“Documentaries: Making an Impact,” at the 25th IFP Market in New York City

CSM Board members

Board members included host and moderator Alyce Myatt (OneWorld TV), and panelists Barbara Abrash (Center for Media, Culture and History/NYU) and Gillian Caldwell (Witness). Other panelists were Nicole Betancourt (MediaRights.org); Dee Dee Halleck (Paper Tiger and Deep Dish TV); Peter Kinoy (Skylight Productions); and Diane Weyermann (Sundance Institute).

They presented a range of examples of how social issue films and videos are working across borders, platforms, and communities.

Barbara Abrash talked about tactical media, how it has transformed traditional ideas of outreach, pointing out that each panelist would provide concrete examples. Gillian Caldwell described Witness’s realization that simply providing cameras to human rights activists is not enough–that skill building, thinking through the advocacy message and intended audience, along with developing distribution strategies (including multifaceted campaigns aimed ultimately at producing systemic change) is essential for local groups who want to get their stories out to the world. Like other panelists, Caldwell emphasized the importance of engaging stake-holders in the process of making the film, so they will have a vested interest in giving the finished film “the life it deserves.” The work of Witness has resulted in the change of mental health policy in Mexico and been used as evidence in war crimes tribunals.

Peter Kinoy described his work with the Media College of the University of the Poor, an effort that has empowered poor people to tell their own stories. He called for more cooperation between media professionals and activist groups, especially in a time of scarce resources and an increasingly difficult political atmosphere. DeeDee Halleck urged the creation of an infrastructure to foster cooperation, and described the history of activism that has produced media centers, public access, community radio, satellite set-asides, and government funding such as ITVS. Nicole Betancourt described mediarights.org’s new youth project, Youth Media Distribution, and the several ways in which mediarights.org helps documentary filmmakers make an impact, including a database of social issue films, a web-based film festival, an outreach toolkit, and newsletter. She cited the need for clear goals and partnering with other groups from the outset of a project.

Diane Weyermann discussed Steps for the Future, a transnational project on HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa that included training, capacity-building, and an extensive outreach campaign enabling people to tell their own stories to multiple audiences–from international festivals and television to townships and clinics. She also pointed out how the International Documentary section of Sundance can provide visibility to relatively unknown films. Alyce Myatt closed the session with an introduction to the upcoming OneWorld TV website, which will allow filmmakers to upload and share their stories with anyone, anywhere in the world with web access. Through the website filmmakers are also able to connect with NGOs to do their research, and NGOs are able to find filmmakers to help tell the stories of the work that is occuring on the ground.

Overall, this panel demonstrated that “impact”can mean many things, and that it is important to think about many channels and diverse audiences, and particularly the networks and infrastructure that exists today, upon which we can continue to build.

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