To kick off the TALK/SHOW conversations at this year's AFI FESTIVAL, at the breathtaking rooftop Loft Village in Hollywood proper, organizers at the Philanthropy Project invited special industry guests to talk openly about:
"The Power of Film to Inspire Philanthropy"
In recent months, there appears to have been a concerted effort on the part of film artists and power brokers, to educate Americans about global warming, health care, and hunger.
With that in mind - a panel was formed for a discussion on the topic - which consisted of Kevin Wall (LIVE EARTH producer); Crystal Chappel (Actress, Guiding light); Nigel Lithgoe (American Idol producer); and Steve Golin, filmmaker (Rendition).
The question put to the panel by moderator, Michael Guillen, was this:
Can film move beyond education and enlightenment to promulgate a culture of generosity, instill ingenuity, and ultimately bring about change in society?
At the conclusion of the conversation, the answer was obviously a resounding yes!
The first speaker up was Nigel Lithgoe.
The down-to-earth producer noted that because American audiences so generously supported "IDOL", he and his colleagues were inspired to generously "give back" to the community in some manner, shape, or form.
So, the FOX team conjured up the idea for - "Idol Gives Back" - which was geared to "raise awareness of the effects of poverty on children and young people in the US and Africa."
To get the ball rolling, Scholastic, Inc. created a website for teachers and students.
Then, the following evening, several celebrities appeared on the Fox Network to promote, "Idol Gives Back."
Americans were invited to call a toll-free number or go online to make a donation to CPEF, which would turn the money over to UNICEF, Save the Children, and several other groups.
Right off the bat, Mr. Lithgoe lamented that when he and partner Simon Cowell proceeded to organize the charity event, the duo faced a lot of resistance from Fox and others.
The reluctance was understandable.
Because of American Idol's unprecedented success in the ratings, the Fox Network leapt forward from 4th in the ranks, to No. 1 network on the airwaves.
So, the powers-that-be at Fox were reluctant to tinker with their success, much less beg the American public for money, with the ultimate aim of feeding and providing shelter for the poor in underdeveloped Nations around the globe.
In fact, sponsors like COKE and FORD balked too, according to Mr. Lithgoe.
He admitted the sponsors were nervous about the images.
"Would Americans feel comfortable viewing photographs of the impoverished, starving in the slums of third world countries, while they sat comfortably in their homes?"
No, they didn't think so.
From the get-go, the two impresarios had to push and cajole to get the charitable cause launched at Fox.
At the early inception of the project, Lithgoe understood that if the American people saw how their hard-earned dollars could make a difference, they might be inclined to support the timely concept of "giving back".
With this foremost in his mind, "Idol Gives Back" produced a touching, heart-wrenching clip, to educate audiences about the facts.
For example, Lithgoe enlightened viewers to the fact a contribution of two dollars was capable of providing medicine for four needy patients; while ten dollars was capable of securing netting to ensure mosquitoes were unable to infest shelters - and hence - prevent deadly infections of Malaria.
Talk about ingenuity: it worked!
As this juncture, the panelists agreed that providing the opportunity to give was not enough; in reality, it was vital that Americans saw the fruits of their generosity, as well.
Therefore, in a follow-up segment, the activists and volunteers sensitively revealed how the recipients not only prospered from the charitable acts, but experienced a healing in the process.
Undoubtedly, due to the caring, sensitive manner in which the segments were presented, Americans were inspired to dig deeper into their pockets.
In fact, Mr. Lithgoe recalled young children dialing in, offering up anywhere from twenty-five cents to fifty cents of their allowance, so touched were they by the plight of the less-fortunate.
The panel discussions then segued into concepts about charity and philanthropy.
Panelists agreed that through charity, individuals were afforded the chance to give on the spot and bask in a glow of satisfaction, knowing their selfless acts significantly impacted.
The panel agreed that in respect to philanthropy, there was a commitment - an act of giving - that extended over time requiring full participation.
As moderator Guillen put it succinctly,
"Philanthropy is a passionate, innovative, and long-term commitment of time, talents and treasure to pressing causes. Prime examples of this are America's 68,000 foundations, which for more than a century have been quietly but profoundly improving our nation's quality of life."
The producers of "Light" teamed up with the innovative volunteer group - "Hands on Network" - in a year-long effort to encourage volunteerism across the country.
Although Proctor & Gamble was reticent at first - like COKE and FORD at American Idol - the successful Corporate Giant eventually came on board and never looked back.
The first constructive effort included a visit to the region devastated by Hurricane Katrina, where "Light" cast and crew members helped to rebuild homes, get victims out of FEMA trailers so they'd feel comfortable in their skin again, and take part in other volunteer activities which related to day-to-day essentials.
Thereafter, the "Light team" visited a different City each month, to exhort community members to volunteer.
Ricky Paull Goldin, who plays FBI agent Gus Aitoro, noted during one interview:
"The show was created by Irna Phillips in 1937. The theme of the show was the brotherhood of man and what you can give to the world. Fans let us into their homes for 70 years. Now, this is our way of giving back."
Ms. Chappel, an articulate woman, spoke about the "Guiding light" project with great pride, as well.
"There is a hands-on involvement," she beamed.
Guiding light fathomed a way to get fans involved, too; at the Guiding Light site volunteers may sign up to be a part of each upcoming "giving back" project.
Info at: www.guidinglight.net
Some of the volunteer tasks include - house-painting, cleaning, the tidying up neighborhoods - you name it.
What the selfless actions amount to is a donation of time, plain skills, and an act of giving from the heart.
"You don't need money to give," Chappel emphasized quite eloquently.
At this juncture, Guillen summed the idea up quite nicely,
"All that is required is a desire to give the three "T's" - time, talent, and treasure."
"All have value," Chappel concluded.
Then, the panel zeroed in on one great phenomenon, which unfolded last July.
Of course, I am referring to the the Global Event - LIVE EARTH - produced by Ken Wall.
When pestered to reveal how he became involved with Al Gore and environmental issues, he chuckled.
"Well," he laughed, "I was invited to his infamous slide show. It was boring, so I walked out of the presentation, unimpressed."
He recalled that six months later he attended the screening of Al Gore's documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth", as well.
"The same slide show," he shrugged, in disgust.
But then, his eyes sparkled a little.
"Between the credits at the end, however, tips were offered up, suggesting how an individual could make a difference."
That little episode got him to thinking, though.
What can I do?
Well, the answer was obvious to Wall.
"I can do what I do best, throw an event."
When he approached a handful of environmental groups - he got caught in a swirl of politics and turf wars - though.
You see, a number of the non-profit organizations didn't like each other!
He struggled at first to get his bearings.
One day it dawned on him that he needed to team up with Al Gore, so a meeting was set up, and the ball got rolling.
With little ado, or much convincing, the BBC offered Wall two networks to broadcast his event: BBI and BB2.
In another Executive's office, he managed to land a commitment for seven networks.
Each promised 22 hours of airtime for LIVE EARTH concerts.
At that juncture, he envisioned a "group hug".
An auspicious date was set for the event: 07 07 07
In addition to raising awareness of global warming that day - LIVE EARTH - also hatched the concept:
"Live Earth Call to Action"
During the concerts, supporters were asked to agree to a seven-point pledge - which included demands to countries to join an International Treaty - to take personal action to help solve the climate crisis.
Using the global reach of music to engage people on a mass scale to combat the climate crisis - was pure genius - in a nutshell.
And, because Wall was an effective communicator with vision, he was able to pull it off.
The last panelist, Mr. Golin, has been focused on "messages" films with the ultimate aim of enlightening the masses about social, economic, and political issues.
But - "projects such as these" - are a hard sell, he emphasized with a touch of sadness in his voice.
"Rendition" - a strong message film he produced about the questionable treatment of terrorists in captivity - ended up bombing at the box-office, for instance.
He opined that many Americans today are squeamish about films that focus on torture - especially when their Government is to blame - and that images that depict America in a negative brutal way may be a turn-off these days.
Although documentaries were cited as a way to enlighten an audience about serious topics - with the aim of educating the public at large - it was noted that a survey recently revealed that only eight documentaries have made over a million dollars, ever.
In film, that is not always the case, one panelist was inclined to point out.
"It's A Wonderful Life" - a James Stuart vehicle - not only made money at the box office, but delivered up a profound message about giving, as well.
How a project is packaged, marketed, and presented, may be the key.
In response to one guest's thoughtful question about humor in film as a cure for life's suffering and ills, all panelists agreed that it was a great genre in which to serve up a message, as well.
In the final analysis - it was obvious that dreamers, on-camera artists, and behind the scenes producers - have not only found ingenuous ways to reach out and touch in meaningful - and at times charitable ways - but also give back to a loyal public for their support with thanks.
In sum, true to the Christian tradition, it appears that there is a lot of tithing going on in America, today.
According to Acts, 20:35,
"It is more blessed to give than to receive."