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The following was originally posted by yours truly on the Hi8us-South website on May 16th, 2013


The recent surge in cinema audiences and media coverage for documentary film has got us all excited about the potential of our artform. And about more than just our status in the market place. Most of us choose to work with documentary to make a difference. Although recent successes like Searching For Sugarman have demonstrated that documentary serves as a great storytelling medium in its own right.

But in addition to the growth and broadening of audiences, the rising prominence of web-based media has provided new opportunities for documentary to create social impact. Films are now typically released with websites, Facebook pages, twitter feeds, and web videos to increase both reach and impact. This combination of technology and broader audience appeal has given rise to a current landscape in which documentary films are embedded within coordinated multi-media campaigns.

New media have not only opened up new avenues for communicating with audiences, they have also created new opportunities for data collection and analysis of film impacts. Ushering in opportunities to empirically measure and demonstrate impact. Our box office returns may still not compare with that of mainstream fiction releases – despite its notoriety and impact, An Inconvenient Truth only managed to reach 4% of adult Americans – but there is more to achieving social impact than bums on seats in the cinema. The Fledgling Fund sees the film itself as being “one point on a continuum, with a life before broadcast and a life, perhaps quite a long life, after broadcast”.  Outreach campaigns that are about raising awareness and/or mobilising movements, rather than film marketing, involve more than just cinema screenings and TV broadcast. Successful outreach campaigns use film to raise awareness and mobilise people, they partner with movements and NGOs, bring people to events and forums and involve them in online and offline debates and activity. If successful, they result in shifts in consciousness that extend beyond those who actually saw the original doc!

For many, of us therefore, how we’re going to use our films and how they fit into wider campaigns is as much a concern as making the film itself. In many cases the processes are interlinked.


For us at Hi8us filmmaking is about affecting change. Whether it’s personal transformation through experiencing the filmmaking process or stimulating dialogue in the school classroom and online through interaction with an issue based drama or bringing communities together through the making of local documentaries or young people using a short film to persuade a local authority to re-open a youth facility, we experience the power of film to affect social change every day. We work mainly with young people and when we talk about the broadening of audiences for documentary, it’s the growth in interest among the young that excites us the most.

While it might seem odd to cite Kony 2012 in an article entitled Truth And Youth, what interests us about that case is what it achieved and how. It broke 2 key conceptions: 1, that young people don’t watch docs in huge numbers and 2, that anything longer than 10mins on YouTube won’t get an audience particularly among the young. The 30minute film was part of a wider campaign of activity where young people were given the opportunity to act and participate in a campaign with clear goals. Part of the video’s call to arms, as described by its director Jason Russell, is the targeting of “20 Culture Makers and 12 Policy Makers”, in order “to make Kony famous”. “Our goal”, he tells us, “is to change the conversation of our culture, and get people to ask ‘Who is Joseph Kony?’” To this end, viewers are implored to “Above all, share this movie online”, and to contact one or more of the celebrities, a process made easy by social media and the Invisible Children website. To help spread awareness, the organisation also created Action Kits that included campaign buttons, posters, stickers and the inevitable bracelets. Despite his recent inactivity, the campaign did succeed in making Kony (in)famous without generating a penny from box office sales.

An example of a campaign we might feel more comfortable with is I an Norm, spawned by the film Including Samuel. The following video entitled, the Power of Youth, tells the story of the campaign and how it achieved its goals through genuine, participatory youth engagement.

At this year’s Sheffield DocFest Hi8us South wants to involve documentary filmmakers in a dialogue with young people about building effective outreach and impact campaigns around documentary films – exploring the power of documentary beyond the box office.

#TruthAndYouth brings together filmmakers and young activists from major documentary film projects with youth-led outreach campaigns to share ideas and learning about how documentary film can be used to make a difference.

The session is in two halves. The first half is a panel discussion chaired by award winning documentary filmmaker Jerry Rothwell. Penny Woolcock, director of the award winning “One Mile Away”, and Teddy Nygh, director of “Riot From Wrong”, a feature made with the participation non-professional young filmmakers in the immediate aftermath of the August 2011 UK riots, will be joined on the panel by young people leading their campaigns to talk about their work and its impact.

In the second half we’re inviting filmmakers – directors/producers/outreach specialists – to make short (5min) presentations or pitches outlining their campaigns to the audience and a special panel of young people accompanied by an outreach and impact specialist from the Britdoc Foundation. The idea is to provide an effective forum for consultation and support for filmmakers and to hopefully allow all in attendance, young and old, to learn from each other.

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