This summer, I spent a great day with a bunch of filmmakers at the Topanga Film Festival. Their goal? Making sure that their documentaries would have a real, measurable social impact.
Just making a smart, moving film about a pressing social issue isn’t necessarily going to change the world. It’s crucial for filmmakers to know what they can do to optimize the possibilities for impact.
It’s not just about good marketing. It turns out that there’s a treasure trove of compelling academic research that filmmakers can tap in order to increase the chances that their work will hit its mark.
Beth Karlin, the director of the Transformational Media Lab at UC Irvine, has become an expert on the interdisciplinary art of using storytelling to increase social engagement and trigger social change. Karlin has joined forces with Jon Fitzgerald, a filmmaker who co-founded Slamdance and the author of Filmmaking for Change, in order to create a workshop curriculum that informs filmmakers about how they can maximize their potential to effectively address pressing social issues.
My new Media Impact Project at the Lear Center shares those goals, and so I have joined Beth and Jon in an initiative that we’re calling SEA Change. Here’s what it’s about:
The SEA Change approach to designing and assessing film campaigns leverages Storytelling, Engagement and Activism for Change. It synthesizes academic theory, empirical research and the lived experience of storytellers and activists, with an eye towards exposing what we know, exploring what we don’t, and leveraging our connections to maximize impact. We focus on developing measurable goals and using theory and findings from the social sciences as well as from analysis of successful cases to meet and measure these goals.
The workshop at Topanga included Michael Crooke, a film funder who was the former CEO of Patagonia. and a wide range of filmmakers affiliated with the Creative Visions Foundation, which supports media activists and incubates artistic projects in a ridiculously awesome space on the beach in Malibu. Beth, Jon and I had a chance to test out our ideas about how to inform filmmakers about relevant research and structure a program that would allow them to actively learn from one another. It was an incredibly stimulating experience and one that we will reiterate on November 17, 2013, immediately following the Creative Activist Arts Festival. We’re putting together an 8-week workshop as well: for more information about that, or to join our mailing list, email seachangeinstitute at gmail dot com.
Join us for a panel discussion at the Hollywood Film Fest (where Jon just happens to be the Executive Director) on October 19 at 11am at the ArcLight Hollywood. Beth, Jon and I will be joined by award-winning author, producer, and director JLove Calderon, and the delightful Allison Cook, a creator of the wildly successful Story of Stuff Project.