Producing a film can be one of the most effective ways of striking a chord with audience, starting a social change. This is because films can uniquely, as an art form, evoke emotions from the audience, whilst educating and persuading, and all at a mass scale – which speaks volumes of the importance of documentary films.
As two academics, a filmmaking career may seem like a strange direction for P.J. Marcellino (Canada) and Hermon Farahi (US) to go in. However, this is exactly what they decided to use to amplify their voice and present an emerging cultural context through indigenous musical storytellers and culture keepers across Canada.
In an interview Marcellino, speaks of 3 links between documentary filmmaking and social impact, as well as on how films can be used to gain a greater audience and evoke a response in a more profound way:
- People need to see your message for it to stimulate change,
The exposure one can get through film and digital media – whether at a film festival, local cinema screening, online or through education – is magnified compared to many traditional ways we try to incite change, such as street campaigns, protests, and petitions.
Festival exposure and awards often attract press attention, which is the best way of increasing your exposure, next to exploding on social media feeds.
As two forward-thinking researchers and policy analysts, most of Marcellino and Farahi’s usual academic/policy work never get the public and government exposure their documentary has achieved. Marcellino commented:
“My role was to provide policy-makers with information to allow them to make decisions in an informed manner. I often wondered if they ever read what me and my colleagues wrote – or if our reports ever got to the desks that mattered.”
- People need to feel your story for it to inspire change
Data drives decisions every day in what we do, but data alone doesn’t resonate in the part of our brains that can fathom complex issues, and hence move one to action through the emotional brain.
Put simply, data might tell us what to do but story tells us why we should do it.
“As a field researcher, I felt like I had a grasp of the human scale that was being missed by so many conference presenters, and when addressing a room of policy makers, I made an impassionate appeal to remember that when they’re distilling 100 stories into one spreadsheet, the human level of those stories is being lost in translation. That was the first time I remember feeling that film may well be a better tool to bring these dramatic stories to a broader audience.”
- You need to actually make something (and release it into the world) to inspire people:
In our world, the role of filmmakers is more than simply a creative one. We also need to share ideas and information – the beginnings of all change.
Whilst there are reliable and traditional channels of change, there are also channels that cut more directly into the core of who we are in this evolving society.
Marcellino comments: “Documentary film is perhaps the most ‘edited’ form of film there is. Of course we are filming reality, but how the director chooses to present it, how the narrative is crafted, shapes a new reality. So, the fine balance then becomes how to represent the ‘real reality’ truthfully, while also creating an engaging narrative with a story arc, that audiences can engage with.”
“If done right, film can be one of the most powerful tools to convey strong feelings to an audience. You can see faces, you can look in the eyes of characters, you can feel their emotions (which, of course, a filmmaker can enhance through colour and music). All this offers up a dimension that is unachievable even in the best reports packed with lively interviews. Sometimes you find similarly impactful pieces written by frontline journalists (think New Yorker, The New York Times, Vanity Fair), but film certainly has a power that is unmatched today.”