Hollywood got a helping hand from an unexpected partner at UCLA that’s not usually listed in the rolling credits of a TV series.
In support of the United Nations and its goals, the Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Affairs Relations helped the producer of a new cable TV contestant show, “Chance of Lifetime,” tap into UCLA’s expertise on the issues facing developing nations. The show, which debuted on Participant Media’s new cable channel Pivot on Feb. 15, pitted teams of young international filmmakers against one another to produce a winning documentary on issues central to the work of the United Nations.
The staff and faculty at the Burkle Center worked with the show’s creator and host Ashok Amritraj, chairman and CEO of Hyde Park Entertainment of Burbank, Calif., to prepare background briefs on major developmental issues, as outlined by the UN, that were fleshed out in the documentaries. The winning team presented its 10-minute film to the United Nations and was recognized at Variety's gala event at the 2013 Cannes International Film Festival.
A native of India and a longtime supporter of the UN and the UN Foundation, Amritraj came up with the show's concept as an entertaining way of promoting the UN's work: Teams made up of 12 filmmakers from India, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates compete to make a 10-minute documentary that reflects the UN’s priority global causes.
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In the TV series "Chance of a Lifetime," filmmakers from three different countries compete in teams to determine who can make the best 10-minute documentary about global issues that are United Nations' priorities.
Among those priorities are the Millennium Development Goals, which address poverty, education rates, child mortality, hunger and clean water in developing nations, among many other issues. In addition to preparing background materials on these topics for the show, the Burkle staff screened and selected relevant stock footage from various UN agencies for the filmmaking teams.
The collaboration that linked the Burkle Center with the United Nations, Hyde Park-Image Nation and Variety Magazine is the first project undertaken under a new program, the Burkle Global Impact Initiative, to move the discussion of pressing global issues out of the classroom and into the work spaces of the writers and creators of TV shows, films, video games and other media.
“The Burkle Center came on board with this project during the ‘unofficial’ launch phase of the Burkle Global Impact Initiative, which began in the summer of 2012,” said Alexandra Lieben, the Burkle Center’s deputy director. “We had already begun to work with the UN’s Department of Public Information’s special entertainment unit, the Creative Community Outreach Initiative, when their team asked whether we could help with research for the ‘Chance of a Lifetime’ project.”
By partnering with the United Nations and other organizations, the Burkle Center aims to encourage content creators in Hollywood to learn about global, humanitarian and advocacy issues and incorporate these themes into their work, thus better educating the public about international affairs. Leading the Burkle initiative is Brian Gott, former publisher of Variety, one of most important trade publications in the entertainment industry. While at Variety, Gott mobilized entertainment industry support for United Nations- and UN Foundation–related campaigns.
The Burkle Center is not alone in taking this approach to “edutainment” and social responsibility. To inspire socially relevant storytelling, UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television teamed up in 2013 with Participant Media to create the Jake Eberts Fellowship for Social Impact Filmmaking, in honor of acclaimed producer Jake Eberts. It provides six graduate students with a full-time, paid experience at Participant Media, where they can work in feature film development, social media and digital post-production with an emphasis on stories that inspire and compel social change.
The Burkle Center will continue to work on a case-by-case, invitation-only basis to connect entertainment industry professionals with senior experts at the United Nations and UCLA. It also hopes to work in the future with the U.S. State Department, the World Health Organization and the World Bank.
"It was a pleasure to work with the UCLA Burkle Global Impact Initiative,” said Amritraj, a veteran Hollywood producer behind such films as “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” “Machete” and “Blue Valentine,” among others. “The research and information provided helped make ‘Chance of a Lifetime’ a success. The partnership between the United Nations, Hyde Park, Imagination Abu Dhabi and the UCLA International Institute has been an extremely positive experience and has provided vital education to a global audience on key social issues."
Said Lieben: “The work we did on this series exemplified what the Burkle Global Impact Initiative can bring to the table — providing academic research and access to experts, both at the UN and at UCLA.”
All seven episodes of “Chance of a Lifetime” will air on Feb. 20, which coincides with the World Social Justice Day of the United Nations. 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).
This story was adapted from one that is posted on the International Institute website.