High Impact Social Justice Through Film

High Impact Social Justice Through Film 

By Jessie Pickworth

2020 has become a year of change – whether we like it or not. Change does open the door for more change, though, so this is good news for people seeking social change. With the world primed for movement, a strong way for your voice to be heard is through documentary film. But many documentaries fall through the cracks – for various reasons. If you want your documentary seen, here are some things to consider.

Bigger Budgets Allow for Better Access
Unless you are telling your personal story in your own backyard, you will need resources to get to your subject, help finding and following the facts, time in an edit bay, and so on. There are only so many favors you can ask, so the more money you have to spend, the stronger your project will be. Luckily, there are more than one way to skin this cat.
  • If you have connections – anywhere – use them. Know a production company that might want to partner? Have a friend that got into a tech company early and did well with stock options? It’s an investment that COULD reap financial rewards for your contacts, but if they believe in the cause as you do, then getting the project done and seen is a win-win for everyone involved.
  • There are many organizations that support producers of films designed to fight social injustices, like the Ford Foundation (https://www.fordfoundation.org) and the Social Justice Film Institute (https://socialjusticefilminstitute.org). They, and other organizations specific to the cause you are looking to support, are just an internet search away. There may be hoops to jump through to receive their grants and various forms of aid, but it will be worth it to fund your project and have their additional viewer reach behind you when it’s time to promote your film.
  • Sponsors are another option for funding your film…but this one can be tricky. You need to make sure that you find companies whose cultures align with your cause that ALSO do not have a horse in that cause’s race. Many major companies have large budgets for supporting charitable activities and are especially incentivized to provide funding for potentially wide-reaching, goodwill-winning projects with which they can associate their name. However, you can sabotage the legitimacy of your project if they have any stake in the cause’s failure or success. Do your research before getting in bed with a corporate sponsor!

Show, Don’t Tell
Documentaries have a bad rap for being boring. The genre statistically gets overlooked when a moviegoer compares it to comedy, action, and romance options. If you want the masses to watch your documentary, it can’t be a lecture and stats thrown at the viewer. Instead, you need to treat it like a form of entertainment that both shares facts and tells a story that makes the viewer feel. If you can’t get them to connect with the who of the what, they won’t be inspired to take action, let alone sit through the entirety of your film.

Whether it be a short, full-length or series, you need to find its heart. Dig into the emotions of the matter. Find relatable people that are harmed by the matter. Introduce viewers to the villains perpetuating the matter. Let your audience see and experience the personal nature, the individual plight of your cause while you share the numbers that blow their mind about its impact on a larger scale. 

You Can’t Affect Change If No One Sees Your Film
If it is really about furthering the cause, you can’t be worried about what you will gross on the film. Yes – it would be amazing for you and your investors to swim in some cash as a result of this good deed. But that has to come secondary to getting it everywhere it can be. Start with film festivals and get it some attention. There are many, like The Social Justice Film Festival (https://www.socialjusticefilmfestival.org), Movies That Matter (https://www.moviesthatmatter.nl/english_index), and Human Rights Watch Film Festival (https://ff.hrw.org), that focus solely on social justice related content, and you can also seek out more mainstream festivals. 

Maybe that turns into a distribution deal. But, if it doesn’t, don’t sit on it! Share it free with anyone that is willing to watch it. The more people that see it, the more possibility to inspire change. And, hey…if it goes viral on YouTube…maybe your NEXT project is the one that gets the distribution deal and makes you the big bucks because you are that guy who made that film everyone tweeted about.

For now, do what you can to be heard.


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