Sundance Institute, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation collaborate

Sundance Institute and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are teaming up on documentary shorts in line with the United Nations' Millennium Development goals.
September 9, 2010

Sundance Institute and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are collaborating on a multi-platform initiative aiming to inspire change on issues related to global health, poverty and education.

Six documentary shorts commissioned by the Institute and set in locations such as Bangladhesh, Calcutta, Haiti and the Congo will be used by the Foundation at public events, speeches and distributed online. Excerpts from selected films will first premiere on September 20 as part of TEDxChange, a live event convened by Melinda French Gates, to mark the 10th anniversary of the creation of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. Those goals were established to improve social and economic conditions in the world’s poorest countries.

‘Sundance Documentary Film Program had been talking with the Foundation for some time, and they wanted to find a way to use creative documentary to engage broad audiences, with films that feel authentic while exploring specific issues,’ say the Film Program’s director Cara Mertes and managing producer of special projects, Patricia Finneran. ‘They were particularly interested in topics around the Millennium Development goals, and we’re pleased that the films will be central to the Foundation’s outreach this month as the UN convenes.’

The documentaries come from award-winning filmmakers Glenn Baker, Teboho Edkins, Mark Monroe, Maren Grainger-Monsen, MD, Nicole Newnham, Jonathan Stack, Ricki Stern, and Annie Sundberg, who were all invited to participate in the partnership based on prior knowledge of the topics and films that were already in progress. Filmmakers that had already dealt with complex and challenging social issues in their work and that could tell the stories with ‘artistry and integrity’ in a short format got the nod.

Many of those filmmakers were already working in locations that were relevant to the Gates Foundation, such as India, Haiti, Bangladesh, Lesotho, Congo, or American inner cities. The Sundance Institute’s role, after pinpointing the participating filmmakers, was to collaborate with them, and to ensure the mandate of addressing global poverty, global health or domestic education issues was balanced with finding ‘personal, compelling stories that would resonate with audiences.’

The films include Small Change = Big Idea, on women and their families saving for their future in Bangladesh, directed by Glenn Baker; The Revolutionary Optimists, from Nicole Newnham and Maren Grainger-Monsen, on young people in Calcutta leading vaccination drives; Stern and Sundberg’s Youth Build: Building Youth, on the Youth Build Philadelphia Charter School; Jonathan Stack’s Making Money Mobile, about low-cost cellular technology helping the poor in Haiti and Kenya; Mark Monroe’s Dear Mothers, on maternal and newborn healthcare in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Teboho Edkins’ Phela (Life), which follows an expectant mother in Lesotho who uses prevention protocols and goes on to teach others.

As for the TEDxChange, the 90-minute event will be hosted by TED curator Chris Anderson at the Paley Center for Media in New York, simulcast in L.A. and streamed live on and

Mertes and Finneran say this is a one-time initiative, but they’d like to find more ways for Sundance Institute and the bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to work together again, ‘on creating compelling storytelling around our leading global challenges.’

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.