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Citizens Speak Out and Clash with a Titan

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Almost every film we work with tells a unique story of people fighting for social or environmental justice in their communities. Our job is to make those local stories resonate with folks in other places across the country and around the world. Our goal: help audiences make connections between what they see on the screen and what’s happening in their towns, motivating them to take action.

So when free speech came under attack in Working Films’ hometown of Wilmington, N.C. we knew we had to share this story with our friends and allies.

We have been inspired by two of our neighbors who refuse to be silenced and intimidated, and we hope that they will motivate you to speak up on issues of concern wherever you live. Engaged citizens educating themselves and speaking out on community issues is the root of strong democracy and at the heart of what we do at Working Films.

If you want to support Kayne Darrell and Dr. David Hill’s legal defense fund you can donate at If you want to learn more about the controversy around the building of the cement plant you can read the back story from our local paper, the Star News.

Stand up for the right to free speech! Please repost this video and share this story with your friends, neighbors and other networks.

Rose and Nangabire at Story Leads to Action

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Missed last week’s invigorating Story Leads to Action at the 92YTribeca that we co-hosted with Chicken & Egg Pictures? Fear not, filmmakers Elizabeth Mandel and Beth Davenport have agreed to share their lessons learned from the evening for your benefit:

panel discussion

photo by Chicken & Egg Pictures

Three years after filming the reunion of a Congolese girl and her mother, separated by war in Congo, Rose & Nangabire (working title) is almost complete. The work-in-progress screening last Thursday was an exciting opportunity to share our work outside the edit room. With a focus on audience engagement, it was also invigorating to finally explore in a public forum how the film can be used to create change.

While many social-justice issues are covered in the film, our audience engagement strategy focuses on refugee rights and resettlement; peace-building and reconciliation; and women in post-conflict situations. The evening was moderated by Robert West of Working Films, with panelists Matthew Edmundson, Operations Officer, Mapendo International and Desiree Younge, Senior Manager, Global Philanthropists Circle, Synergos. Audience members included representatives from the International Rescue Committee, STEPS to End Family Violence, Witness, Human Rights Watch and The Safe Harbor Project, as well as filmmakers and film fans.

Ideas and thoughts generated by the post-screening discussion included the following uses for the film or modules created from the footage:
•    Reaching policymakers and practitioners who are often, due to politicization, desensitized to the issues Rose and her family confront and challenge.

•    Targeting schools, because the presence of a teenage refugee going to high school in the film will make the issues accessible to a youth audience.

•    Partnering with the Department of Education to train teachers who work with refugees and other ESL populations.

•    Bringing together diaspora communities, for example by creating a women’s-only discussion group, and/or a group for teens, where survivors of war can have a safe space to share their experiences.

•    Working with women- and girls- leadership programs to provide a portrait of a strong, resourceful role model.

It was also pointed out that while embarking on our project we need to assess who is already doing this work and can program the film into their existing frameworks, and who can use the film to take their work to new places. This thought brings us to our next phase, solidifying relationships with organizations that address our three issue areas, and finessing the ways in which Rose & Nangabire can be used to help them in their work. As we finish up the film and begin to screen at film festivals, we’re also looking forward to using this momentum to inspire thinking and follow up action on the part of general audiences as well.

Stay tuned for announcements about our festival premiere and the launch of our audience engagement plan. In the meantime, if you are in any way involved with our issue areas — refugee rights and resettlement; peace-building and reconciliation; and women in post-conflict situations — please be in touch, we’d love to hear from you. We can be reached at elizabeth at or beth at

Live from Copenhagen: The Stupid Show

Monday, December 14th, 2009

The Age of Stupid hasn’t called it quits now that their film is finished and out in the world. They are broadcasting live from the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen with the aim to make “the most important meeting in human history comprehensible to people without degrees in hot air”. The filmmakers are working in close collaboration with NGOs to distribute the Stupid Show via the internet to a number of audiences and engage a number of global citizens in Copenhagen.

You can watch it live on the or view past shows. Tonight they will be talking to environmentalist, writer and founder of, Bill McKibben.

The Stupid Show is hosted by oneclimate as part of their Copenhagen 24/7 webcast.

Social Media Special Guest Blog: No Impact Project

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Filmmakers and organizations are coming up with creative ways to incorporate a spectrum of social media into film campaigns, including interactive websites and games, issue-based social networking communities, podcasts and web TV shows. Associate Director of the No Impact Project, Stephanie Bleyer, joins us as a guest blogger to share how she’s using a widget as part of the No Impact Project’s campaign.

The No Impact Project and the Center for a New American Dream have joined together to help communities simplify the holidays this year. During the two-weeks of the historic UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (December 7th-18th), we’re bringing people together to talk about the impact of holiday spending on their lives and the environment.

We organized 50 simultaneous community screenings and for this effort we needed one all-inclusive marketing tool that would be very easy for people to share and post on their blogs, websites, newsletters and e-vites. The No Impact widget is a terrific web marketing tool created for us by Call2Action. It is a mini-website that has the film trailer, film details, project details, event details and a space to make a pledge related to our film screening event.

Our goal for the widget was to allow people to view the trailer, inspire them to RSVP for the No Impact Man Holiday Screening Spectacular and make a pledge to simplify their holidays, which is linked to the theme of the screening event. We definitely recommend this tool to other audience engagement film campaigns.

Tales from Planet Earth – What’s On Your Plate?

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

As part of the community events of Tales from Planet Earth, Troy Gardens and MACSAC participated as community partners in the screening event of What’s On Your Plate? along with filmmakers Catherine Gund and Sadie Rain Hope-Gund. What’s On Your Plate? follows Sadie and Safiyah as they talk to each other, food activists, farmers, new friends, storekeepers, their families, and the viewer, with a mission to understand the story behind the food we eat.

This film traveled to Madison a year ago as part of the build up to this festival to host a special rough cut screening for youth at the Sherman Middle School in order for the filmmakers to gain strategic feedback on how to make the final cut of the film appeal to youth – an essential target audience.

At the beginning of 2009, we hosted a strategy summit with the filmmakers and non-profit organizations focused on increasing access to healthy and affordable food; reducing obesity; and connecting local farmers to schools and families; in order to develop the audience engagement campaign by hosting. For us, it was really awesome to be able to see all the strategy and plans come to fruition and play out in front of us. It has felt quite gratifying after having participated in the work behind the scenes to then experience the film event with the audience of young people and their families.

Check out the video above, featuring an ode to dirt by youth gardeners, to get a sense of how the adventures of What’s On Your Plate? were connected to the adventures here in Madison.

Students take environmental messages, activism local

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Note from Working Films: You can follow the festival live on Twitter: #TfPE09. We’ll also be posting updates on our blog along the way.

by Gwen Evans, Nelson Institute

The Tales from Planet Earth film festival this weekend, Nov. 6-8, will screen some 50 environmental films from around the world that explore how stories told through film can influence our understanding of, and relationships to, nature.

But the festival, organized by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, is more than just hunkering down in a dark theater to watch spectacular films: Organizers hope the films will inspire audiences to action on behalf of environmental justice and the diversity of life.

And local action inspired by the festival is already under way, even though a single curtain has yet to be raised or light dimmed. UW-Madison students in the class Community Engagement Through Film have developed partnerships with area nonprofit organizations that work on issues raised in the festival’s films. The class is being taught by Gregg Mitman, festival director and interim director of the Nelson Institute; and Judith Helfand, filmmaker, activist, educator and artist in residence at UW-Madison this semester.

“There was so much enthusiasm from the last festival. I wanted to take that energy and turn it into activism,” says Mitman. “Environmental film festivals on college campuses are growing, and I wanted to create a model for others to follow. This class is a true expression of the Wisconsin Idea.”

The students’ class projects address, on a local level, issues such as hunger, homelessness, food sources, nutrition, emergency preparedness, animal rehabilitation and community-based conservation. The class has already established some exciting partnerships with impressive outcomes:

•    Several local grocery stores have agreed to stock products made by Porchlight, a local organization that hires and trains homeless people to work in its kitchens. Increasing sales of Porchlight’s products, which are mostly bottled goods such as jams and pickled veggies, baked goods and salads, will spur more hiring and training. The Wisconsin Union is also now buying some of these items for its food service operations, as are some campus sororities and the local Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company. In addition, Marling Home Works, a building supply company, is helping to organize a fundraiser to help Porchlight buy a commercial-scale convection oven to increase its productivity.

•    Madison’s Whole Foods Market has agreed to purchase food shares from the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition to donate to food pantries. Food pantries rarely have fresh vegetables to offer their clients, so this effort will ensure a steady supply on their shelves. Whole Foods will also donate fresh fruits through the winter months to help fill gaps. The Bradshaw-Knight Foundation has also purchased shares along with individual donors.

•    Interstate Books4School has agreed to donate a large number of children’s books to the food pantries.

•    Madison Gas & Electric Co. is donating $500 to several community groups to purchase green energy credits. These will help the groups pay their utility bills and also offset carbon emissions generated by the film festival.

•    Marling Home Works is donating materials to build a children’s garden kitchen at Troy Community Gardens on Madison’s north side, where they will learn to prepare healthy meals from the vegetables they help grow.

Other partnerships and projects are still being developed. “Some of these students have lived in Madison for years but have never left the isthmus. They are seeing that the issues in the films are very real, and real right here,” says Mitman. “They are also learning new ways to think about community service — where they learn about doing things ‘with’ people, not ‘for’ them. That builds relationships, trust and follow-through.”

Calling All Change-makers

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Are you a grassroots activist or a community organizer interested in using films for social change? Working Films is Filmsaccepting applications for audience and community engagement coordinators, with possible openings starting in early 2010. These will be either full or part time positions connected to a number of new projects and campaigns that are in the development phase at Working Films. Engagement coordinators will manage national community engagement campaigns for social and environmental issue documentaries.

Read more on our website.

Images of the Institute

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Although we wrapped up the Content +Intent Documentary Institute just under a month ago, I wanted to take a moment to share some photos from the event in the hopes of giving you a glimpse into the inner workings of the residency and, if you are a filmmaker, peak your interest in participating in future Working Films’ residencies and workshops. The 5 days that we share with filmmakers at MASS MoCA each year is re-energizing for me because I get a chance to interact with both the folks making these powerful films and with people who put them to good use. It’s an intense time of hard work and discussion, but as you’ll see from the pictures below it’s lots of fun as well.

Everyone fueled up for each day of brainstorming with an array of breakfast choices at the great little Inn in North Adams, The Porches.

Everyone fueled up with an array of breakfast choices at our home away from home in North Adams, The Porches.

Every filmmaker had an hour of the residency dedicated solely to the discussion of her or his outreach plan. Here filmmaker Luisa Dantas and Robert West, Working Films' ED, discuss her project Land of Opportunity.

Every filmmaker had an hour of the residency dedicated solely to the discussion of her (or his) outreach plan. Here, filmmaker Luisa Dantas and Robert West, Working Films' ED, discuss her project Land of Opportunity.

Filmmakers got to see Working Films' model in action at this community event built around the film The Hunger Season. Filmmaker Beadie Fenzi and Judith Helfand, Working Films Co-founder- discussed how the film could be used with representatives from the local food bank in North Adams.

Filmmakers got to see Working Films' model in action at this community event built around the film The Hunger Season. Filmmaker Beadie Fenzi and Judith Helfand, Working Films Co-founder, discussed how the film could be used to make change with representatives from the local food bank in North Adams.

At the Hunger Season event audience members got to sample the corn meal that is depicted in the film and is sent to Swaziland as Food Aid.

At The Hunger Season event audience members got to sample the corn meal that is depicted in the film and is sent to Swaziland as Food Aid.

Several funders of creative media and outreach campaigns were generous enough to spend time answering our residents' questions.

Several funders of creative media and outreach campaigns were generous enough to spend time answering our residents' questions.

Filmmakers like Marcia Jarmel spent time working on their individual outreach plans with input from Working Films staff, like Deputy Director Molly Murphy, and other guest instructors,

All of the filmmakers at the residency, including Marcia Jarmel pictured here, spent time working on their individual outreach plans with input from Working Films staff, like Deputy Director Molly Murphy.

In the midst of all of this work residents did get a chance to check out the art at MASS MoCA.

In the midst of all of this work residents got a chance to check out the art at MASS MoCA.

Thanks so much to participating filmmaker Ashley Yorkfor these photos!

The Good Pitch Comes to SILVERDOCS – Call for Entries

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Apply for the Good PitchThe second stop for The Good Pitch in North America will be at SILVERDOCS: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival June 18-22nd, near Washington, D.C. The Good Pitch at SILVERDOCS is now open for submissions. The deadline is Monday, March 16, 2009.

The Good Pitch is a unique opportunity for filmmakers to pitch social-issue documentary projects and associated campaign strategies to an audience of NGOs, foundations, campaigners, advertising agencies, brands and media. Last summer we co-hosted the inaugural Good Pitch at the BRITDOC Film Festival, and had a spectacular time.

The Good Pitch at SILVERDOCS welcomes submissions from directors and producers of any nationality with an ambition to work in partnership to harness the power of documentary to create positive change. Your campaign can take any form, whether seeking to promote public engagement and/or policy change, or engaging with the issues raised in new and interesting ways.

The third Good Pitch in North America will be at IFP’s Independent Film Week, so check back for updates and more opportunities.

Read about Robert’s experience with co-hosting the Good Pitch last summer, and apply to participate in the upcoming one at SILVERDOCS!

Building Intention:

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Filmmaker Selena Burks left the 2006 Working Films Content + Intent Documentary Institute at MASS MoCA feeling charged and armed with the know-how to develop the community engagement campaign for her documentary Saving Jackie.

Saving Jackie is a snapshot of a recovering addict’s attempt to strengthen her damaged relationships with her two estranged daughters. Over the course of the documentary, daughter/director Selena Burks revisits life changing events and examines the long-term side effects of abusive behaviors on family relationships.

Selena recently shared with me, her thoughts on the residency:

I left MASS MoCA feeling focused, re-energized, and confident in the fact that not only had I become an activist filmmaker but that I had the strong support from Working Films and my filmmaker peers to back me up.

She explained how the residency prepared her and focused her ideas:

At the residency, each filmmaker is allotted a block of time to develop creative ways to enhance their film’s impact on its particular social/political subject matter. Robert, Judith and the rest of the filmmakers all participate in this discussion. It was during my session when the idea for developing a website as my outreach tool became a unanimous decision by the group. A stylish, informative, organized, and user-friendly website would be the most effective way to introduce myself, the film, the campaign and the work that I do to the organizations I hope to work with.

I recently worked with Selena to develop the online presence for her film campaign. Thanks to generous support from the Chicken & Egg Pictures, we were able to work with some cutting edge graphic designers to make a site that will serve as a robust tool for the campaign. Having strategized the development of websites for film campaigns in the past, including those for Everything’s Cool, Pray the Devil Back to Hell (theatrical release), and Deadline (youth initiative), I was excited to be a part of the collaboration.