Saturday, October 23, 2010

Story Will Lead to Action

Chicken and Egg Pictures is an unusual funder. For starters, it gives money only to women filmmakers. The money, however, is only one small aspect of what Chicken and Egg does for their projects. There's support of all kinds that comes with the money: Professional development workshops, strategic planning residencies, introductions to potential partners, and the occasional good cooking and wine. And then there there's what they call "mentorship" - a misnomer, really, since the relationship is more collegial than professorial, and the sheer number of hours and creative energy put in by the Chicken and Egg ladies throughout the life of the project makes them more like part of the filmmaking team for each project than like mere occasional advisers. The have seen multiple cuts (including our almost 4-hour assembly, in its entirety - a heroic undertaking for which we will be forever grateful), have given us feedback on rough and fine cuts, have jumped with us in the edit room when we got stuck on the very beginning, and have been helping us figure out strategies for launch, outreach and, well, everything that has to do with the life of our film in the world.

They also do something else that's quite unusual: Instead of picking one project representing each issue, as most funders, programmers, and broadcasters do ("We already have a human rights in Belarus film" or "How many documentaries on fracking does the world need?"), they are not afraid of supporting several projects on the same issue at the same time. They believe that there is strength in numbers. And they believe that change, real impact needs a critical mass or a shift in the zeitgeist that is greater than one movie alone.

This belief that a film like Waiting for Superman should not be the end of the discussion on education (a notion that supporters of public education and charter school skeptics most probably agree with wholeheartedly), but rather the beginning of renewed interest in improving schools and striving for educational equality led them to support several films on education at the same time, including Our School. And since a Chicken and Egg grant does not come unaccompanied, we also got to partake in a host of events meant to support education film projects.

This is how we came to find ourselves in a strategy session organized by Chicken and Egg at the 92nd St Y in Tribeca, in New York City, together with film projects such as Mariachi High, Brooklyn Castle and Speaking in Tongues, as well as several powerful ladies involved in education projects in New York:  Carol Ochs of the 52nd St Project, Angela Jackson, founder of The Global Language Project and Maya Wiley, founder of the Center for Social Inclusion. A full report on the event can be found on the Chicken and Egg blog, but here is our one major takeaway from the event:

Our School can be of great use to US audiences: It can serve as a distant lens to bring problems here in the US into sharper focus; the distant setting can help peel off layers of defensiveness. In the outreach stage, we should start by focusing on communities such as Charlotte, NC, or the rural South as testing-grounds for a pilot audience engagement campaign in the US. Such focus is invaluable to the ensuring success, for testing scalability and for maximizing resources. As independent filmmakers with limited resources, we can't afford to work without identifying a clear focus and engaging in as much advance planning.

And that's another way in which Chicken and Egg is an unusual funder: By giving a full range of support services to its grantees, is actually helps save money.