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By Kyle O'Brien | Creative Works Editor

April 25, 2017 | 5 min read

The second annual Tribeca X Award went to a moving short film about a deaf dancer as Chris Fonseca: Keep it Moving, directed by Zachary Heinzerling, took the top spot in New York Monday (April 24) night. The Tribeca X Award highlights excellence in creative, original and authentic storytelling that is sponsored or underwritten by a brand.

The short film took the top honor for its human connection, watching Fonseca and a troupe of deaf dancers feeling the beat and being moved to move. It’s a film everyone can understand and connect with, and the branding is subtle at best.

The announcement was made by jury members Jenna Lyons, creative advisor at J. Crew, and Elli Pariser, chief executive officer at Upworthy, during the 16th annual Tribeca Film Festival presented by AT&T at a celebration and screening of the work, featuring 10 short branded content films.

“There was something special in Keep It Moving that resonated unanimously with the group,” said Lyons. “The message was not only important and poignant – it was expressed with beautiful imagery as well as a unique play on sound that allowed the viewer for a brief moment to possibly imagine what it might be like to live in Chris’ world. It was moving and beautiful as well as inspiring.”

The branded projects chosen as finalists included short films created by acclaimed filmmakers in partnership with a wide-ranging array of brands, including Apple, Beefeater, BMW, Chanel, Diageo North America, Kenzo, Red Bull, Square, Visit Seattle, and Yeti Coolers.

The winner was chosen by a jury that included Joanna Coles, CCO at Hearst; Jae Goodman, co-head and CCO of CAA Marketing, a division of CAA; Tim (Heidecker) & Eric (Wareheim), comedy duo and directors at Prettybird, founders of Abso Lutely; Jenna Lyons, president and creative director of J.Crew; Eli Pariser, CEO of Upworthy; and a proprietary AI solution developed by Celtra, providing quantitative creative analysis based on performance data and insights from hundreds-of-thousands of video advertising campaigns.

Andrew Essex, CEO of Tribeca Enterprises, said it was a pleasure not to have to choose the winner, since all the nominated projects were exceptional, though he did agree with the winning choice.

“It’s an incredibly authentic and human piece of work…wonderful humanity,” he said. He added that brands are now in a unique place to tell stories, especially with the advent of ad blocking, which he thinks is the death of traditional advertising.

“Brands can make the world a better place…because they sit on a disproportionate amount of capital,” said Essex, the former vice chairman and CEO at Droga5.

Luke Atkinson, vice president, Smirnoff Global Communications, accepted the X Award on behalf of parent company Diageo and the filmmakers.

Luke Atkinson of Smirnoff poses with the Tribeca X Award

“We’re in the business of socializing. Smirnoff is an inclusive brand, and it’s a story of inclusivity…we kind of socialized the story,” Atkinson said of the film.

He said that while the longer version of the story doesn’t have any obvious branding, the story of dancing to overcome impediments, and dancing being an inclusive activity, is aligned with Smirnoff. He stated that shorter versions of the film utilize more branding. He also said it’s important that the films the brand chooses to fund and make align with the brand and are authentic.

Another film Diageo is funding is the story of an albino French Congolese DJ who has to overcome persecution and bring people together through his music.

“There are a lot of things (brands) can tell stories about. These are stories of inclusion…poetic, empathetic stories,” he said.

The evening also included a panel discussion, led by senior vice president and publisher of The Atlantic, Haley Romer, with Essex, Atkinson, Kevin Burke of Square, Matevz Klanjsek of Celtra and Prudential VP Alison Lazzaro.

The discussion of branded content found that these types of films help brands connect with people in ways traditional advertising may not. They help unlock business goals and create both business and cultural value.

“We use good tools to inspire people to do good,” said Burke, whose company helped make the film “Yassin Falafel” about a Syrian refugee in Knoxville, Tennessee who realizes his dream of running a falafel sandwich shop thanks to the support of those in his community. The subject of the film Yassin Terou, was in the audience at the awards and inspired plenty of those in attendance.

“It’s not just about selling products, but selling purpose,” said Lazarro.

The panel added that the future of advertising isn’t in the 30-second spot, and brands that adhere to that will be forced into obscurity.

“It forces us to be better storytellers – to move and persuade consumers,” added Burke.

Essex added that there is now so much good content being created that it’s easy to ignore bad content.

“If you’re not interesting, you don’t deserve to be seen,” he said.

Luckily, for all the night’s nominees, they are must-see video. All of them, including the winning film, can be seen on a special section on, created by Atlantic Re:think.

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