Ford Foundation Launches JustFilms, Partners With Nick Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn

The new JustFilms initiative will “lay the groundwork for an international public engagement strategy,” says director Orlando Bagwell.


New York Times columnist Nick Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn (inset, above), authors of the bestselling Half the Sky, are one of the first recipients of the Ford Foundation’s newly minted JustFilms, a $50 million initiative supporting socially conscious indie filmmakers.

The film will focus on women’s empowerment and women in conflict, just like the book.

“One of the core reasons why we started this fund is we really want to help support filmmakers from other parts of the world,” JustFilms director, Orlando Bagwell (above, main), tells Fast Company. Bagwell and his colleagues are already scouring countries from China to Indonesia to Egypt in search of new voices with urgent stories to tell.

“We think that a larger influence of information is going to raise the conversation of important issues,” Bagwell says.

The meeting with Kristof next week is an invitation-only event that is being sponsored in partnership with the International Televesion Service (ITVS) and will convene a few select filmmakers working on issues of gender and women’s empowerment and women in conflict. Bagwell says he ultimately wants to identify those stories about women that urgently demand an audience. “If we’re able to increase the conditions of women in the world … it’s a clear space where we can have impact. We’re looking at multi-year efforts on women’s issues.” Additionally, JustFilms is supporting the production of a series on Half the Sky, and Kristof and his wife are senior producers.

The goal is to “lay the groundwork for an international public engagement strategy,” Bagwell says.


JustFilms is also working in partnership with Sundance and they have plans to take the Sundance Laboratories–one or two-week intensive gatherings–around the world, with parts of the Arab world a likely first destination.

The focus of JustFilms is thus to increase the level of conversation and interaction that ensues between filmmakers and the public after a film is finished–the “afterlife” of a film as Bagwell calls it. “It’s like the next life of films to think about how to have impact on the ground.”

“There’s so many innovative ways films are being made, filmed, distributed. We want to nurture those innovations,” he adds. “We want to be in touch with the world of ideas that come from the public. We want to be in the game where we can see a film in production and then support it quickly,” Bagwell says. “We’re a convener. We rally people around ideas around narrative and storytelling and around issues people didn’t know about before.”

Follow me, Jenara Nerenberg, on Twitter.


About the author

Jenara is an overseas reporter for Fast Company and a freelance writer/producer in Asia, regularly on CNNGo, and a graduate of Harvard and UC Berkeley.