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Advice for Activist Filmmakers

Many documentaries today address activist issues. Often after seeing such movies,audiences will ask, "What can we do?" Sunday October 18, closing day of the Mill Valley Film Festival, a panel called: Active Cinema: Strategies for Change addressed how to best inspire audiences to action. How do we help audiences connect the dots between the experience of watching the film and doing something? How can we inspire activism? The panelists discussed.

"You can't just show them the film and leave," suggested Michael Lumpkin (Executive Director of the International Documentary Association). "You have to give them info, a website, etc." The audience needs something on which to grasp.

Jennifer Siebel Newsom, First Lady of San Francisco andwriter/director/producer of the upcoming documentary Miss Representation, spoke up about the elements of her film that make up what she hopes will be a film that inspires change and action. "In our case we have tons of facts. Then you have to have tons of emotion that people can relate to. Then you have to take the audience on a journey. And the last thing you have to do is inspire and empower them so that they see that they can affect change and that it's not all doom and gloom."

Newsom spoke about how there is a sort of wave of femaleempowerment/ women's issues right now, and how she's hopefully going to "tryand ride that wave to leverage the film."

"There are some films that just have a great story butthere's not anything I can grasp on and do,"said Lumpkin. "Other films canbe on an issue that takes place somewhere else in the world but it's somethingthat relates to our daily lives...A lot of it depends on the topic- ideally there's something there that relates to the daily lives of everyone."

Moderator Danae Ringelmann, Co-founder of IndieGoGo, asked the group, "What are the story elements that are differentbetween a film that's just a good film and one that inspires?

John Morrison, Director of Education for the CaliforniaFilm Institute, reiterated what he said we all know but like to forget sometimes- "It has to be entertaining." But where do you draw the line between entertainment and story?

Newsom said, "It's a constant balancing act between keeping the story strong first and foremost, and then bringing in the celebrities and newstypes speaking."

The conversation ultimately reached distribution. How do filmmakers make money and alsohave wide-reach? How do they harness the power of the internet? Activist Filmmaker and Executive Director of the Global Oneness Project, Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, advocates for putting your movie for free online. "Consider online distribution," hesaid. "You've got to make itavailable for free."

"People will always want to see films together I think,"said Morrison, speaking against the idea of only having Internet distribution. "There should always be an element of theatrical distribution."

"That's why I wanted/ decided to make a non-profit film, and put the proceeds tonon-profits," Newsom spoke up. "I didn't want to lie or hope for money."

Elisabeth Bartlett

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