Matthew Nisbet discusses the growing influence of documentary film and the various approaches of audience engagement campaigns in his post Recent Research on Impacts of Documentary Film on ScienceBlogs. He offers a preview into the forthcoming issue of a special issue of the journal Mass Communication & Society that he co-edited with American University colleague Patricia Aufderheide.
One of the three films discussed includes Working Films’ very own Blue Vinylaudience engagement campaign, where Nisbet and Aufderheide writes:
A very different approach was used by Judith Helfand and Dan Gold in Blue Vinyl, a documentary about the dangers of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a possible carcinogen that has been used in building materials, car interiors, children’s toys, and other vinyl products. The film was structured as a personal journey, with Helfand investigating the implications of her family’s choice to put vinyl siding on their Long Island suburban home. Helfand modeled herself as the average consumer, demonstrating the obstacles to discovering the implications and consequences of consumer choices. Her sometimes comical efforts to find answers to what should be simple questions and to find an alternative to vinyl siding reframed the issues from a narrow focus on consumer choice to a wider consideration of public health and public will. Helfand and Robert West, through their separate outreach organization Working Films, have supported a variety of constituencies inspired by the film to address PVC-related issues in their communities. For instance, Helfand and West have supported organizations that resist incinerators, which put dioxin in to the air. They have also worked with businesses to limit use of vinyl packaging. The film encourages people to become active citizens and informed consumers. The action campaigns that have emerged have done so because through the film, individuals across communities have discovered that they shared common problems, problems for which the film helped provide them a common vocabulary to articulate their interests and concerns.
Working Films is proud to announce the films and filmmakers that have been selected for our Real Girls, Reel Change workshop. Real Girls, Reel Change is an innovative new platform that will nurture the work of filmmakers, non-profit organizations, and funders that are focused on supporting the physical, emotional, and social well being of girls and young women. We understand that real impact takes time and strategic use of many types of resources, and we’ve developed Real Girls, Reel Change in order to explore the idea that it takes more than one great film on a topic to support sustained social change.
Professional filmmakers and outreach coordinators representing the following five films will participate in Real Girls, Reel Change October 21-23, 2009 in New York City.
These filmmakers will spend two days honing their audience engagement plans, learning from one another and from experts in the field of audience and community engagement, and crafting plans for possible collaboration in the future. This group will be joined by two teams of youth media makers and their mentors. The two youth media projects that will be part of the residency are still to be determined. Check back soon for additional information about the selected youth media projects.
On the third and final day of Real Girls, Reel Change the adult and youth filmmakers will be joined by funders and non-profits for a day long workshop. Together they will participate in workshops, panel discussions, and brainstorming sessions where they will learn about the effectiveness of film as a tool for advancing organizational priorities and mission. Filmmakers will have the opportunity to informally present their audience engagement ideas to non-profits leaders working on girls’ issues. These organizations may become partners or may offer valuable feedback on the feasibility and impact potential of their plans.
Working Films, and our collaborators on this project – The Fledgling Fund and Chicken and Egg Pictures, are very excited about this new format for our work. We look forward to working with all of the selected filmmakers.
We are always excited to hear about the development of filmmakers’ audience engagement plans and to see how ideas and energy from residencies have transformed into film campaigns. I recently received an update from Dawn Valadez with Going on 13 that I thought I’d share.
From Tweety Bird to Bow Wow, double dutch to chat rooms, Daddy’s girls to first deceptions, watch as Ariana, Isha, Rosie, and Esme let go of childhood and fumble — or sprint — toward an uncertain future. This is puberty and for each of these girls of color, it’s a whirlwind of change and new choices. Without flinching, Going on 13 enters their world as they negotiate the precious, precarious moments between being a little girl and becoming a young woman.
Going on 13 is currently playing on PBS stations and is accompanied by an interactive social networking site for girls. This gives viewers an effective and safe online portal to upload and share short responses—via text, photos, and video—as well as interact with each other about the topics they care about most. With the help of Girls Inc. of Alameda County and Michelle Halsell of Missing Pixel the filmmakers conceived, designed, and created a site that will help Going on 13 engage with a larger audience.
Sharon Lamb, Author of Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes, said about the film, “Every topic I am concerned about, every topic I teach about, appears in the film…subtle, moving, nuanced, powerful, and right on!” If you have a girl in your life, or you work with them I urge you to watch Going on 13 and consider how you can use it to inspire those around you.
Last month, Kristin and I attended the kickoff for the Community Engagement Through Film course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Our own co-founder, Judith Helfand, is the resident filmmaker teaching the course this semester along with Gregg Mitman of The Nelson Institute’s Center for Culture, History and the Environment. This course is built entirely on Working Films’ M.O. – How can the movie be in service of the movement?
There are eight films that the students are focusing on, and they are appropriately linked up with community partners who work on the issues in the film. Their mission is twofold – 1) create a way to engage the community and support the organization through taking action; and 2) produce a short video about an issue the partner organization is working on. The class projects will culminate in a highly ambitious environmental film festival titled Tales from Planet Earth. The film festival is a major public outreach event of the Center for Culture, History, and Environment within the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
During the first week, students were introduced to the organizations and the films that they will be working with this semester. The organizations involved with the course include:
As part of our time there, Kristin and I walked the students through different social media tools that will help them in documenting the process, spreading the word about their project, maintaining relationships with organizations and garnering support from the community. Also, at the festival students will use some of these tools to engage people to “take action” viewing the film.
From nearly 200 applications, eight filmmaking teams have been selected to pitch their films and outreach campaigns to an invited audience, in order to amplify the impact of their social-issue documentary projects. A unique feature of the program is an intensive two-day workshop facilitated by Working Films’ Judith Helfand and me for all accepted filmmakers. Immediately prior to the day of the Good Pitch – this workshop lays some early groundwork for their future audience and community engagement campaigns.