SFF'12 Panel: How Independent Docs are Changing Change

About midway through the 2012 Sundance Film Festival here in Park City, UT, and I wanted to highlight a few panels and documentary films showcased for those interested in the point where independent film and political activism meet.  Many of the documentaries selected to screen this year and related panel discussions coalesce around a common theme of activism and change.  Links to specific films to watch for below, but first video of two panels streamed live at Sundance.org this week:

Prof. Drew Westen, Sen. Barbara Boxer, and author Magaret Atwood discuss the importance of activists telling a story in the fight against income inequality (highlights only), and The Power of Story: How Docs Changed Change (full session) moderated by CNN's Soledad O’Brien with panelists Robert Redford (Sundance Founder); Sheila Nevins (HBO Documentary Films); and Nick Fraser, (editor of BBC’s Storyville) comparing the art of doc filmmaking with the strategy of successful political activism.  Watch:

Some of the documentary films screening at the festival that reflect the theme of story telling and change:

Just a handful of the films and discussions taking place I wanted to share (see the full line up here).  I have been seeing docs at the festival for the past 17 years, and this is the most concentrated and cogent I've seen the category and panel discussions get in relation to not just the stories the filmmakers are trying to tell, but the relationship between those stories and grassroots activism. To say the overall themes of Occupy Wall Street, revolution, reclamation, and income disparity are present at the 2012 festival would be both obvious and an understatement. 

Watch for them to see a larger theatrical or cable tv release later this year.


3-2-1 and the Social Change Film Forum at Harvard

Once upon a time, before Facebook and Twitter and everything else we consider new media, a film documentary had a limited ability to make an impact (as good as some of the older documentaries were.) An audience would file into a movie theater (distribution always being the first major barrier a thoughtful documentary would have to overcome) but then the audience would file back out into the night at movie's end, touched, moved perhaps, angered but with little means of turning those emotions enter action.

Mercifully, one of the largest advantages I see of the explosion of new media is that the film documentary is no longer the start and end of the activation process but a piece of a new media puzzle that can turn emotion into action.

Consider my friend Lawrence Bender's shocking new documentary "Countdown To Zero"about nuclear weapons. It's shocking, sobering and as Lawrence said in his intro, a documentary that is trying to not just draw attention to an issue but to drive action on this issue. The screenings and soon to be broader distribution of the film is just part of the leadership that Lawrence, Participant and other partners are involved in.

What's amazing is consider that when Lawrence worked on "An Inconvenient Truth" just a few years ago many of the tools that can be used to drive action on the nuclear weapon issue were either non-existent (Twitter) or platforms with a fraction of the power they have today (Facebook.)

This topic and many others were part of the inaugural Gleitsman Social Change Film Forum where "Countdown To Zero" was shown as was the touching "A Small Act" -- the Film Forum asks the simple question "Can film change the world?" I think the answer is clearly yes.

For any aspiring documentarian, I think the take away from the weekend was use your film as the leading piece of your movement but you can create a multi-media movement that is far more powerful than the film itself.

Oh, and one more thing about Countdown To Zero. You should definitely see it -- and I won't spoil the story too much to say except to note that when you hear the story about Boris Yeltsin, well, that drove me to sign up to take action.

Because if our future depends on leaders like Boris Yeltsin making good split-second decisions, we definitely need to get rid of all nuclear weapons as soon as possible.


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