On 19 January, FIFDH kicked off its fifth Impact Days with several offerings around impact production in documentary film. Held online, the day’s activities gathered some 500 participants from over 70 countries. These participants could hear a keynote, case study, and a panel on the ethics of funding impact documentaries.
Opening with a keynote address, Working Films‘ Molly Murphy. Murphy is the director of partnerships and innovation at the organisation, which has partnered and worked with over 1250 productions in the field of impact production. The talk consisted of core values and their effect on impact positioning. With a strong emphasis on self-reflection and putting community resources front and centre, Murphy laid out several core values for non-fiction filmmaking, doing through a brief case study of Academy Award-nominated (and Barack Obama produced) Crip Camp:
- Integrate anti-oppression practices in your work
- Be transparent in your relationships
- Acknowledge your positionality
- Respect the dignity and agency of the people on your film
- Prioritize the needs, well-being and experiences of the people associated with your film
- Treat all potential audience members with dignity, care and concern
Following the keynote, the seminar went into Case Study mode as Doc Society‘s Nicole van Shaik went into conversation with Andy Jones, executive impact producer for the film Arica (dir. Lars Edman, William Johansson). That film, on how Swedish waste was dropped into Northern Chile, found much success on the 2021 festival circuit and was a focal point of the talk «From Toxic Playground to Arica – The Impact Journey of Two Films». Much of Jones’ focus was on identifying your impact goals and the importance of networking and a continued snowballing of opportunities for your production. On this topic, Jones mentions his experience on the film: «IUCN helped us finance a new trailer, which allowed us to meet another NGO, which led us to another organisation.» During the case study, he laid out the four ingredients of a successful impact campaign: a team, momentum, partners, and money (of course). But aside from the four, perhaps obvious, ingredients, Jones also laid out some dos and donts/best practices for impact production. Among these were:
- DO: Be ambitious, but realistic. Fit your strategy to the core of the film and to your team. Work out what success looks like.
- DON’T: Work too much for free. Some is inevitable but look after yourself and your energy.
Finally, the panel on ethics of funding impact featured Sabine Fayoux Cantillo (Associate Director of Program at Chicken & Egg Pictures), Ximena Amescua Cuenca (Manager of Artist Programs at Firelight Media) and Gerry Leonard (Director of Filmmaker Services and Impact at Working Films). It was moderated by Co-Coordinator at Global Impact Producers Alliance Naomi Walker. With each participant discussing their respective experiences and opinions, a conversation focused on how to get on the impact producers’ radar. On the topic, Walker highlights not being discouraged by immediate any potential «no» with «When you apply for funding, a panel can feel that your project is not right, but it puts it on their radar, and they start watching you. It’s not necessarily a no. It can be a not now.»
The panel did kick off with Walker asking each participant how they precisely define «impact», with Fayoux Cantillo saying, «all films have the ability to impact their viewers and the communities they depict. Impact changes the lives of the people who are most affected by the issues represented in the film.» Amescua Cuenca defined impact as «intentionally having objectives to use your film to engage in dialogue or get people to take action», continuing by highlighting flexibility: «impact can look in very different ways.» Leonard defined impact as «impact is rooted in the goal of making change with your film so an impact campaign will be really strategically focused on reaching the right audiences and the right locations, at the right time with the right resources.» From there, each participant extrapolated on their respective organisation’s approach to choosing projects and supporting filmmakers. Here, Amescua Cuenca’s response stands out, highlighting a wide range of project «topic of the day» issues.
For impact productions, FIFDH and its seminars may be one of the best places to learn and meet with those involved in the field. Through this event’s three categories, a well-rounded picture of the current impact scene emerges with interesting and valuable direct advice and experiences for those involved. Of course, each organisation has different needs, philosophies, and approaches. However, the primary takeaway was targeting and consolidating the impact mission.
The next FIFDH Impact Days events occur as part of the festival event, 12 – 14 March.