A report and background documents on how to extend the working lives of social documentaries. What happens to U.S. social documentaries after they are first seen at a film festival or on television? Far too little--in spite of evidence of rising interest in the genre. Read the results of research and an expert convening on the topic and find out not only about the problems, but suggested solutions. Funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The transition from 1.0 to 2.0 opens opportunities for documentarians to fulfill and expand their missions—not only informing individuals and leading public conversation but also building community cohesion and participation. This working paper aims to synthesize current efforts to develop comparable evaluation methods for social issue documentary films. Authored by two researchers who have been jointly documenting the field’s transformation over the past five years, this paper offers a framework for planning and evaluating the impact of these films in a networked media environment.
The resources available to assess the social impact of issues-focused documentaries have increased during the digital era. And yet, making the decision about which research methods (and tools) to use to examine the social impact of storytelling may be a challenge within the ecosystem of creators and strategists working in the pursuit of storytelling for social change. At the same time, research methods from social science – in the fields of communication/media studies, social psychology, political science and sociology – have been tested in decades of published studies. This white paper provides a breakdown of social science and market research methods to clearly explain the benefits and limitations of using each one to understand issue-focused documentaries in particular. We examine a group of branded media-impact tools now available, dissecting their underlying research approaches and the ways in which they work optimally to help tell a story about the social impact of storytelling.
The Land of Opportunity transmedia documentary project encompasses a feature film and interactive web platform designed to foster dialogue and social impact around community (re)building in the face of crisis/disaster. In 2006, Director/ Producer Luisa Dantas started filming for the documentary (“Land of Opportunity”), which follows several individuals through the early years of postKatrina rebuilding in New Orleans. In 2012, the project evolved to include the interactive web platform (LandofOpportunity), which combines a rich archive of 1 post-Katrina reconstruction stories with multimedia content from several other communities across the country. The interactive narratives featured on the platform explore a range of places and partners facing redevelopment issues. This field report is a primer on the process of creating an interactive web-based experience after releasing a traditional documentary, as part of a greater set of tools for public engagement. This report was compiled using a series of interviews that spanned the length of production and launch of the platform, some of which were used in shorter blog posts published by the Center for Media & Social Impact. Center staff and graduate fellows conducted interviews and the LandofOpportunity production team provided research, consultation and coordination.
The purpose of this research is to understand how audiences are engaged, motivated and changed – in terms of their knowledge, attitudes and behaviors about global health and poverty – as a result of watching an hour-long comedic travelogue documentary TV program about the topic, "Stand Up Planet." Additionally, via a quasi-experimental design, we aim to discover how perceptions of global poverty and health may be different for viewers who watch entertaining, light-hearted storytelling that balances facts with comedy ("Stand Up Planet"), compared with a sober journalistic format ("The End Game"). Both hour-long documentaries focus on global poverty and health in poor corners of the world, both aired on TV in the United States in 2014, and both include facts and “real people” in the areas they profile. The primary difference between the two is the specific focus on particular global development challenges – sanitation and HIV for "Stand Up Planet," and malaria for "The End Game" – as well as their editorial tone and format.
Our aim is to learn how audiences engage with issues related to global poverty and health specifically, but also to provide broader insights for the individuals and organizations that endeavor to create social change through storytelling.
Many of the issues most important for our society to recognize and discuss are also those that powerful people or institutions don’t want made public. Non-fiction filmmakers who tell truth to power often face aggressive attack from powerful individuals, governmental bodies, businesses and associations.
This collection of resources below is intended to support filmmakers facing such attacks and promote investigative work that combines the best practices of documentary and journalism. The collection was created as part of the Center for Media & Social Impact's research project and report "Dangerous Documentaries: Reducing Risk when Telling Truth to Power," funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Many of the issues most important for our society to recognize and discuss are also those that powerful people or institutions don’t want made public. Non-fiction filmmakers who tell truth to power often face aggressive attack from powerful individuals, governmental bodies, businesses and associations. How are independent makers, often working outside of media institutions for long periods of time, and sometimes untrained in journalistic practices, working with this reality? What are the risks, and can they be mitigated to encourage more and better expression on the important issues of the day?
This report finds that the risks of doing such work are well-established in the investigative journalism community, but not always well known in the documentary film community. It documents attitudes, practices, and problems. It then addresses how makers of such work may best mitigate known risks, and what kinds of support may help them more than they are today. It finally suggests next steps to expand opportunities and share existing knowledge about how to lower risks while telling truth to power.
For a documentary filmmaker, being recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for an Oscar nomination in the Best Documentary Feature category is often the pinnacle moment in a career. What does it take for a documentary film and its director and producer to make it to the top—the Oscars shortlist, the nomination and the win? Which film directors are recognized—in terms of race and gender? Are the shortlisted films’ stories focused on pressing social issues, or slice-of-life entertainment stories? Where can audiences see the documentaries—on PBS, HBO, iTunes, Netflix or somewhere else? How are the top documentary films distributed—by major studio distributors or smaller independent companies? What other kinds of awards can predict —or are associated with—Oscar recognition, if any? This study aimed to answer these questions through a systematic examination of the last three years (2014, 2015 and 2016) of Academy Award-shortlisted, -nominated and -winning documentary films—a total of 45 films and 56 credited directors.