Impact Filmmaking for Social Change - Raindance

Perhaps you’re an academic deeply immersed in social justice and political issues.  Or a concerned activist striving to make governments take notice and change policy. Or just a person who wants to ‘be part of the change.’ You present your research and ideas at an academic conference, perhaps speak at a rally, go door to door and publish a paper or leaflet which…12 people might read.

Or you decide to become a filmmaker.

That’s what P.J. Marcellino (Canada) and Hermon Farahi (US) decided to do to amplify a voice, present a cultural context through music emerging from the deep pool of indigenous musical storytellers and culture keepers across Canada.

Visual stories, whether narrative or documentary, have the most power to stimulate a response, change opinion and inspire people to act. Marcellino illustrates 3 important ways a film can speak louder than words, gain a greater audience and evoke a response in a more profound way than ever before.

1) To stimulate change, people need to ‘see’ your message

The exposure one can get through film and digital content, whether it’s at a film festival, a local cinema screening, through online distribution or educational channels, is magnified compared to many traditional ways we try to impact change.

Marcellino and Farahi’s feature documentary film, When They Awake, was selected to be Calgary International Film Festival‘s 2017 opening night gala – the first documentary to be accorded this honour. Watch the trailer here.

Weeks earlier, following their North American Premiere at Montreal’s World Film Festival / Festival des Films du Monde de Montreal, the directors walked away with the Jury’s 3rd Prize in the Documentaries of the World category.

And When They Awake will be the Opening Screening at Hamilton Film Festival and part of the Post Colonial Program at Buffalo International Film Festival. It is one of a handful of music films being screened as part of the WOMEX 2017 Film Selection; and will soon be screening in festivals across the US, starting with Portland #PDXFF17.

Festival exposure and awards often bring press attention, which is the best amplifier of messages we currently have in the world, next to exploding Twitter feeds.

For an independent feature film made without government funding by two forward-thinking researchers and policy analysts, the themes presented in this documentary upon early release will reach public and government exposure which their academic/policy work might not ever achieve: Marcellino commented:

“My role was to provide policy-makers with information to allow them to make decisions in an informed manner. I often wondered if they ever read what me and my colleagues wrote – or if our reports ever got to the desks that mattered.”

Telefilm Canada is now supporting their film, to assist in gaining screen exposure to audiences across Canada.

2) To inspire change, people need to ‘feel’ your story

Data, research, statistics and trend indicators are important. Data supports and drives decisions every day in what we do. But data alone typically doesn’t reach the part of our brains which can reach complex issues, intuit connections, engage lateral thinking, or move one to action: the emotional brain. ‘Story’ speaks to our emotional brain.

Data can tell us WHAT to do; but Story usually tells us WHY we should do it.

Marcellino notes,

“As a field researcher, I felt like I had a grasp of the human scale that was being missed by so many conference presenters, and when addressing a room of policy makers, I made an impassionate appeal to remember that when they’re distilling 100 stories into one spreadsheet, the human level of those stories is being lost in translation. That was the first time I remember feeling that film may well be a better tool to bring these dramatic stories to a broader audience. ”

And Marcellino has seen the effectiveness of this response:

“Another Raindance member shared her documentary film project with me – about Haitian culture – which I showed to a government minister in Haiti. I watched the minister while he watched, his eyes glistening at the end of the preview, and I remember how excitedly he spoke about what he had just seen. I knew he was affected in a way that I could not have done if I had just spoken to him about the same topics. He was emotional, he was empathetic, and I believe he wanted to do things. I doubt any policy-maker’s eyes ever glistened like that after reading my reports.”

3)  To inspire the greatest number of people, you need to make something and release it directly into the world

Why we become filmmakers may not just be a creative urge any more. Increasingly, we have ideas and information to share. There are reliable, traditional channels through which change occurs. And then there are channels which cut through more directly to the core of who we are as an evolving society:

“Documentary film is perhaps the most “edited” form of film there is. Of course we are filming reality, but how the director chooses to present it, how the narrative is crafted, shapes a new reality. So, the fine balance then becomes how to represent the “real reality” truthfully, while also creating an engaging narrative with a story arc, that audiences can engage with.”

“If done right, film can be one of the most powerful tools to convey strong feelings to an audience. You can see faces, you can look in the eyes of characters, you can feel their emotions (which, of course, a filmmaker can enhance through colour and music). All this offers up a dimension that is unachievable even in the best reports packed with lively interviews. Sometimes you find similarly impactful pieces written by frontline journalists (think New Yorker, The New York Times, Vanity Fair), but film certainly has a power that is unmatched today.”

For more information about the journey through making When They Awake, click here
Calgary International Film Festival: Opening Night Gala
7-Oct-2015: Edge YK: Recording a Renaissance:
Interview with P.J. Marcellino and Hermon Farahi:

Movie Nights Across Canada teams with Calgary International Film Festival for gala screening





Tiška Wiedermann is a film producer and the Programme Director and head of academics for the Raindance Postgraduate Film Degree, an innovative negotiated Masters Degree designed in negotiation with industry mentors.