TIFF 2011: Cinelan, GE unveil short doc initiative

"Focus Forward" will feature 30 three-minute films about innovation and imagination from esteemed documentarians such as Joe Berlinger, Steve James, Alex Gibney, Jessica Yu, Lixin Fan, Liz Garbus, Morgan Spurlock and Barbara Kopple (pictured).
September 12, 2011

Cinelan, the filmmaker-driven project focused on the distribution of professionally produced three-minute films, and GE are officially kicking off their “Focus Forward” initiative at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and have announced further partnerships as well as the names of doc-makers, film festivals and conferences taking part in the 18-month program.

Documentarians slated to produce 30 three-minute shorts focused on “the incredible human power of ideas and invention” include Joe Berlinger, Alex Gibney, Barbara Kopple (pictured above), Jessica Yu, Lixin Fan, Liz Garbus, Steve James, Ross Kauffmann and Cinelan co-founder Morgan Spurlock.

During a breakfast at TIFF to officially announce the initiative, Cinelan partner and co-founder Karol Martesko-Fenster said that while GE has come on board as a partner, it will have no editorial control in the project. Also, the films will be owned by the filmmakers.

The gathering also served to promote the involvement of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) and video portal Vimeo as partners. IDFA has signed on for a multi-year partnership with Cinelan for the project, while Focus Forward films will first be shown exclusively on Vimeo and then more broadly syndicated via online channels.

The first set of three films will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, with more to follow at Berlin, Tribeca and other major film fests in Asia, Australia, Europe, Africa, South America and the Middle East beginning in 2012.

Martesko-Fenster said that Cinelan is still looking for a few international directors to round out the first 30, but that the full roster of filmmakers, festival partners and exclusive distribution outlets will be revealed by the fall.

He also emphasized that although there are corporate partners involved in the initiative, “This is not branded entertainment or any form of cause marketing.” While there are no immediate plans to monetize the projects, a compilation film will roll out in the third phase of the initiative, which will be distributed to more “traditional” platforms.

While subject matter for the completed films has not yet been announced, filmmaker Jessica Yu (whose Last Call at the Oasis premieres at TIFF) told those at the gathering that her film will follow the exploits of the founder of the World Toilet Summit in Singapore, Jack Sim, AKA Mr. Toilet or Toiletman, and his efforts to make the issue of sanitation more prominent globally.

Spurlock said the initiative was influenced by the conversations held at the TED conference, in which individuals from myriad walks of life discuss “ideas worth spreading.”

“We want filmmakers to say [about their films], ‘This is someone that you need to see,’” Spurlock said. “Hopefully it will create a level of engagement beyond the film.”

Motioning to filmmaker Nick Broomfield, who attended the breakfast and was about to accompany Spurlock for a keynote conversation during today’s TIFF Doc Conference, Spurlock said: “Maybe we can convince Nick to do one too.”

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