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Doc U on the Road Recap: Washington, DC

By IDA Editorial Staff

"It’s one thing to make a film; it’s another thing for a film to matter.”
- Nina Seavey, Director of the Documentary Center at George Washington University


Thanks to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Doc U made its first stop on the road in our nation’s capitol last Monday, December 5 at West End Cinema. Answering the question Can Your Doc Really Change the World?, this thorough panel included representatives from every aspect of inspirational storytelling. If anyone left unsure of some great examples of change-making campaigns from the world of non-fiction storytelling, we’re convinced they weren’t taking good notes.

After opening statements from IDA’s Executive Director Michael Lumpkin, Director of the Documentary Center at George Washington University Nina Seavey took the stage to introduce the panelists for the night’s event.

These panelists certainly covered the breadth of advocacy work, starting with Robert West’s catalytic organization Working Films. "Filmmakers make extraordinary sacrifices to tell their stories," West began, and the best way to ensure a rewarding return is to pair those storytellers with activists, advocates, educators and policymakers on the ground. This is precisely what Working Films does for filmmakers: relies on the power of the story to engage and move an audience while looking outside of the filmmaking world for a little help. His example was inspired by the film Including Samuel: with a little help from the filmmaker, Working Films helped organize a youth summit which eventually spawned I Am Norm, a campaign to celebrate differences among individuals.

This campaign eventually went viral, extending the life of the film while creating awareness for an important issue outside the world of one family’s story. "Collaboration between any filmmaker and a set of NGOs is what makes this happen," West explained. "We realized this idea of having one film carry the world is hugely impractical and not likely to happen." But a little collaboration can go a long way.

The panel then focused on the work of Ronit Avni, a filmmakers who also runs Just Vision, a nonprofit organization dedicated to telling the stories that you don’t hear on the nightly news of Palestinian and Israeli citizens engaged in nonviolence and conflict resolution work. Her goal is to tell these and other really powerful stories through documentary films. In her daily work, she sees so many documentary filmmakers who are documenting human rights violations but had not strategy, no clear vision for how to relay that to the public. That’s where her projects Budrus and Encounter Point prove to be shining examples.

Next, Adam Segal spoke about how to get your voice heard. His publicity agency The 2050 Group, based in DC, focuses specifically on issue-related work. Primarily behind the scenes, Segal has been working with filmmakers and films over the past 6 years to help raise the profile and help change the narrative in the national, state-wide and local media.

"Any informed filmmaker can become a leading national expert on the issues that the film focuses on," Segal emphasized. "It’s not that a filmmaker can overnight learn the skills of a doctor. Through the process of development and research, they can take on those corporate mouthpieces and take them on as co-equals in the national media. That’s what makes me the most proud to be a publicist. We take our relationships, experiences, knowledge of policy and apply that to the publicity work that we do."

One such film, The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier for the Civil Rights Movement, was featured in DocuWeeks 2011 and is currently on the 2012 Oscar Shortlist in the Best Short category.

Next, Angelica Das answered the question of how to get your great content out to the public as she spoke of her experience at the Center for Social Media. And no, we’re not talking about Facebook here—we’re talking about socially engaged media that can be used to investigate strategies and create campaigns. Believing that socially-engaged storytelling shout be strategic from the start, the Center for Social Media looks at audience feedback and the incorporation of emerging technologies. Probably her most important takeaway was to constantly reevaluate any campaign, much like software engineers constantly alter their design to better cater to users.

In the end, we’re really left to ponder whether we want to be advocates or filmmakers. It may be asking a lot, but the general consensus from the panel was that both are certainly possible.

Thanks to those of you who made it out to Doc U on the Road: Can Your Doc Really Change the World? Our next stop is in Brooklyn, NY on Monday, December 12, were a whole new group of influencers will tackle this very same topic.

See you at POV!

Doc U is the International Documentary Association's series of educational seminars and workshops for aspiring and experienced documentary filmmakers. Taught by artists and industry experts, participants receive vital training and insight on various topics including: fundraising, distribution, licensing, marketing, and business tactics.

Doc U on the Road: Washington, DC

In Association with:

Center for Social Media The Documentary Center at The George Washington University Docs In Progress Women in Film & Video (WIFV) of Washington, DC