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Consider Working with Documentary Filmmakers

 

Charitable and non-profit organisations in Australia are working towards the betterment of society. There are thousands of charities and non-profit organisations in Australia working across a broad range of social issues. Many documentary filmmakers are also concerned with social issues, the arts, environmental stories, indigenous culture and other diverse topics intersecting with the interests and projects of charitable groups.

The filmmaking process involves important collaborative and team building skills. It is one of the most collaborative arts and teaches a whole range of life affirming skills including the ability to listen, ask questions, empathise, synthesise, analyse and fairly and accurately represent the perspective of another. By sharing the creative roles needed to make a documentary, people are offered responsibility and autonomy over their area of specialisation, be it research, writing, direction, cinematography, sound recording, editing, music and sound design, or titles. It is possible to share the work of documentary filmmaking with a community group in ways that will profoundly affect their sense of purpose and identity. Documentary filmmaking not only gives a voice to the needy, overlooked or under represented in our communities, it also involves the community in the creative process of sharing representations of themselves, ultimately leading to empowerment.

Charitable organisations seeking philanthropic support for a project can work in collaboration with documentary filmmakers to increase the visibility and extend the impact of their work by using the media to reach out to a broader audience. There are so many charities in Australia working towards sustainable change across a diverse range of interest areas that there is great potential in this sector for creative partnerships with filmmakers. A documentary could be closely aligned with the objectives of a charity and equally, a charity may be extremely interested to work with a filmmaker in order to create and document the change they are aiming for, adding leverage and sustainability to existing programs.

In the USA, environmental, health, housing, civil rights and other community groups are utilising documentary filmmaker skills, to create films enhancing their campaigns or simply to document inspiring programs funded by the philanthropic community.

Australian charities must take advantage of potentially creative relationships with Australian documentary filmmakers. This can be done by partnering with documentary filmmakers or companies to consider documentary as a viable part of the outreach potential of some or all of their projects.

A documentary filmmaker may have partnered with a registered charity to work on a project that includes or is solely comprised of a documentary component. In this case the charity and filmmaker together could submit a proposal for philanthropic support either from a foundation, business or individual. This is a straightforward relationship as many charities are already working closely with foundations and individual donors and have the necessary DGR status to allow the foundation to receive its tax deduction. The charity would then work with the filmmaker to realise the documentary's potential and continue to be involved throughout the distribution of the documentary.

A contemporary example of an outreach model is the collaboration between the AUSTRALIAN CONSERVATION FOUNDATION (ACF) and the documentary AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH. In this case the ACF partnered the film in its outreach and education strategy in Australia. They organised a range of high profile community, school and media supported promotions, which greatly increased the environmental awareness of the public, including the younger generations. One method they employed was to put together a climate change action kit, engaging the audience and helping them take simple steps to make a difference on an individual level.

Through the association with the ACF the reach and effectiveness of the documentary was greatly enhanced.

Documentary Australia asked Lucy Farmer, Communications Director of the Australian Conservation Foundation, to describe the partnership:

1.  How did An Inconvenient Truth fit within the mission of the ACF?

 

An Inconvenient Truth promotes greater awareness and understanding of climate change, what it means for our planet and our way of life. At the same time, it serves to inspire people to take action in their own lives and encourage those around them to do so also. Boosting people's awareness of our environment and the serious challenges we face is key to any activity undertaken by ACF and similarly, we seek to inspire Australians to work together towards a sustainable Australia.

2.  How did ACF benefit by participating as the key outreach partner of the Australian release and distribution of the film An Inconvenient Truth?

 

ACF benefited in several ways:

  1. Close association with the film and therefore enhanced credibility through joint promotion and advertising
  2. Cinema advertising
  3. Exposure of ACF to new audiences
  4. Opportunity to form a relationship with tens of thousands more Australians

3.  What are the learnings that have come out of the partnership?

 

As a result of the partnership we think more creatively to achieve win-win scenarios - in this case for the Australian distributors of An Inconvenient Truth, it was important to add some local relevance and an outlet for people who were motivated by the film to take action and help the environment in their own lives.

4.  How effective has the outreach been to date?

 

To date, ACF has distributed 50,000 free Climate Action kits to Australians and approximately half of these kits were requested via promotional cards distributed in association with An Inconvenient Truth, including cinemas and in video/DVD stores. As a result, 50,000 Australians are now better informed on the impacts of climate change in an Australian context, how they can make a difference in their own homes and how they can communicate their concerns to political representatives.

5.  How did the outreach program attract its target audience?

 

The program used the following tools:

  1. Jointly branded postcards distributed by Avant Card and cinema box offices promoting the film, offering handy tips for reducing energy use at home and encouraging people to order a free climate change action kit from ACF
  2. Postcards distributed by major video/DVD chains around Australia promoting the DVD instead of the film at the cinema
  3. Free cinema advertising opportunities

6.  Did ACF have the resources to manage and deliver the outputs required from the partnership?

 

The film promotion activities were managed within existing resources. At the end of An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore undertakes to train 1,000 people to take his presentation out into the community, ACF partnered with Al Gore to bring his training program to Australia (The Climate Project - Australia): this program required significant additional resources.

7.  Do you have any evidence that the outcomes from the project have changed behaviours in the community?

 

In addition to the action kits and joint promotion around the film, ACF's partnership with Al Gore's The Climate Project has resulted in 84 Australians being trained by Al Gore to date with further training expected before the end 2007. Each presenter is required to deliver 10 presentations over 12 months. At each presentation, the audience is able to request further climate information by filling out a postcard to receive a climate action kit. By June 2007 an estimated 40,000 Australians have attended a climate presentation.

8.  Does ACF share its knowledge of outreach with other foundations?

 

Yes. ACF works with a range of foundations, other non government organisations, businesses and the broader community.

9.  Would you support documentaries again?

 

Don Henry, CEO of the ACF has recognised the added value in working in partnership with documentary filmmakers and will continue to do so providing it acknowledges and supports the issues being addressed by the ACF.

10.  How do filmmakers approach you to work in collaboratively?

 

In this case the relationship was with the film's distributors and not with the filmmakers. In the past, ACF has been directly approached by filmmakers to partner in promotional activities.

Lucy Farmer
Communications Director
Australian Conservation Foundation

Charities partner with filmmakers for the entire film or for the outreach and educational component of the film. An individual donor or foundation can give to a charitable or other non-profit organisation that is endorsed as a DGR under the Tax Act. This organisation can then support a documentary about their interest area. 

 

NEXT: How to Work with Filmmakers 

 

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