Documentary Storytelling & Social Change
Actor Robert Redford made a bold statement recently when he told the BBC, “Documentaries have replaced investigative journalism.”
It’s easy to see why: the 24-hour news cycle and competition for page-views among online papers, combined with fewer staff at magazines and papers, has led to a decline in well-researched, compelling stories. In their place, documentaries that research complicated issues and tell stories in a compelling, engaging way have had a huge impact on audiences. Recent documentaries like Food Inc, The Cove, and Werner Herzog’s new Into The Abyss have taken on complicated ethical and political topics, able to explore an issue in depth and connect with the communities and people impacted by them.
But documentaries can provide more than just education and information: they can also motivate action and change. For instance, a recent study by the Norman Lear Center for Research found that audiences of Food Inc, a documentary that explores how food is produced and distributed, are likely to change their food consumption behaviours after watching. Another example is 65_RedRoses and the moving story of Eva Markvoort, a young woman struggling with cystic fibrosis, on the wait list for a double-lung transplant. Her story motivated thousands of people to register as organ donors when it premiered in Canada. Coming May 3rd to the US, it will see its largest audience yet on OWN.
Robert Redford’s own son James has also used documentary storytelling to champion the issue of organ donation. An organ recipient himself, James Redford started the James Redford Institute for Transplant Awareness, which has produced three emotionally powerful films about donation that are used in partnership with online outreach and public education.
However, even powerful stories and great documentaries don’t always lead to big changes quickly. Alissa Sadler, a Vancouver-based social media strategist, recently shared in a presentation that it takes 17 years to turn evidence into policy. For a film to be a catalyst of long-term change, they need to have dedicated supporters engaging with communities as early as possible, inviting participation, and developing resources that are sharable and accessible.
That's certainly what we've been able to enjoy with The Corporation, a documentary that continues to garner critical attention and awaken new fans. It’s success is only possible thanks to the work of supporters who have championed the film because they believe in the message and its ability to effect lasting change.
For our part, we've tried to keep audiences connected, provide resources and direct action on corporate misrule for over 9 years—without dedicated funding. During this time, we've heard from many of you about how the film has changed lives and fuelled action all over the world, yet there is still much more work ahead to see concrete changes to the corporate form. The #Occupy movement has certainly demonstrated that grassroots mobilizations can have a huge impact, and we look forward to hearing how the community keeps that momentum going via our "on-the-ground reporter" for The Corporation.
As the grassroots campaigners behind both The Corporation and 65_RedRoses, we see the need for a new way for filmmakers to distribute their films and connect audiences to the cause, sustaining the action over the long haul. Addressing corporate malfeasance, and increasing and sustaining organ donation, are — unfortunately — not issues that are going to be solved overnight.
Through both of these movement-inspiring films, we are hoping to use the profits from sales of our campaign materials and DVDs as the basis for long-term campaign funding, while still giving fair compensation to the creators and using ethically sourced and environmentally friendly manufacturers. We're been inspired by our critique of the corporate form to use a new model to carry on our own business as a social enterprise — where social value is calculated as part of our 'bottom line.'
At Hello Cool World, we always work to connect ideas with audiences, and to turn those efforts into action, whether that be for international film projects or regional health campaigns like I Have Immunity, LACE Campaign, Toward The Heart, and Youth Have The Power. Everything we do is grounded in the knowledge that small movements can have a big impact, if they are driven by evidence, determination and an engaged community.
And every movement starts with people sharing stories — creating a narrative and empowering others to become part of the story too.
Documentary Storytelling & Social Change