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Friday, April 16, 2010

The Global Film Initiative

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While I was attending Guadalajara Producers Network, I attended a roundtable discussion with Susan Weeks of the Global Film Initiative which Susan founded in 2002 to promote cross-cultural understanding through the medium of cinema. Their model was based on the Rotterdam Film Festival's Hubert Bals Fund.


Privately funded, this non-profit organization gives small grants of $10,000 two times a year toward production of films from countries with little or no visibility in the U.S. Of some 80 applicants, 5 to 7 receive the grants which are awarded at script but materially given out at the rushes of the film. This week's evalutations were just finishted. The next round will be in June.

Awards are made to filmmakers whose work exhibits artistic excellence, authentic self-representation and accomplished storytelling. The granting program furthers the Initiative's mission of contributing to the development of local film industries while offering audiences a variety of cultural perspectives on daily life around the world. Monies received through the Initiative's granting program are used to support completion of film production, and to subsidize post-production costs, such as laboratory and sound mixing fees and access to modern editing systems.

The Global Film Initiative accepts grant applications from countries in the following regions: Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, Asia (excluding Hong Kong, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan), and Oceania (excluding Australia and New Zealand). One success story occurred in 2003 or 2004 when a woman Angola filmmaker, Maria João Ganga, was awarded the grant which became the first film out of Angola in 8 years after 20 years of civil war. The grant so impressed the government that it funded the rest of the film Hollow.

Mexico is on the award list because, like all Latino films in the US, there are not enought films made frequently enough to create a theatrical audience. And audience building, along with distribution, are two key points fostered by Global, who also acquires about 10 film a year.


The films play in 35 to 40 cities in the US including colleges, creating an audience awareness and accompanied by a strong educational component for high schools. Whereas 40 years ago there were film societies in every college and practically every city had an art house theater, today there is virtually no business in "subtitled" films theatrically.

The Traveling Series ensures that the best of developing world cinema is available on screens throughout the United States and the provinces of English speaking Canada, with a particular focus on films in languages other than English. Ten films that represent the diversity and excellence of cinema from the developing world are chosen from the Initiative’s Granting and Acquisitions programs by the Initiative, in collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA). MoMA launched the program in an annual series (Global Lens) in New York City, November 2003 and the films go to 35 to 40 major cultural institutions each year. Partners have been invited to participate based on their demonstrated excellence in community outreach, commitment to broad educational programming and regional balance now include the year round Puero Rico Film Society and Asia Society which shows Asian films in Manila, Mumbai, Cairo. They are the only subtitled films seen on Virgin Airlines as well.

Being based in San Francisco, Global has constant access to the newest technological (digital) distribution schemes and with its aggregation of 80 films it has some leverage and can influence digital exhibition whereas with the current state of digital exhibition, other such entities pay filmmakers $200 or $300 as a flat rate to allow films to be downloaded or streamed with a click and there is no accounting for such clicks if it is not VOD. Their fair hands-on dealing with digital exhibition creates an environment where the filmmaker will hopefully sign on for the next film as well.

When the Global Film Initiative takes on distribution and a film perfoms so exceptionally well in its premier festival showings, the door is left open for the filmmaker to buy the film back should there be an offer made by a larger distribution entity to take on the film. And when they do acquire a film, they pay a minumum guarantee upfront and negotiate fair percentages for licensing to theatrical, TV, home video and digital markets.

They do their own dvd distribution now and they do not fund animation or documentaries.


Global's education program is free to high school students and comes with advice on marketing, lesson plans, maps, historical background, director's notes, and notes regarding themes, music, camera and aesthetics. The flagship program was Moma and it began with the Palestinian film Ticket to Jerusalem.

The first questions after the film are What do you remember and why. The students proved to be totally engaged. Even the shy student who could speak Arabic could contribute when the question was asked if the subtitles failed to tell something that only a speaker of Arabic could understand.

The college market has so collapsed since it fostered "subtitled" films 40 years ago that building it up is done college by college, and department by department.

The Education Program of The Global Film Initiative presents full-length feature films from around the world, in specially-designed programs that encourage students to gain a deeper understanding of different cultural points of view, understnding what matters most to peoplem, how they deal with conflict, suffering, loss, being uprooted from homelands, etc. From the opening scenes of these films, students are transported to the outskirts of Cape Town, the turbulent heart of Tehran and the hauntingly beautiful beaches of Andaman & Nicobar, just after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Within their cultural contexts, this year’s films investigate universal and unique themes:

Becloud aka Vaho (Mexico). A trucker and his companion find a baby boy at the dry breast of its dead mother.

Gods (Brazil). The soon-to-be-wife of a wealthy industrialist is eager to shed her working-class background in favor of the opulence of her fiance’s elite lifestyle.

Leo's Room aka El Cuarto de Leo (Uruguay).  Not recommended, contents not suitable for families or minors. affable but secretly troubled Leo wraps himself in the comfort of his small rented room, unmotivated to finish his college thesis or find a job, and content with infrequent visits from his girlfriend. After their six-month relationship ends, Leo begins to break out of his shell by cruising the Internet for a new companion

Masquerades (Algeria) A young bride is caught in an unusual love-triangle that pits her dreams of a storybook wedding against the absurd wishes of her family.

My Tehran for Sale (Iran) Amidst personal angst and political unrest, a poet tries to break free of her conservative surroundings and leave the only home she’s ever known.

Ocean of an Old Man (India) An elderly schoolteacher, obsessed with the loss of his students to a natural disaster, struggles to cope with his loss and loneliness.

Shirley Adams (South Africa) A resilient single mother strives to create a better life after her teenage son falls victim to gang violence, and loses his ability to walk.

Adrift (Vietnam)

Ordinary People (Serbia)

The Shaft (China)
The Lesson Plans and Discussion Guides that accompany most films provide standards-based, structured learning that supports core programs in the high school curriculum.

Lesson Plans are:

Performance–based assessment tools that encourage and develop reading, writing, presentation and team collaboration skills. Assessment parameters are specified in the Lesson Plan package.

Structured on the project-based learning (PBL) model, with warm-up, film screening and post-screening activities driven by the “essential question” in the title.

Designed to meet the state curriculum and national program standards listed in the package.

Discussion Guides are:

Comprehensive background resources for the films, including information about the geography, history and cultural setting, the filmmaker’s statement and biography, and a guide to filmmaking techniques.

Post–screening resources for teachers, providing structured, theme–based discussion questions to encourage deeper understanding of the characters, stories and cultural context of the films.

Designed to meet national program standards listed in the package.

Lesson Plans and Discussion Guides are available for download on this website, in .pdf format. Additional resources available for download:
Presenter’s Guides for each film, with film highlights and talking points about the cultural context.

Fact Sheets for each film, similar to the Presenter’s Guides but with more information about the filmmaker, where the film has been screened and awards received.

Curriculum Maps to support the Project Arts and Social Studies Programs of the New York City Department of Education. These curriculum maps suggest post–screening activities that are aligned with NYCDOE Standards, Key Ideas and Benchmarks.

Subtitle Lists that correspond to the subtitles shown on the screen. Subtitle Lists can be valuable for post–screening activities that focus on the details of particular scenes or character development.

If you would like to download any of their educational materials (Teaching Guides, Discussion Guides, Subtitles, Presenter Guides) click here to log-in.

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