Featured Image: “Documentary Sunset” by Geoff Livingston, licensed by CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
The only time in my life I donated a considerable amount of money to a cause was after I learned about the personal story behind the organization. I was overwhelmed with empathy and respect for their hard work and felt that I had to do something. It goes to show that genuine stories have the potential to deeply impact audiences and potentially even garner support for a cause.
Most nonprofits work with the overarching goal of making the world a better place despite the lack of financial support and community interest. Most lack the resources necessary to maximize their impact on the cause they advocate for. For years, non-profit organizations and grassroots movements have struggled with garnering support for their causes, but in an age where digital consumption is growing exponentially, it seems to be making ever more sense to explore video and film to grow support and interest. Compelling narratives have the ability to evoke empathy in the viewers and inspire positive change and documentaries can shine a light on marginalized communities and give them a voice to tell their stories.
Meet Up for a Cause: Filmmakers and Grassroots Group, an event hosted by Northwest Film Forum and Seattle Documentary Association, is a meetup that aimed to connect local filmmakers and community groups for video projects that bring social causes to light.
The event featured a networking hour and a panel discussion from film and non-profit industry experts focusing on providing tips for collaboration between filmmakers and community groups and sharing their experience producing video for causes.
The panel consisted of Amy Benson, Director/Producer of “Drawing the Tiger”, Jill Freidberg, documentary filmmaker and part-time lecturer at University of Washington Bothell, and Eli Kimaro, filmmaker and visual artist.
The panel started out with a screening of Freidberg’s short documentary, Voices from the Field, which was a collaboration project with Centrum, a non-profit organization in Port Townsend, Washington, to promote immersive arts programming for students from migrant families in Washington State. The film told the story of children from migrant families who work in berry fields and their academic needs in art education.
The key point of the panel discussion was that nonprofits should come prepared when considering a video project. For filmmakers, economics and efficiency play a crucial role in selecting a project. Therefore, non-profits can help lift some burden off filmmakers by knowing their target audience, key messages and the budget beforehand. Non-profits should ask themselves critically what the desire impact of the video is and what would compel the audience to take action. Doing so would give filmmakers enough time to figure out what they can do to maximize the quality of the video.
Aside from that, thinking about who is going to be in the video is also very important. This includes the idea that many people in a video might not be an effective way to tell a visual story to compel people. Instead of focusing on people whose voices are already well represented, video can be used to help represent the voices of people who have not been heard and help the audience better understand the mission of an organization.
The last suggestion when it came to preparation for a video collaboration was to conduct research of the styles and approaches of other organizations in making videos and then identifying top and bottom 5 favorites. Doing so would help non-profits communicate to filmmakers what the organization wants the film to look like and help filmmakers visualize the non-profit’s vision and have a better understanding of the project.
The panel ended with a few minutes of Q&A, followed by pitches from non-profit organizations and grassroots groups such as Capitol Hill Renter Initiative, GiveSafe and many other passionate presenters who are standing up for what they believe in. Many powerful stories were told with the goal of inspiring filmmakers to help amplify their voices through the power of documentary film and capture the heart of an audience who has the power to spark positive community change.