The snowy streets and tony lodges of Park City, Utah, home of the Sundance Film Festival, are a world away from the earthquake-ravaged town of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
That distance will be bridged this weekend, when Flow Nonfiction co-founder David Modigliani presents the creative group's short documentary, "Espwa (Hope)," outside of competition in Park City at a private screening Saturday night.
After the earthquake that rocked Haiti just over a year ago, the small island nation's capital, Port-au-Prince, was devastated. Thousands of people died, hundreds of thousands were displaced and the infrastructure was destroyed.
Tide, as part of its Loads of Hope campaign and in conjunction with Operation Blessing International, shipped 10 energy-efficient washers and dryers to the ravaged country to help clean linens and clothing at Port-au-Prince's General Hospital and Zanmi Beni Orphanage. The combined efforts of Tide and Operation Blessing International led to a cleaner environment for patients and children and saved time for medical services workers who had been cleaning infected linens and clothing by hand.
The filmmakers from Flow Nonfiction documented the delivery of the machines and the transformation at the hospital and orphanage. The project is the most recent example of branded content produced by Modigliani and his partners David Rice (executive producer) and Matt Naylor (creative director) at Flow Nonfiction.
The group met while working on Modigliani's critically acclaimed documentary "Crawford," which examined the sleepy Texas town that became home to George W. Bush's Western White House. During that production, Naylor, who served as the film's editor, and Rice, who composed the score, split their time between working on "Crawford" and post-producing a series of short films for the Clinton Global Initiative.
"We had this simultaneous experience of creating a feature-length creative documentary and making shorter content for nonprofits and socially conscious companies," Naylor said. "The idea of Flow Nonfiction was really born out of that confluence — taking the approach that we took to documentary filmmaking and applying it to promoting good work that is being done out in the world. Plus, after working nights together for nearly a year, we still found that we all liked each other. It would have been a shame not to have continued the partnership."
The trio founded Flow Nonfiction in March 2009. Modigliani, a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Texas' Michener Center for Writers, said the partnership was born out of a desire to give a stronger and more compelling voice to corporations and nongovernmental organizations whose message of social responsibility he felt was not reaching a great enough audience.
"There's a fear of self-congratulation. A lot of these stories wind up buried on page 22 of the sustainability report," Modigliani said. "We thought our storytelling skills as documentary filmmakers lent themselves well to telling these kinds of stories of corporate social responsibility or of the work that nonprofits are doing."
The company runs in a truly collaborative style, with each of the men wearing multiple hats. And with their connections in Austin, they say there is no shortage of talent on which to rely, for everything from production work to musical help. In addition to a local crew on "Espwa," Rice, who composed the moving score for the film, called on Austin musicians such as the Tosca Strings and trumpeter Ephraim Owens.
"Our primary edit bay is right next to my music studio," Rice said, "so Matt and David are able to be a big part of the music creation process. It's always a blast to get them and the musicians together, and we've got such a great pool of talent to work with here in Austin."
Modigliani recognizes that branded content inherently has a promotional element but says clients recognize the need to purvey quality content in order to connect with their consumers on an emotional level outside of a one-to-one traditional advertising format. The co-director of "Espwa" says Tide trusted him and his team to tell the story they envisioned.
"Tide wanted a light hand when it came to branding. u2026 They didn't want it to feel like a promotional video; they wanted it to feel like a film," Modigliani said. "It was a really positive experience in which their notes consistently led us away from a more ad-driven approach and more toward a filmmaking-storytelling approach, and they're positioning the release of it in that way. I'm proud of the storytelling skills and documentary filmmaking skills we brought to the film."
As Flow Nonfiction continues to add to its roster of clients, each of the partners attempts to carve time out to work on various creative projects. But Modigliani says they appreciate the unique opportunity afforded by the branded content.
"The work we're doing brings us to new stories that we would not necessarily have chosen and would not necessarily have had the opportunity to tell," Modigliani said. "We would never have been able to go to Haiti and have that access. Each project brings with it a creative challenge that I feel helps us develop our filmmaking chops. u2026 I'm excited every day when I go into the office to tackle what's happening."