Former distribution executive and festival programmer Noah Cowan has formed a new US-based non-profit foundation called The Global Film Initiative to promote cross-cultural understanding through film. Cowan, a well-known face on the festival circuit, is executive director of the foundation which he unveiled at the Rotterdam Film Festival over the weekend.

Cowan is in Rotterdam attending the festival's funding workshop Cinemart in order to identify initial projects to support.

At the heart of the foundation are the granting and acquisition programmes which will provide completion funds and distribution opportunities for films under-represented in the US market. The programmes have been set up in direct response to the economic downturn which has severely affected the financing of films in the developing world and the distribution of those films in the domestic market.

The granting programme supports original narrative feature film production in the developing world by providing grants of up to $50,000 as completion funds. According to the Global statement "films must demonstrate artistic excellence, exhibit accomplished storytelling and offer audiences a variety of cultural perspectives on daily life around the world."

The acquisitions programme will ensure that as many as ten finished films produced in the developing world are distributed in the US. The initiative will purchase rights each year to films that might not otherwise receive distribution through conventional channels despite strong reception at film festivals. How these films will be distributed is as yet unclear; the foundation is currently developing a "comprehensive distribution programme" for the film it supports and acquires.

"Never before has there been as great a need throughout the world for an understanding and tolerance of different cultures," said Cowan in a statement. "Our hope is that the Initiative will succeed in making a difference by providing financial and moral support to the filmmakers around the world who need our help most."

Cowan was most recently co-president of US distribution company Cowboy Pictures and associated acquisition outfit CodeRed Films. Before that, he was programmer at the Toronto International Film Festival for 15 years and associate director of programming for five of those years.

Chairperson of the Global Film Initiative is corporate marketing executive, community organiser and public educator Susan Weeks Coulter.