Storytelling for change

Most people can think back to a time when a film has resonated with them to the point of making them think or feel differently about an issue. When it comes to filmmaking for development, organisations can utilise the power of storytelling though film to support and inspire real change. Here we talk a little more on the significance of storytelling and film as a medium to motivate change.

The aim of films for development is to create content that affects and moves an audience to point of inspiring action. The challenge lies in engaging an audience in the first instance so they will immerse themselves in the world you are portraying; audiences want to be entertained and enlightened simultaneously.

‘Storytelling involves not the assertation of power over others, but the vital capacity of people to work together to create, share and affirm something that is held in common’

— Bourdieu

Navigating uncertainty

The world we live in is full of uncertainty, therefore audiences look to documentaries and other visual media to inform them and provide answers. This could be one reason why in recent years there has been a noticeable shift towards audiences engaging with films that promote a cause. The hugely successful film Blackfish, which highlights the ill-treatment of Orca’s in captivity, lead to huge public outcry, forcing SeaWorld to overhaul their policies and operations. Alongside the focus issue of the film, Blackfish also brought the cause of animal welfare to the agenda of the global public. For development and humanitarian organisations this presents an exciting opportunity to get their messages out to the world through film, in a time when audiences are demonstrating higher levels of engagement in cause-based media. None the less, having a cause to shout about is only half the battle. The success of films like Blackfish are not down to the relevance or importance of the issue they’re portraying, there are countless worthy causes in the world, but it the causes that get turned into great stories which are the ones that get heard.

Development and humanitarian organisations deal with extreme crisis situations that many people would be unable to fathom or connect with being just told the facts of a situation. Therefore it is the task of filmmakers like ourselves to connect facts with emotion. To do this successfully relies on creating interesting narratives, told through strong characters that an audience can empathise with. Often films for change will be communicating the stories of communities and people who have starkly different cultural and political realities to the audience, therefore it is vital that the audience is given the opportunity to relate to the characters represented on an emotional level. Additionally, for the subjects of the film, the ability to tell their story can be healing in itself in that their suffering is no longer in silence; it re-empowers them.

‘Now more than ever before, audiences are seeking characters they can connect with, heroes they can relate to, cultural revelations’

— Jon Fitzgerald

Storytelling confronts stigma

It is through the sharing of stories that we enable dialogue and discussion around issues, often issues that had previously divided people or that people felt unable to discuss publicly. For example, a big issue for humanitarian organisations is tackling the spread of HIV/AIDS as well as the stigma attached to those who live with the virus. This year we made a film for ITPC celebrating the achievements of HIV activism, taking a retrospective look backwards at the journey. As the film moves through the 1980’s to the present we can see how the stories being told around the issue have progressed over the years. The telling of stories has slowly encouraged more discussion around the issue which in turn has lead to less stigma, a greater understanding of HIV/AIDS, as well as better responses when dealing the disease.

It is through storytelling that we can re-establish our sense of community with one and other and take a more collaborative approach to engineering positive change in the world.

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