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Social Issue Documentary: The Evolution of Public Engagement

Social issue documentary filmmakers are forging new tools, pipelines and circuits of circulation in a multiplatform digital environment. In a new article for the center, "Social Issue Documentary: The Evolution of Public Engagement," I examine the campaigns surrounding Not in Our Town, Lioness, and State of Fear to uncover emerging practices.

These three case studies reveal the strategies and resources that spelled success for filmmakers eager to bring their stories and issues to broad audiences, to spark conversation across boundaries of difference, mobilize communities around issues, and influence public policies. In the process, they have created networks—of funders, broadcasters, outreach specialists, festivals, and distribution channels—to sustain continuing documentary work. They show that knowing your audience and building partnerships is key. But that's only part of the story for mission-driven filmmakers who mean to make their media matter. Whether the subject is terrorism, war, or hate violence, these films reveal the courage and resilience of people determined to work on behalf of justice, fairness, and security.