, employment, crime prevention, and leadership development. In YouthBuild programs, low-income young people ages 16-24 work toward their GEDs or high school diplomas, learn job skills and serve their communities by building affordable housing, and transform their own lives and roles in society. There are now 273 YouthBuild programs in 45 states, Washington, DC, and the Virgin Islands. 92,000 YouthBuild students have built 19,000 units of affordable, increasingly green, housing since 1994.

Sakena Yacoobi: Uncommon Hero

To some she is a radical out for trouble. To others she represents a bright post-Taliban future. Sakena Yacoobi’s weapon of choice: books, which she deploys via the Afghan Institute for Learning, a grassroots organization she founded 12 years ago. Kirsten Johnson traveled to Afghanistan in 2009 to document Sakena’s work and AIF’s grassroots network to bring education to a wide cross-section of Afghans. Production ended after one research trip due to security concerns for the films subject and crew. A short film focusing on Sakena and AIL was created and premiered at the 2010 Skoll World Forum.


Producer Julie Parker Benello had been following the amazing work of Sakena Yacoobi before Sundance issues the ‘Stories of Change’ call for proposals. She enlisted acclaimed cinematographer and director Kirsten Johnson to take a research trip to Afghanistan during the escalation of the American offensive in Afghanistan. Kirsten’s trip was cut short due to security concerns for both the filmmaker and her subjects. But her commitment to capturing stories of coming of age in war-torn Afghanistan laid the foundation for her feature documentary I Dream Them Always.



Director / Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson has travelled the globe capturing compelling images that convey the complexity of the human experience with artistry and intelligence. She is currently editing I Dream Them Always, which she shot and directed in Afghanistan. In the last year, as the supervising DP on Abby Disney and Gini Reticker’s series, Women, War and Peace, she traveled to Colombia, Bosnia, and Afghanistan. She shared the 2010 Sundance Documentary Competition Cinematography Award with Laura Poitras for The Oath. She shot the Tribeca Film Festival 2008 Documentary winner, Pray the Devil Back to Hell. Her feature film script My Habibi was selected for the 2006 Sundance Writer’s Lab and Director’s Lab and is the recipient of an Annenberg grant. Her previous documentary as a director, Deadline, (co-directed with Katy Chevigny), premiered at Sundance in 2004, was broadcast on primetime NBC, and won the Thurgood Marshall Award.


Julie Parker Benello is a Co-founder of Chicken & Egg Pictures, a hybrid organization that matches money and mentorship to support women filmmakers dedicated to using their storytelling skills to address the global justice issues of our time. Julie has produced documentaries on health and environmental issues for more than a decade. In 2002, she co-produced the Sundance award-winning HBO documentary Blue Vinyl, co-directed by Judith Helfand and Daniel Gold. Prior to Blue Vinyl, Julie produced the documentary Prostate Cancer: A Journey of Hope, which aired nationally on PBS in 1999. She has worked as a Production Executive for the Distribution Company Non Fiction Films and as a Researcher for Walter Cronkite’s documentary series Cronkite Remembers. She currently serves on the board of The Center for Environmental Health and The Global Fund for Women.


Professor Sakena Yacoobi is President and Executive Director of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), an Afghan women-led NGO she founded in 1995.The organization was established to provide teacher training to Afghan women, to support education for boys and girls, and to provide health education to women and children. Under Sakena’s leadership AIL has established itself as a groundbreaking, visionary organization which works at the grassroots level and empowers women and communities to find ways to bring education and health services to rural and poor urban girls, women and other poor and disenfranchised Afghans.

AIL was the first organization to offer human rights and leadership training to Afghan women. AIL supported 80 underground home schools for 3000 girls in Afghanistan after the Taliban closed girls’ schools in the 1990s.

AIL was the first organization that opened Women’s Learning Centers for Afghan women—a concept now copied by many organizations throughout Afghanistan. Using their grassroots strategies, AIL now serves 350,000 women and children each year through its Educational Learning Centers, schools and clinics in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Open Houses & Information

Sign up for one of our monthly open houses to tour our stage, meet the faculty, enjoy refreshments and more!

For more information about any of our programs or workshops, please click below.

Alternatively you can email or call (415) 824-7000.

Open House Request Info

© 2017 San Francisco Film School

Request Info

(415) 824-7000