Burkle Center program aids young filmmakers in “Chance of a Lifetime”

Burkle Center program aids young filmmakers in “Chance of a Lifetime”
Contestants on "Chance of a Lifetime." (Photo provided by Hyde Park Entertainment.)

In its first project, the Burkle Global Impact Initiative helped a group of young documentary filmmakers learn about the Millennium Development Goals.

by Peggy McInerny

International Institute, February 5, 2014 — When you think about Hollywood, you don’t usually picture an academic center for international relations. Yet the UCLA Burkle Global Impact Initiative is working to link these disparate worlds to promote more, and more accurate, coverage of crucial global issues and events.

Formed in 2013, the Global Impact Initiative is the newest program of UCLA’s Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Affairs. Its mission is to encourage content creators in Hollywood to become conversant with global, humanitarian and advocacy issues, encouraging the entertainment industry to cover global issues to a greater degree and, consequently, better educate the public about international affairs.

Specifically, the Burkle Global Impact Initiative works on a case-by-case, invite-only basis to connect entertainment industry professionals with senior experts at the United Nations. In the future, the Initiative also hopes to work with the U.S. State Department, the World Health Organization and the World Bank, as well as political leaders across the globe. In addition, the program helps these professionals conduct deep background research on specific issues and/or events.

The initiative is led by Brian Gott, former publisher of Variety, one of most important trade publications of the entertainment industry. While at Variety, Gott mobilized entertainment industry support for United Nations- and UN Foundation–related campaigns, earning the publication the Global Leadership Award of the United Nations Foundation in 2012.

The UN’s own Creative Community Outreach Initiative (CCOI) provides film and media professionals information about the work of the United Nations and its priority issues. However, with an office based in New York, CCOI lacks proximity to Hollywood.

Presently, the Burkle Global Impact Initiative partners with CCOI to help Hollywood professionals make productive contacts with the United Nations. Depending on the need, the two organizations work together to arrange interviews with relevant senior UN personnel at headquarters and in foreign missions, coordinate visits to UN sites and refugee camps, and provide UN background information, film clips and photographs on a given topic.

Which is how the Burkle Center came to be involved in a cable television contestant show, “Chance of Lifetime.” The show, which debuts on Participant Media’s new cable channel Pivot on February 15, pits young filmmakers against one another to produce a winning documentary on issues central to the work of the United Nations.

Young filmmakers learn about development issues


Film producer Ashok Amritraj. (Photo provided by Hyde Park Entertainment.)

“Chance of a Lifetime: Competing for Glory, Fighting for a Cause” is the brainchild of film producer Ashok Amritraj. Chairman and CEO of Hyde Park Entertainment of Burbank, California. A veteran Hollywood producer, Amritraj was the producing might behind such films as “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” “Machete,” “Blue Valentine” and “The Double,” among many, many others.

A native of India, Amritraj is a long-time supporter of the UN and the UN Foundation, particularly their women and children’s health initiatives in his home country.

Interested in promoting films on the work of the UN, Armitraj came up with an idea for a television reality show for young documentary filmmakers. In “Chance of a Lifetime,” filmmakers from three different countries — India, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates —compete before judges to make a documentary highlighting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The MDGs are eight development goals adopted by virtually every multilateral and bilateral development agency in the world, which have committed to helping developing nations achieve the goals by 2015. The task of the filmmakers is to create a documentary on the issues addressed by the MDGs, as seen from the bottom up in the city of Chennai, India.

Enter the Burkle Global Impact Initiative. Working with Amritraj, the staff of the Burkle Center prepared background briefs on the major developmental issues addressed by the MDGs; in addition, they screened and selected relevant stock footage from various UN agencies for the filmmaking teams. The issues included poverty, education rates, child mortality, hunger and clean water.

In a microcosm of the work of the UN itself, the multinational teams came together to create short films, overcoming intercultural and on-site challenges while maintaining a clear sense of advocacy for their issues. Amritraj acted as both host and mentor for the show, and UN experts on the issues were available to the contestants for consultations.

The 12 participants were grouped into three international teams (with one member from each country) for “Chance of a Lifetime.” In the first round, each team pitched their proposal for a documentary, then had one day (24 hours) to make a 1-minute documentary on their issue. They then competed with one another in progressive rounds of the show, being assigned new topics each step of the way and being tasked with making longer films (5 minutes, 10 minutes). The eventual winning team will present their 10-minute film to the United Nations and be recognized at Variety's gala event at the Cannes International Film Festival.

The competition will premiere on Pivot in two parts on February 15 and 16, followed by a marathon of all episodes on February 20, which coincides with the World Social Justice Day of the United Nations.

Bringing filmmakers together in an exercise that mimics how the UN operates, to create a documentary on the organization’s work, in an international setting — “Chance of a Lifetime” makes global development issues compelling viewing. Precisely the goal of the Burkle Global Impact Initiative.

Participant Media’s Pivot channel can be seen on the following platforms: Directv (channel 267), Dish Network (channel 197), AT&T (channel 287), Verizon (channel 287), and Comcast Xfinity (channel 231).