By Nishant Lalwani

Stories for stronger societies

Why we invested: The Sundance Institute | Luminate Fund

Luminate strives to build stronger societies in the countries in which we work. Historically, we have done this by funding non-profit and for-profit organisations and advocating for policies   that will enable people to participate in and shape the issues affecting their lives and make those in power more responsive and accountable. However, the impact areas that we are working in – civic empowerment, data & digital rights, financial transparency, and independent media – are increasingly shaped by public narratives; by stories that inform and influence the way that we see the world and make decisions. Stories can create empathy across difference, meaning out of disconnected data, and canvasses that compel us to reconsider our perspectives. As we seek to strengthen the connections between us – to encourage interdependence and tolerance, rather than polarisation – stories are essential. 

As access to media of all forms has surged, so has the opportunity to communicate ideas and shape public opinion.  At Luminate, and across many of the organisations that form The Omidyar Group, we believe that when thematic storytelling is used strategically to articulate pressing public issues and movement-building campaigns it can be a tremendously powerful tool for change. Spotlight, the first feature film investment from our sister organisation First Look Media, did just this. It shone a light on a great injustice, reinvigorated passions to defend an independent media, and won an Academy Award for Best Picture. An Inconvenient Truth was influential in helping millions learn about climate change; and more recently Get Out and 13th have highlighted racial tensions in the United States in ways that viscerally present imperatives for action. 

These were all important and impactful stories. Yet, many activists and campaigners can struggle to tell compelling stories; just as many artists are not trained to advocate for issues. We believe that, by bringing together campaigning and storytelling we can improve awareness and understanding for the issues that lie at the heart of our work, issues that are critical for stronger, more just and fair societies. 

We are therefore pleased to announce that for our first storytelling project we will be partnering with Sundance Institute to co-create a fund to support independent storytellers: The Sundance Institute | Luminate Fund. By investing in a range of high-quality documentary, narrative, episodic, and emerging media projects, the Fund will help catalyse strategic storytelling across the four areas where Luminate strives to have impact; civic empowerment, data & digital rights, independent media, and financial transparency. Filmmakers will be eligible if they are working on relevant issues in any of our priority countries and regions – including Africa, Europe, and the US – but the Fund will especially encourage applications from Latin America. The Fund will support independent filmmakers both financially and with advisory and network services. 

Sundance Institute is among the most successful non-profit field-building organizations in the world at surfacing, vetting, and supporting independent storytelling at scale. Sundance re-grants most of its funds to the independent storytelling landscape to support the work of individual filmmakers to create an expansive and vibrant sector. This is vital, as a core challenge of the field continues to be the limited economic resources available to independent filmmakers. In 2017 alone, Sundance re-granted more than $3M directly to over 900 independent artists.

Sundance Institute supported films such as Get Out, I Am Not Your Negro, An Inconvenient Truth, and Last Men in Aleppo, which garnered critical industry awards and were seen by audiences of tens of millions around the world. Given this track record and the huge potential to use storytelling for social good, we are thrilled to collaborate with Sundance Institute. We believe that The Sundance Institute | Luminate Fund will support powerful and inspirational filmmakers that will engage the public, influence key social narratives, and reinforce important movements that will lead to more just and fair societies.