N.Y. film institute to fund interactive storytelling

Tribeca Film Institute launches effort aimed at enabling indie filmmakers to create multimedia projects that tackle important social issues.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
3 min read

Do you have a great idea for an interactive storytelling project that focuses on vital social issues, but can't figure out how to fund it? You may very well be in luck.

The Tribeca Film Institute (TFI) is launching a New Media Fund aimed at supporting projects that go beyond normal filmmaking and which tackle crucial social issues. For 2011, the fund will award $750,000 in grants, and $1 million a year for five years afterward. The fund is a partnership between TFI and the Ford Foundation's JustFilms initiative.

According to TFI executive director Beth Janson, the concept for the fund arose from a frustration about a general inability to reach fresh audiences with traditional stories about social problems. "We were looking at traditional social issue filmmaking, and there's been a lot of strides made in that realm in terms of distribution and audience engagement," Janson said. "But...it felt like filmmakers were speaking to a specific audience, and it seemed to be the same audience over and over again."

Related links
'Source Code director: Marrying film, intractivity
The Internet and the 'Art of Immersion'
Jake Gyllenhaal on film, games, and storytelling's future (Q&A)
Hollywood scripting getting a multimedia rewrite

The problem, Janson said, is that these essential stories rarely made it beyond the same circle of "those who care."

As a result, the TFI set out to create the new fund as a way of both funding new, interactive storytelling projects, and to produce and distribute them as a branded series of work "that will reach the audiences where they will have the most impact," Janson said.

The organization will accept submissions for the fund from April 4 through May 25. Grants will range from $50,000 to $100,000, though Janson said that TFI may be able to assist grantees with additional resources to ensure that they are able to complete and sustain their projects.

Janson said that there are no existing models for the kinds of projects the TFI is looking to fund. Ideally, she said, projects will have three "core elements": they will feature strong stories; they will be designed to bring in and welcome new audiences; and they will have the kind of impact that can "make real change in the human world."

To date, she said, a lot of the projects that TFI has examined have been strong at two of the three elements, but rarely has the institute encountered something with all three. And that's what the TFI fund is about: identifying and fostering projects that meet each of the criteria.

But Janson explained that the institute is not interested solely in funding projects. Rather, one of the major goals is to create a new community that will coalesce around the types of work that the TFI will fund, and to give those in that community some of the resources they need.

In part, that's because TFI is interested in helping move transmedia projects beyond the realm of marketing, since many existing efforts have been done under the lens of advertising by agencies or companies, Janson said. "I don't want to take it away from marketing," she said, "but we want to empower those voices that are working outside [the auspices] of" agencies and other for-profit organizations.