Going Beyond the Impact Report

New CMSI Study Features Filmmaker Perspectives on The Most Overlooked and Urgent Issues from the Last Decade of Social Impact Work in Documentary Film

Attempting to drive social impact with documentary film has long been an important, but challenging pursuit. A main reason for this is a lack of adequate documentation of the financial and technical challenges involved in social impact efforts within the documentary space. Often, the stories behind the scenes are the most useful for cultivating understanding around how social impact work happens, how to work around challenges, and what the field needs to continue effectively carrying out this work. And, yet, these stories can be hard to access. This has made it difficult for the field to form a collective understanding of its shared challenges and experiences, and even harder to pass down successful  practices and approaches to social impact work.

In response to these challenges, the Center for Media & Social Impact engaged in a two-year research initiative – funded and supported by the Perspective Fund – aimed at going beyond the standard impact report in order to bring real concerns to the forefront, to lift examples of transformative impact campaigns that deserve greater recognition, and to ultimately gain a better understanding of what filmmakers and producers are really doing when they are doing social impact. This culminating work – based on the collective input of more than 70 filmmakers and impact producers across 50 documentary impact campaigns around the world – can be found through the following research products:

Following several successful existing working groups across the documentary ecology, this research was guided and informed by a collaborative working group of eight leading producers and filmmakers: Asad Muhammad, Sarah Mosses, Denae Peters, Simone Pero, Emily Wanja, Tracy Rector, Marcia Smith, Vanessa Cuervo Forero, and Megha Agrawal Sood. This group helped to inform the design of the research’s core questions, film selection, and analysis.

Over the past decade, the landscape for social impact work through documentary storytelling has undergone significant changes. This transformation has been accelerated by the influence of rising commercial streaming giants and advancements in technology. The entry of streaming platforms, coupled with new funding sources, distributors and engagement platforms, has dramatically altered the environment in which filmmakers and impact producers create. By creating a space for more than 70 filmmakers and impact producers to hit the ‘pause button’ and take time to reflect on current experiences and trends in the industry – and in their own work – this research ultimately endeavors to lift key perspectives and immediate challenges for wider deliberation and consideration for a field amid a rapid transition.


Center for Media & Social Impact selected for Kennedy Center Community Partnership Program