Orlando Bagwell, inaugural director of the Ford Foundation's JustFilms initiative, will be departing to resume his own documentary filmmaking after an incredibly successful stint with this still-young program. Bagwell is leaving Ford on good terms and leaving the innovative JustFilms initiative in very strong shape. Bagwell's successor is Cara Mertes, former director of the Sundance Institute's Documentary Film Program (Read Cara Mertes' IP profile).
Bagwell joined Ford in 2004 as a program officer in Ford's Global Perspectives in a Digital Age, Advancing Public Service Media program, with his primary focus on the support of documentary films (See Ford Foundation: Grants for Journalism). Bagwell is an accomplished director and producer in his own right, with four Emmy Awards and three Peabodys to his name. His past credits include the breakthrough television mini-series Eyes on the Prize.
In 2010 Bagwell helped found the JustFilms initiative and was installed as its director. In just a few short years he's helped shape the program into the powerhouse it is, with partnerships that include the Sundance Institute, Tribeca Film Institute, and Independent Television Service and a recent Oscar nomination for one of the JustFilms-supported documentaries, How to Survive a Plague, about the early years of the AIDS epidemic (See Ford Foundation: Grants for Films).
In a recent interview about his exit from Ford, Bagwell explained his view on how documentary films can make the most difference: "A lot of filmmakers want to change the world, but they haven't done a lot of thinking about the translation of those things into stories." He then went on to explain to his interviewer,
"The big lesson to me is that we’re all so connected. There's nothing happening now that is not affecting each of us individually, emotionally, intellectually, in our pocketbooks. At the same time information is the same way. We can inform one another in the same way. And there's something going on right now in the field of documentary."
Bagwell leaves a short, but solid legacy in his wake at Ford. Here's hoping his replacement can further advance the cause he helped strengthen.