EXCLUSIVE: Candescent Films, a new venture formed to make films that advance a social agenda, is financing and co-producing a small slate of films that are passion projects of A-list talent. Spearheaded by Lilly Hartley, Candescent kicks off with Native, a drama being written by Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols, with Hartley producing with Sarah Green (The Tree of Life) and Automatik Entertainment’s Brian Kavanaugh-Jones. Candescent is also the catalyst for two documentaries. Javier Bardem is the star and producer of Sons of the Clouds, an in-producton documentary that explores the political and human rights issues facing the people of the Sahara, with an emphasis on a former Spanish colony in Africa that is now occupied by Morocco and where there are more than 200,000 refugees living in camps in the desert. Bardem is producing with Hartley and Alvaro Longoria of Morena Films. Longoria directed it and is close to finished, with Candescent financing.

Candescent is also financing development of The Fifth Estate, a feature documentary to be written and directed by The September Issue‘s R.J. Cutler that examines the future of journalism in the digital age, and the role of the Internet in 21st century democracy. WME Global’s Liesl Copland packaged both of the documentaries.

Though it often doesn’t work out that way, most film ventures form with the goal of making money. Hartley got the idea of using film as a form of philanthropy when she was an executive at the iDeal Partners Film Fund, where she worked in development and production, as well as investor relations. After the filming of iDeal’s Dirty Girl (which was acquired by The Weinstein Company at Toronto in 2010 and will be released this year), Hartley said she left to form Candescent with backing by several investors who sparked to the philanthropy angle.

“We’re not trying to make blockbusters,” Hartley said. “The point of the projects and the people we are working with is to make them great and get them seen to raise awareness. It’s not exactly the popcorn film moneymaking enterprise, but it is an opportunity to work with high-profile talent who are passionate about certain issues, and that is an interesting combination.” The first film to be finished will be Sons of the Clouds, which will aim for the festival circuit in 2012. She is keeping the identity of her backers private, but said “They all believe in the philosophy that films can make a difference, and be an important part of championing causes that people can get behind,” Hartley said. “It’s a form of charity and giving back.”