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EngageMedia @ Reel Change, San Fransisco

From September 21-23, 2011 EngageMedia attended Reel Change: Managing Social Issue Film Campaigns in San Fransisco. The event was organised by Working Films, the Fledgling Fund and the Bay Area Video Coalition and sought to skill up documentary makers and distributors in the art of distribution, outreach and audience engagement.

The approach mirrors much of the work EngageMedia seeks to do; turning film into a tool to move people to action. Working Films and the Fledgling Fund, however, focus mostly on feature-length documentaries and have some very interesting success with high-profile films such as No Impact ManThe Age of Stupid and Ghosts of Abu Ghraib. Much of the methodology can be brought across to inform approaches to short-form film also.

The Working Films framework centres around their audience engagement plan. This covers articulating developing the following…

Reel Change: Managing Social Issue Film Campaigns in San Fransisco

I attended the workshop to see what could be drawn from these methodologies and applied into short-form, user-generated, low/no budget content from Southeast Asia. My conclusion was that there’s quite a lot. EngageMedia’s work to date has tended to focus more on the distribution – the technical tools to reach an audience. Where we need to do more is in improving the outreach of that content, and ultimately audience engagement and political impact.

Workshop participants at the Reel Change: Managing Social Issue Film Campaigns in San Fransisco
Workshop participants

It’s certainly been an issue for EngageMedia that the site doesn’t function as much as we’d like to catalyse action from the videos. This issue is two-fold; firstly the site needs to function better to encourage users to add this information and for it to be easier to access on the site, secondly video activists needs think much more deeply about their outreach and engagement.

In my experience, it’s frighteningly common how often video activists will upload content online, or print DVDs, but then do extremely little outreach, let alone engagement. It’s an old rule of thumb than the distribution is actually half the work. I think EngageMedia can play a useful role in raising awareness around these issues, and the knowledge gained from Reel Change was very useful in working towards this.

We have two immediate plans for dealing with these shortfalls; one is a redesign of the site that will better integrate and encourage improved outreach and engagement methodologies, this we hope to have done in the first quarter of next year. The other is a video activist toolbox that we’re about to kick start that will build upon Tactical Tech’s Message-in-a-box.

Look out for more on those soon!

Working Films Reel Change blog report


  • Fledgling Fund
    • Assessing Creative Media’s Social Impact
    • From Distribution to Audience Engagement
  • Working Films