Every year the TED Prize grants three people a "wish," along with $100,000 to make it happen. In 2006, filmmaker Jehane Noujaim was a winner. Her idea was to bring the world together through film.
That may sound a little facile, a bit like an Academy Award show montage, or some teenagers posting their first YouTube video. But Noujaim (who was not available to take a call) was thinking literally -- a global film festival hosted in multiple cities and broadcast around the world.
The result is Pangea Day, a four-hour multimedia event hosted today from six cities, including Los Angeles, and beamed to TVs, cellphones and computers in more than 100 countries. (In the U.S., it will be televised on Al Gore's Current TV, and you can also watch on the Pangea Day website, www.pangeaday.org.)
The event, named after the land mass that spanned the Earth before the continents split, combines old media with new, and celebrity power with user-generated content. It's also hitting at a time when artists are finding it increasingly difficult to get noticed on sites once touted as democratic, and when global conflicts and incitement thrive online.
"All of our problems are global -- climate change, poverty, terrorism," said Chris Anderson, curator of the annual TED (technology, entertainment and design) conference. "We can actually use modern technology in a much more imaginative way than has been tried before, to bring the world together."
To do that, filmmakers were asked: If you had the world's attention for five minutes, what story would you tell? Thousands of submissions came in, filmed on cameras and on cellphones, and ranging from whimsical to dramatic. Twenty-four selected films, most about five minutes long, will air, punctuated by commentary from hosts; guests such as Queen Noor of Jordan, anthropologist Donald E. Brown and CNN's Christiane Amanpour; and audience reactions.
Hosts Max Lugavere and Jason Silva say they were drawn to the project because it shared the social consciousness and multimedia focus of their day jobs -- hosting programming on Current TV.
"There's no point of view or agenda or partisan take," Lugavere said. "Even Live Earth, which is an amazing event, had a pro-environment take, and not everybody is pro-environment, unfortunately. Pangea Day is about human universals -- love, safety, understanding, connection."
Also unlike Live Earth, Pangea Day's emphasis isn't on marquee-name artists touting their green credentials. Instead, it's lending the kind of wattage lesser-known filmmakers that they couldn't get by simply posting their work online. "The real celebrities are these storytellers," Anderson said.
Anderson seems aware of how "kumbaya" it all sounds, and of how the event may simply be preaching to the converted.
"It's not like we rolled out a $100-million marketing campaign or anything. It's an idea we've put out there. To have a day when these global souls get visibility of each other, that's a huge deal," he said, noting that organizers hope to host another Pangea Day in 2010, and annually thereafter. "It's certainly ambitious and maybe unrealistic, but I take the view that you have to try."