Philanthropy, filmmaking go hand in hand

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The Monaco Charity Film Festival is a curious case of rich and poor. The world’s only philanthropy-oriented film fest caters to a dinner crowd of the super-rich, who park their yachts in the local marina. Yet it showcases the work of independent filmmakers who often have to sleep in their cars because they can’t afford the price of a hotel room.

Not quite Robin Hood, but not far from it, is fest founder Vicente-Andres Zaragosa, whose laudable objective is to loosen the purse strings of Monaco’s well-heeled denizens and jet-setting tourists.

We entertain them, we feed them, we serve them fine wines, then we ask them to take their checkbooks out to support a good cause,” Zaragoza tells Variety.

Philippines-born Zaragoza, whose regular job is as a money manager, moved to Monaco in the early 1990s and was inspired by the philanthropic example of Monaco’s late Princess Grace to create the annual MCFF, which had its inaugural edition in 2006.

Since the outset the fest has had two functions: to champion the work of independent and student filmmakers and to raise money for the underprivileged. According to its founder, the festival has come a long way in four years.

For the first event I had to call all my film contacts, asking them if they had any movies they wanted to screen in Monaco,” recalls Zaragoza. “Today, there are so many films being submitted that we have to reject some of them.”

All the films are sent to Los Angeles, where head programmer Georges Chamchoum and his viewing team are based. This year Zaragoza reckons that about a hundred films will be screened: a broad spectrum of features, documentaries and shorts.

Zaragoza’s ambition is to grow the festival — which ends the day before Cannes begins — as a Slamdance-equivalent where young filmmakers can get their work noticed.

This year’s fest has a particularly strong focus on documentaries about child abuse and child prostitution. The George Clooney- and Stephen Soderbergh-produced docu, “Playground,” about the child-sex trade in the United States, will get its first screening at the MCFF. Zaragoza convinced “Playground” writer/director Libby Spears to attend this year’s MCFF. The org’s passion about the issue of child sex trafficking moved her.

All the films in the festival have a much bigger role beyond their shelf-life, says Spears. They are primary tools for advocacy, and the fest’s charity component adds to the appeal for those filmmakers looking for long-term impact.

At present the main beneficiary of the money raised by the MCFF is the Filipino charity Virlanie Foundation, which helps homeless children on the streets of Manilla. Last year, the MCFF raised enough money to build a house in Manilla where some of these children could be sheltered.

Zaragoza’s dream is to create an MCFF trust fund along the lines of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Let’s say we have $10 million in the fund; then we can make $1 million a year by investing it properly,” says Zaragoza. “Of course we would continue to support the Virlanie Foundation, but it would be a fixed amount of, say, 30% of the total.

There’s a lot to do, and its starting to keep me busier than my job as a money manager,” he says.

Related: Monaco Charity film fest highlights

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