Documentary films and their strategic campaigns are important tools in achieving collective impact goals. Because filmmakers, funders and non-profits are all keen to demonstrate impact, the reach and relevance of documentaries has become an area of increased study. The methodologies are still evolving, and much evidence remains qualitative, but it indicates that yes, documentaries stimulate dialogue and spark action.
For example, Waiting for Superman (VIFF 2010) partnered with DonorsChoose.org, which helped raise $2.4 million in support of a gift card campaign and led to 75,000 new people donating on its site. Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie (VIFF 2010) rolled out live webcasts with 40,000 students across Canada. Dr. Suzuki hosted the ‘virtual classroom’ interactive educational sessions, guided by a comprehensive downloadable teacher's guide. And Invisible War (VIFF 2012) inspired a groundbreaking trauma recovery program for survivors of American military sexual assault. Over twenty pieces of relevant new legislation have since been introduced.
Not all documentaries purport to be activist films. VIFF pre-selected from the Canadian Images Program a shortlist of Impact documentaries, and the jury will choose the winner based on the potential for the prize to stimulate positive social change. ‘Impact production’ includes strategic goal setting, partnership building, audience development, outreach, social marketing, web extensions, educational materials, community tours, evaluation metrics, and more. In Canada, financial support at this crucial time in a film’s life is almost impossible to secure. The VIFF Impact Award will give a boost to these documentaries, which, if more widely seen, are poised to improve all of our lives.