This week I managed to make it to 2 panels on social issues and the media. The first was put together by IFP and The Fledgling Fund. The title was Industry Connect: New Outreach Strategies for Social Issue Documentaries.
The speakers were those involved in the documentary Lioness. Directors, Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers the Executive Director of The Fledgling Fund, Sheila Leddy, Assistant National Legislative Director, Disabled American Veterans, Joy Ilem and Publicist with Sunshine Sachs & Associate, Julie Cloutier. The moderator was Barbara Abrash who is Director of Public Policy Programs, New York University, Media Fellow with the American University's Center for Social Media, in Washington D.C., and Board Member on The Fledgling Fund. This panel used Lioness as an example of effective outreach through a social issue documentary. It was a good example. Of course, as someone at the event brought up, it must be nice to have the budget to put a connected publicist on the job. Not all filmmakers have this luxury, but none the less, Lioness found it's audience through Veteran's Day television premiere and Capital Hill, among other effective and creative strategies to reach their target viewers.
As The Center For Social Media's web article "Lioness making an impact on legislation" reads, "Lioness follows members of "Team Lioness," a group a female soldiers who were sent to Iraq as support troops in 2003 and became the first American service women to be sent into direct ground combat - in violation of Department of Defense policy.
For the strategic campaign, McLagan and Sommers formed partnerships with Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), and Center for Women Veterans, Department of Veterans Affairs. The film has become a tool for Veterans Administration facilities treating post-traumatic stress in women and has been widely screened at veteran facilities."
A screening on Capitol Hill has resulted in strong influence to formally recognize service women who have served as Lionesses by way of an addition to The National Defense Authorization Act. That's about a direct an impact from a film as anyone could hope for. Congrats to Ms. McLagan, Sommer, the Lionesses and everyone involved. It can be done. From what I heard, the secret of their success has a lot to do with finding their audience (women, veterans, families and friends of both), keeping focused on the story's purpose and the formation of good mutually beneficial partnerships.
The title of Thursday night's discussion was From Dialogue to Action, the first in a three-part lecture series sponsored by an organization by the name of Intersections. The main theme of the series is to explore ways to build bridges of understanding across the lines of faith and culture.
The panelists were Philip M. Helmich, Senior Officer of Strategic Philanthropy at Search for Common Ground (SFCG), Shamil Idriss, Exective Director of the Alliance of Civilizations Media Fund, Radha Kramer, Director of the TE'A Project and Radha Productions and lastly, Fatima Shama, Commissioner of the NYC Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs and Senior Education Policy Advisor to Michael Bloomberg. Their moderator was Haris Agha.
The flyer I received read, "This panel discussion will explore specific projects that can be used to promote dialogue through the media, arts, politics and education." This event's discussion didn't seem to be as focused as Monday night's panel. I suppose some of that has to do with the fact that the industry connect event earlier this week was for social issue documentary filmmakers. That's pretty focused in and of itself. Still though, I wanted From Dialogue to Action to be more an interaction between moderator and the panelists, rather than just each panelist pitching their cause. Everyone was well spoken, I think I just wanted more direction from the moderator.
Philip M. Helmich and Shamil Idriss were particularly inspiring, well read and seemed to have a big picture view of social issues and social change. Radha Kramer was enthusiastic about what she was doing with her projects. Check out her webisodes. Overall the panelists were compelling, but I didn't walk a way with a tangible idea of how I can effect change, as I did from the filmmaker's event on Monday. Probably being an editor, I was able to see a little clearly how I could play a role in what they were talking about at the Industry Connect event, While Thursday night felt a little more abstract.
At From Dialogue to Action's presentation however, I was definitely moved by listening to Philip Helmich talk about living in Sierra Leone from 1985-1989 with no running water. About how he met people who had been through so much hell and experienced so much joy. His connection to the community he was a part of was palatable. Mr. Idriss talked about the point at which we seek to understand before we seek to convince. To me, that's something everyone who feels the need to make an impact should regularly remind ourselves of. We can't become arrogant because we want to help. Sounds a little like a cheesy Hallmark saying, but helping another person is an equal exchange, not charity. Otherwise, it's just selfish ego building and not much more. I suppose those reminders are worth their weight and stories of experiences recalled with sincere emotion, I was glad I went.