CMSI Report: "Movies & Grassroots Community Engagement"

The Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI), a lab and research center based in Washington DC, has recently published 'Movies & Grassroots Community Engagement', written by Caty Borum Chattoo and Will Jenkins. This is the second volume of a two-volume report about documentary films’ growing impact on legislative change in the US. In effect, the publication advises documentary filmmakers how to develop an effective public-policy impact strategy.

The background of this report is the growing tendency of documentary filmmakers to take on advocacy rather than impartial reportage – making films that come from political or social passion and a desire for change. The first volume focused on federal policymaking; the second volume turns its attention to state and local levels. According to Movies & Grassroots Community Engagement, operating on state and local levels is a vital and necessary step for filmmakers to achieve federal change: “While news headlines mostly focus on national politics and government activities in Washington, DC, state and local governments often have a more direct impact on the day-to-day lives of Americans.”

The report offers valuable information from experienced policy- and filmmakers about methods of shifting policy agendas through documentary films. It details how four film projects affected policy via 15 in-depth interviews with legislative staffers, issue advocates, and the filmmakers themselves. The result is a series of ten strategic recommendations for filmmakers aiming to affect policy agendas. Some of the recommendations concern working with local officials in legislative and advocacy groups; others are tips and advice describing how filmmakers should go about presenting their projects.

The report exemplifies effective impact strategies based on the four documentaries Bag It (directed by Suzan Beraza, Reelthing Films), Coal Ash Stories (Compilation, Working Films), Playground (directed by Libby Spears, Blueprint Films, Fork Films, Shedding Dog) and Sin by Silence (directed by Olivia Klaus, Quiet Little Place Productions).

The full report (also available in PDF format) is free-of-charge and can be found here.