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January 23, 2012 5:22 PM
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A 3-Minute Short Can Win $100,000 in Cinelan's Focus Forward Filmmaker Challenge

(L-R) Sundance Film Festival Director John Cooper, Jeremiah Zagar, Morgan Spurlock, David Leitner, Phil Cox and Jessica Yu at the Focus Forward breakfast. Getty Images
While at Sundance to unveil the first five shorts in their Focus Forward series, Cinelan co-creators Morgan Spurlock and Karol Martesko-Fenster announced the launch of the Focus Forward Filmmaker Challenge.

The GE-sponsored Focus Forward is a series of 30 three-minute documentaries that focus on the power of ideas and invention. The Focus Forward Filmmaker Challenge is a juried competition giving away $200,000 in cash prizes. The Grand Prize winner will receive $100,000.

“What I love about the whole project is being able to inspire and bring on new filmmakers,” Spurlock said at the breakfast this morning at The Yard. “With a little help they will be able to grow and prosper as documentary filmmakers.

Qualifying films should be three minute end-to-end stories focusing on people or organizations whose efforts are in medicine, computer science, robotics, engineering, green energy or other technical fields that impacts humanity.

Submissions open in April with the winner announced at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

The five shorts that screened today will have their world premiere tomorrow at 12pm EST on vimeo.com/focusforwardfilms and a special screening will take place at 6pm MST at the Holiday Village 1 in Park City. They are:

Jessica Yu’s “Meet Mr. Toilet”
Phil Cox’s “Hilary’s Straws”
Jessica Edward & Gary Hustwit’s “The Landfill”
Jeremiah Zagar’s “Heart Stop Beating”
David L. Leitner’s “Newton Creek Digester Eggs: The Art of Human Waste”

Also announced were the latest filmmakers to join Focus Forward: Steven Cantor (“loudQUIETloud”), Kief Davidson (“Kassim the Dream”), Senian Kheshgi (“Project Kashmir”), Victor Kossakovsky (“Vivan las antipodas”), Jeff Reichert (“Gerrymandering”) and Annie Sundberg & Ricki Stern (“Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”).

Read press release:

Park City, Utah / New York, N.Y. (January 23, 2012)— GE and CINELAN announced today the FOCUS FORWARD Filmmaker Challenge and plan to award $200,000 in cash prizes to the top five entries in the professionally juried Challenge (www.focusforwardfilms.com/challenge), with $100,000 going to the Grand Prize Winner. The Filmmaker Challenge is an expansion of the FOCUS FORWARD - Short Films, Big Ideas (www.focusforwardfilms.com), a series of 30 three-minute nonfiction films developed by leading documentary filmmakers about the incredible human power of ideas and invention that will screen at prestigious film festivals globally, followed by day-and-date distribution online to millions of viewers. The initiative was first announced at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.

Qualifying films for the Filmmaker Challenge are three-minute end-to-end stories about people or organizations whose innovative efforts in medicine, computer science, robotics, engineering, green energy, or other fields of applied technical knowledge have had a significant positive impact on humanity. Recent, cutting-edge inventions that are changing how we live today are of special interest. The Challenge films will be available online to a global audience through Vimeo and will sit alongside the first 30 films produced by FOCUS FORWARD filmmakers. As the program progresses, FOCUS FORWARD films will be distributed across cable and satellite VOD, gaming system networks, Internet Free On Demand services as well as in theaters and on DVD. Submissions open in mid April, with winners to be announced at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. For more information, please visit www.focusforwardfilms.com/challenge.

The announcement was made this morning at a special press preview of the first five three-minute films in the FOCUS FORWARD - Short Films, Big Ideas initiative, which are also being presented the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. The five films by Jessica Yu, Phil Cox, David W. Leitner, Jeremiah Zagar, and Jessica Edwards & Gary Hustwit will make their world premiere on Tuesday, January 24, at 12pm EST on www.vimeo.com/focusforwardfilms and at a special screening beginning 6pm MST at the Holiday Village 1 in Park City. The FOCUS FORWARD films will also be paired with select features in the U.S. Documentary Competition and World Cinema Documentary Competition sections at Sundance.

Also announced at the preview, the latest filmmakers to join the FOCUS FORWARD initiative are Steven Cantor (loudQUIETloud), Kief Davidson (Kassim the Dream), Senain Kheshgi (Project Kashmir), Victor Kossakovsky (¡Vivan las antipodas!), Jeff Reichert (Gerrymandering), and Annie Sundberg & Ricki Stern (Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work).

“It’s exciting to finally unveil the full scope of this program.. The Sundance Film Festival is the perfect venue to reach the most talented people in and around this business,” said CINELAN co-founders Morgan Spurlock and Karol Martesko-Fenster. Jack Myers, project producer, added “The concept is to build a traveling nonfiction film series; we will be inviting filmmakers from every corner of the earth to join us in creating short films about game-changing innovation.” CINELAN’s Managing Director Douglas Dicconson adds, “It’s important to everyone associated with FOCUS FORWARD that we’re in a position to reward the filmmakers directly in two ways; first with two hundred thousand dollars in prize money and second by providing a worldwide distribution platform for these films.”

John Cooper, director of the Sundance Film Festival, commented “We are thrilled to be collaborating with FOCUS FORWARD to present the first five films in this one-of-a-kind series. We’re known for supporting documentary filmmakers in the Sundance community and around the world, so getting the word out about the Filmmaker Challenge is a natural extension of our creative mission. We’re also delighted to note that this relationship goes beyond 2012 with the Filmmaker Challenge awards ceremony at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.”

In addition, representatives for FOCUS FORWARD - Short Films, Big Ideas announced that they will be working with the 2012 Berlinale Talent Campus #10 on the occasion of its 10th anniversary to host a series of panel discussions around short-form documentary. Jessica Yu and Phil Cox will join the list of FOCUS FORWARD filmmakers who will be in Berlin to encourage and inspire emerging talents at the weeklong series of lectures, discussions, and hands-on training.

“There’s no better way to inspire the next generation of great international filmmakers than to put them in dialogue with some of the world’s foremost practitioners of documentary,” said Matthijs Wouter-Knol and Chritine Tröstrum, managers of the Berlinale Talent Campus. “FOCUS FORWARD is committed to fostering young talent and we are proud to enlist their support on this 10th anniversary edition of our creative summit.”

After Sundance and Berlin, additional FOCUS FORWARD films will premiere as curated collections at the Tribeca Film Festival and International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), both strategic partners of the program, and at major festivals in Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe, Africa, South America, and the Middle East throughout 2012.

The five films premiering at Sundance are:

MEET MR. TOILET (Dir. Jessica Yu, 2012) – Oscar-winning filmmaker Jessica Yu (“In the Realms of the Unreal”) introduces us to Jack Sim, AKA Mr. Toilet, who uses unorthodox methods as he travels the globe raising awareness about the lack of sanitation in underdeveloped countries.

HILARY’S STRAWS (Dir. Phil Cox, 2012) – UK director Phil Cox (“The Bengali Detective”) unveils a moving mini-portrait of Hilary Lister, a quadriplegic champion sailor whose metal-and-circuit-board navigational tool, invented with friends, led her to conquer the oceans of the world.

THE LANDFILL (Dir. Jessica Edwards and Gary Hustwit, 2012) – Training their eye on a facility in Delaware County, New York, Edwards and Hustwit (“Helvetica”) challenge the way we look at landfills, not as an ever-growing problem, but as a possible source of renewable energy.

HEART STOP BEATING (Dir. Jeremiah Zagar, 2012) - Jeremiah Zagar (“In a Dream”) tells the story of Billy Cohn and Bud Frazier, two visionary doctors from the Texas Heart Institute who in March 2011 successfully replaced a dying man’s heart with a “continuous flow” device they developed, proving that life was possible without a pulse or a heart beat.

NEWTOWN CREEK DIGESTER EGGS: THE ART OF HUMAN WASTE (Dir. David W. Leitner, 2012) – Cinematographer/filmmaker David W. Leitner (“Trembling Before G-d”) looks at the unusual marriage of form and function at the jaw-droppingly beautiful Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Brooklyn, New York.

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