Social issue documentaries such as An Inconvenient Truth and Food Inc. have made major inroads at the box office, and thanks to the vital work of Participant Media, Sundance Institute, The Good Pitch, Working Films, ITVS and a host of others, these films are generating awareness of and spirited dialogue about the themes and issues they embrace. But what kind of real impact have they made? Where are the raw quantitative and qualitative data that reflect the persuasive power that the best of these docs evince? In the final analysis, do documentaries really effect significant change?
Three comprehensive reports have just been released that provide resounding answers to these questions. An Inconvenient Truth, The End of the Line and Waiting for Superman were all subjects of unprecedented studies not only about impact and results but also about the nexus of filmmakers, funders, viewers, corporations, media and policymakers that needs to be built and maintained in order for this sub-genre of documentaries to thrive.
The End of the Line study, spearheaded by the Channel 4 BRTDOC Foundation and funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, is the product of 18 months of rigorous quantitative and qualitative analysis, culminating with forward-thinking recommendations about maximizing the stakeholders for your film. The Inconvenient Truth study also comes out the Channel 4 BRITDOC Foundation--specifically, from foundation head Jess Search as her MBA dissertation, which determined the documentary's social benefit through a valuation process previously adapted by government agencies and nonprofit organizations. The Waiting for Superman study, produced by the nonprofit Harmony Institute and funded in part by the Ford Foundation, is the more qualitative of the three reports, focusing on the film's impact in changing viewers' perceptions about the US education system.
For a deeper assessment of the three reports, check out consultant Peter Broderick's Distribution Bulletin.
For Beyond the Box Office: New Documentary Valuations, Jess Search's report on An Inconvenient Truth, click here.
For Channel 4 BRITDOC Foundation's The End of the Line: A Social Impact Evaluation, click here.
For the Harmony Institute's Entertainment Evaluation Highlights: Waiting for Superman, click here.