Friday, September 23, 2005

A Guy Who Knows the Power of a Story


I’m ! On September 20 the Globe and Mail ran Liam Lacey’s excellent article about a young man named who has picked — I think — the single most promising way of to humankind.

Go ahead and guess: What do you think is the best way of serving humanity? To me, it’s getting other people engaged in the work of . And the best way to do that is through . That’s the whole point of my forthcoming book, . Not many people recognize the , but Skoll figured it out and is acting on it in extraordinary ways.

He’s a , for starters. With the five billion dollars he earned as president of , he’s the 94th on earth. And he’s giving it away in the most wonderful, imaginative ways — especially what he calls “.”

Lacey informs us that Skoll had gone around asking why movie-makers didn’t use their talent more constructively, by telling stories with intelligent messages about . Answer: they can’t afford the ; pictures may flop unless they stick to making the sort that everyone is used to. So Skoll asked them whether they would be interested if he’d partner with them and make sure they didn’t lose money when addressing humankind’s urgent problems. Sure! They were instantly enthusiastic! So that’s what he’s been doing for over a year — lessening the risk involved in making stories that motivate people to become activists. His company is called and it’s bringing back into movie theaters people who rarely used to go. So far they have produced such films as Fast Food Nation and Murderball. They released the first Arab-dubbed version of Gandhi. (Fabulous! That’s just what needs most right now!) Teamed with , they produced a flick called Syriana, which is based on an exposé book about the 's ground war — See No Evil). They produced Class Action; Good Night and Good Luck (a show directed by George Clooney about Edward R. Murrow’s battle against Senator ). Other films coming out soon are American Gun and North Country.

Skoll does not deal with partisan politics in his pictures, but instead focuses on six topics: the , , institutional responsibility, health, peace and tolerance, and social and economic equity. And his brilliant idea is to grab the audience and connect them with programs of action. Every one of his movies has an Internet group that people can join. Some of the stories made for young people have special teaching kits for use in classrooms. For example, Participant Productions has teamed up with PBS and Salon.com, developing a campaign about journalistic responsibility for teachers to use. He intends to go into television production too, making shows that are available on the Internet. (Episodic TV is even more powerful than movies, and I think he will discover that himself.) Al Gore is a fervent supporter — which stands to reason: Gore himself has started a liberal radio network to counter the omnipresent right wing talk shows.

Brilliant, thoughtful, emotionally rich stories are exactly the best way to motivate people to act — and God knows, we certainly need to get people engaged in solving our global problems. Hooray for Mr. Skoll! I've got a thousand ideas for him. And thanks to Liam Lacey for a fine article about exactly what I needed to hear — good news about smart social action.

2 Comments:

Blogger RideFlame said...

Hooray for Mr. Skoll! Absolutly, what a brilliant thing to do. Reminds me of the point made by Philip Pullman in his trilogy, "His Dark Materials". A culture passes on important lessons in its stories...but the warping of stories by the need for financial gain so often results in 'dumbing down'..

Nice to hear some good news!

5:29 AM  
Blogger Metta Spencer said...

Yes, indeed. I just hope he turns to television dramas too. Series dramas. Those hold people emotionally because you can get attached to the characters over time.

11:44 PM  

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