There was some talk around Sundance this year about whether a new golden age of smart television is making independent film less relevant. Well, we can think of at least one major film producer who disagrees with that assessment: Jeff Skoll, whose foundation recently gave $2.5 million to the Sundance Institute.
This new donation is part of an ongoing partnership between Sundance and the Skoll foundation, "Stories of Change," that works to connect "independent storytellers with renowned social entrepreneurs to support the creation of films that shine a spotlight on solutions to urgent social issues."
Of course, that mission tracks closely with the goals of Participant Media, the production company Skoll founded in 2004 “to create entertainment that inspires and accelerates social change.” As an executive producer, Skoll has backed more than four dozen movies, including Good Night, and Good Luck, which scrutinized America’s postwar paranoia about communism; An Inconvenient Truth, with former Vice President Al Gore, which effectively explained climate change; and Food, Inc., which exposed the health shortcuts taken by industrial agriculture.
The new Sundance gift comes not long after Skoll announced a $10 million donation to the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television to create the Skoll Center for Social Impact Entertainment. "It started to dawn on me that in order to get maximum impact across society across the world, it couldn't be just one little company doing these socially minded films," Skoll told the Los Angeles Times. "But if we could start infusing writers, actors, directors and producers with the bug for social change as part of their art, we might have a greater impact." Supporting Sundance's effort to promote social change reflects the same idea.
This part of the Sundance Institute's mission is proving to be very rewarding. Just a year ago, Sundance landed a $5 million grant from the Open Society Foundations for its documentary film program.
Skoll has been backing Sundance since 2007, and we're betting that his money will keep flowing to the institute, and possibly in larger sums down the line. As a signer of the Giving Pledge, the former eBay president has promised to devote half his $4 billion fortune to philanthropy.
But in light of the big UCLA give, we also wouldn't be surprised to see Skoll backing other institutions to advance his mission to support media that can change the world.