Ford Foundation launches $50 million fund for next gen doc-makers

The new initiative, dubbed JustFilms, will parcel out US$10 million a year for the next five years to support socially-conscious projects from up-and-coming filmmakers.
January 20, 2011

In advance of the Sundance Film Festival, the Ford Foundation has announced a new initiative that will invest US$50 million over five years into socially conscious documentaries from new, emerging filmmakers.

The initiative, dubbed JustFilms, will parcel out $10 million per year over the next five years for film, video and digital works that, in the words of the Foundation, “show courageous people confronting difficult issues and actively pursuing a more just, secure and sustainable world.” JustFilms will pursue three funding paths: partnerships with organizations such as The Sundance Institute, the Independent Television Service and others; an ongoing open application process, and partnerships with other Ford Foundation grant programs, through which documentary film could draw attention to an issue or advance a movement.

Filmmaker and producer Orlando Bagwell, a member of the Ford Foundation since 2004, will serve as director of the initiative. “The test of JustFilms will be its ability to lift the voices of independent filmmakers and mediamakers from outside the mainstream, to build audiences for social justice stories, and to enlarge the conversation on critical but often less visible issues,” said Bagwell in a statement. “It’s work that at its essence is really about capturing imaginations.”

“With the growth of the Web and social networks, the potential global audience for filmed content with a social conscience has exploded,” added Luis UbiƱas, president of the Ford Foundation. “We want JustFilms to support visionary filmmakers from around the world to create works on urgent social issues, and help them reach and engage audiences.”

As part of the initiative, JustFilms will contribute $1 million per year over the next five years to support the Documentary Film Program at the Sundance Institute via the Sundance Institute/Ford Foundation Documentary Film Fund. The monies will support international and U.S. productions that “focus on human and civil rights, free expression, economic opportunity, and other critical topics.” Projects already being supported by the initiative include the four-part PBS special Women, War & Peace; Higher Ground and Detroit Hustles Harder (w/t).

For more information on the initiative, visit

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Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.