The Ford Foundation today announced the appointment of Cara Mertes as director of its JustFilms program. JustFilms has supported more than 80 documentary films in its first three years.
Mertes is an award-winning leader in the field of independent filmmaking. She currently serves as the director of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and Fund, where she has led the effort to expand the field globally since 2006.
Mertes will succeed Orlando Bagwell, the founding director of JustFilms, who is returning to filmmaking after eight years at the foundation.
During Bagwell’s tenure JustFilms launched as a five-year, $50-million initiative that placed the Ford Foundation at the forefront of social justice filmmaking. Bagwell built up the program by forging creative collaborations with established filmmaking institutions to broaden the reach of this work and by investing in interactive storytelling to drive audience engagement.
“This program’s remarkable impact can be measured by how complex issues such as land rights, LGBT rights and criminal justice, when presented in film, can spur understanding and action,” said Luis Ubiñas, president of the Ford Foundation. “Orlando has rapidly made JustFilms a leading voice in social justice filmmaking and Cara will certainly continue to find innovative ways to draw attention to our grantees’ efforts around the world.”
At Sundance Institute, Mertes expanded documentary funding and awards to over $2 million for dozens of social issue films annually, expanded the Documentary Labs to work with over 100 artists annually and created a series of international creative partnerships to launch new global initiatives. She has accepted the ACLU Freedom of Expression Award and the IDA’s Pioneer Award for the Documentary Film Program’s efforts.
“Cara is a visionary in the field of independent filmmaking and we are thrilled for her to take the helm of JustFilms and continue to bring fresh perspectives on some of the most important social justice issues of our times,” said Darren Walker, vice president of Ford’s Education, Creativity and Free Expression program. “Through her experience working on all elements of storytelling, and being a pioneer at finding and cultivating unique voices to have their stories told, Cara is well positioned to build on the legacy of JustFilms and to support filmmakers at every turn, from creation to distribution and impact.”
Prior to Sundance Institute, Mertes was executive producer of the “P.O.V.” documentary series at PBS, where she received multiple Emmy awards, George Foster Peabody awards, duPont-Columbia awards and a Webby Award, and executive produced several Academy Award nominated films. She also served as executive director of American Documentary, Inc., produced and directed for PBS, curated independent Focus for WNET/New York, and she has taught and written about independent documentary and social change. Throughout her two-decade-long career, Mertes has championed the artist’s role in society and embodied the power of independent filmmaking to raise awareness on issues of critical importance.
“It is a great privilege to join the Ford Foundation as director of JustFilms. Orlando has inspired the field to excellence for many years, and JustFilms will continue to advance the social justice work of the institution through creative storytelling,” said Mertes. “I believe in the transformational power of non-fiction film and I look forward to working with filmmakers and organizations alike on a broad range of issues with a deep-rooted focus on making a difference in people’s lives.”
Mertes will continue at Sundance Institute through the summer and begin her new position in September 2013. She was selected after a broad international search.