Investigating Documentary’s Social Influence and Impact in the Participatory Media Age

Beyond the Impact Report: What’s Really Needed to Produce and Sustain Social Impact in Documentary Film?

Beyond the Impact Report: a series of case studies

As both an outcome and a set of activities, making social impact through documentary storytelling has changed enormously over the past decade. It isn’t an understatement to say that the entire environment in which filmmakers and impact producers create has seen fundamental change over the last few years, due to major disruptions made by rising social movements and the arrival of new funding powers, distributors, and engagement platforms. At such a juncture, an initiative from the Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI) raises the following key questions:

What does social impact in documentary entail today? What are the current challenges? What lessons and models of the past are being brought forward and which ones are being overlooked? What does success look like in this work and how do we define it?

This case study centers this pursuit by engaging with five films, selected by an advisory committee of eight leading filmmakers and impact producers, as providing a useful perspective into the features, best practices, tools, lessons, and experiences of an exemplary impact campaign within the documentary field today. This case study is based on multiple conversations with key members of the film and impact campaign team around their experiences working on this impact campaign.

IN MY BLOOD IT RUNS: Centering Co-creation and Communities in Documentary Film and Impact

AND SHE COULD BE NEXT: Going Beyond the Community Screening: Engaging New Communities, Movements and Partners Through Documentaries

SOFTIE: Overcoming Censorship Pressures to Reach New Audiences and Create Spaces for Important Conversations

El Tema - A different approach to climate documentary and impact work

PRAY AWAY: Centering Wellness, Valuing Care, and Creating Supportive Spaces

The Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI), based at American University’s School of Communication in Washington, D.C., is a creative innovation lab and research center that creates, studies, and showcases media for equity, social change, and social justice. Focusing on independent, documentary, and entertainment media, the Center bridges boundaries between scholars, producers and communication practitioners across media  industries, social justice, public policy, and public engagement. The Center produces resources for the field and academic research; creates original  media; convenes conferences and events; and works collaboratively to understand and design media that matter.
Documentary Power research institute
The Documentary Research Power Institute is a multi-disciplinary Institute that grapples with the field’s most urgent challenges and works to expand access to timely learnings, needs and tools of documentary-centered research in order to serve academic and practitioner communities interested in the role that documentaries can play in community building and fields of social impact, justice and change. The Institute also spotlights the legacies and present-day work of impact producers, activists, filmmakers, and organizations who are committed to leveraging documentaries for social impact. Seed funding was provided by the Perspective Fund.