Docu activists go beyond screen

Skoll harnesses the influence of movies to spur social change

Jeff Skoll has put his money where is mouth is when it comes to harnessing the influence of movies to spur a social change — and not just through his Participant Media banner.

While Participant has made its mark at the B.O. this summer with “The Help,” the Skoll Foundation last week added a $1 million grant to its partnership with the Sundance Institute’s documentary film program. The coin will support the Stories of Change: Social Entrepreneurship in Focus Through Documentary program that the Skoll Foundation and Sundance launched in 2007, funding the program through at least 2013.

The Stories of Change initiative is an ambitious program that mixes the development and production of docu features with an effort to create network of innovators and activists working on a broad range of social issues and causes. Social media, of course, plays a key role in connecting people from different worlds and raising awareness.

“The foundation’s aim is to invest in, connect and celebrate the efforts of world-changing social entrepreneurs,” said Skoll Foundation CEO Sally Osberg, “And there’s no better way to celebrate them than by telling their stories.”

The additional Skoll Foundation grant follows the initial $3 million that seeded the program, and will help fund 10 docus as they seek to expand their impact though interactive, mobile, social media and Web strategies. It will also be used to creatively distribute the films and connect social entrepreneur organizations with documentary filmmakers.

Sundance eventually hopes to release a study of how the program’s documentaries have helped the social entrepreneurs and orgs that are involved with Stories of Change. Sundance is also looking to educate others on how documentaries can “amplify and accelerate” the message of social entrepreneur organizations through the study and an upcoming workshop, said Cara Mertes, director of the Sundance Institute’s docu film program.

The first Stories of Change workshop, hosted by Sundance’s documentary film program and the Skoll Foundation, will be held Sept. 19 at the Paley Center for Media in Gotham.

One of the program’s docs, “To Catch a Dollar: Muhammad Yunus Banks on America” premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and will have weeklong releases in New York, at the IFC Center, and Los Angeles, at Laemmle’s Sunset 5, Sept. 23-30. “To Catch a Dollar” follows 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus as he tries to foster business opportunities for the poor in Third World countries as well as the U.S.