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NYC Film Festivals

Soros/Sundance Docs Showcased at Film Forum

Ten years ago -- well before people really got excited about contemporary documentaries -- billionaire philanthropist George Soros had the idea to support filmmakers working on docs about human rights issues. In 2001, after his Open Society Institute had already helped fund a number of acclaimed, Oscar-nominated films including Long Night's Journey into Day, Children Underground and the Oscar-winning One Day in September (right), Soros handed his checkbook to the Sundance Institute.

The rest, as doc aficionados know, is history, and its benchmarks come to Film Forum this weekend as part of the Soros/Sundance Documentary Fund 10th Anniversary Series.

In crafting the program, the OSI commissioned Bruni Burres, the director of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, to help select the best of the Soros bunch from the last decade. "Some of the movies we picked are not new, but we didn't want to jettison something just because of that," Burres said, alluding to films like tonight's feature, 1996's Calling the Ghosts: A Story about Rape, War and Women, or the 2000 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, Southern Comfort. "We also wanted to keep an international emphasis."

New York City is represented as well with the new short Still Standing, in which six high school filmmakers look at two Hurricane Katrina survivors relocated to New York after the storm. Led by director Lindsay Fauntleroy, the students also follow the return of one of them, Bilal, back down to New Orleans to see how his mother -- and the city in general -- are faring after the disaster.

I caught up with one of the filmmakers, Ines Morales, between classes at CUNY, where she is now a sophomore. The 19-year-old said she got her start as part of an outreach internship from Manhattan's Educational Video Center, which the organization offered to high schoolers in "at risk" neighborhoods (Morales attended Sannie Lou Hammer Freedom High in the Bronx). The EVC's Director, Jenn Meagher, says that the program works because kids work on topics that interest them, learning filmmaking techniques as they go. "Of course, now I very much want to be a filmmaker," Morales said. "Before this experience I didn't have a clue as to what I wanted to do with my life."

Such is the impact and influence of many of the 19 documentaries slated to screen from Oct. 26-29. In addition to the $75,000 grants that Soros' institute awards filmmakers on a rolling basis, even the series' ticket prices are subsidized, allowing viewers the chance to see each film in the series for only $5.50.

"Wonderful documentaries have been around for decades, and we've funded many of them," said Cara Mertes, head of the Sundance Institute's Documentary Fund. "Right now, the political context is such that people are really ready to see the truth on film." -- Marsha McCreadie

Posted at October 26, 2006 10:13 AM

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