Assessing the Impact of Your Project
The greatest challenge for a foundation or filmmaker anywhere in the world is how to assess the impact of a project. However, there are indicators that will highlight its effectiveness. Broadcast sales or festival invitations are important and awards bring attention to the success of a documentary, but it is important to think beyond the broadcast and the traditional measures of success which focus on ratings and the box office.
The impact of a project should be defined in terms of the desired outcomes of the foundation you are approaching. It may educate school children by way of a targeted educational campaign that links into the school curriculum. It may raise awareness that is proven by individual or group responses to screenings. The documentary itself may involve the subjects in a process that has moved or changed them, taught them new skills or been a catalyst for change in their lives and environments. It may be used in conjunction with a fund-raising campaign for a charitable organisation or to motivate government action to effect new legislation.
The following Australian examples show how effective real-life stories can be.
US MOB is a 7-part 'choose your own adventure' series set in the central desert of Australia. The teenagers live at Hidden Valley. Hidden Valley is one of the town camps of Alice Springs. With US MOB, you can follow central Australian Aboriginal teenagers Charlie, Della, Harry and Jacquita as they head off on journeys full of fun, excitement and crisis. You can also interact with the world of Charlie, Della, Harry and Jacquita by choosing the story endings, playing games, activating video and text diaries, forums and uploading your own stories.
Statement by David Vadiveloo, Director
"Through letters, online forums and email feedback, it is clear the US MOB project has had a profound impact on the Arrernte Community of central Australia, educators and children around the world. The working model involved complete community editorial control, authorship and improvised storytelling. US MOB has generated unprecedented Indigenous youth engagement online, shattering the digital divide that threatens to alienate Indigenous youth from new technologies and creating the first bridge of its type between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth in Australia. The uptake of the project by the Dare To Lead organisation in 2006, representing 4000+ primary schools in Australia, will make US MOB Australia's most significant educational resource of its type. www.daretolead.edu.au
The funding of US MOB was a courageous decision by a number of organisations and government agencies in 2004. However, the lack of funding to continue such an initiative has seen key creatives lured overseas by philanthropic funds that are willing to invest in unique, socially inclusive documentary entertainment models. This philanthropic funding in North America acknowledges the need to feed a world market hungry for content-rich programs whilst also generating important changes in the social and cultural landscapes that they are created and screened in." - David Vadiveloo (Director)
Kanyini is a story told by an Aboriginal man, Bob Randall, who lives beside the greatest monolith in the world, Uluru in Central Australia. Based on Bob's own personal journey and the wisdom he learnt from the old people living in the bush, Bob tells the tale of why Indigenous people are now struggling in a modern world and what needs to be done for Indigenous people to move forward. A tale of Indigenous wisdom clashing against materialist notions of progress, this is not only a story of one man and his people, but the story of the human race.
Statement by Melanie Hogan, Director
"Uncle Bob's and my overall dream was to ensure that every Australian school child would have a chance to seeKanyini before they left high school.
Within a month of completing the final draft I had a distribution contract from Hopscotch in my hand - a dream come true! Funding of the Print and Advertising Budget was the next hurdle. Hopscotch could only invest a certain amount given the film was an unknown proposition. I therefore had to find private sponsors to top up the Print and Advertising Budget.
The first point of call was Macquarie Bank. I met with the Macquarie Indigenous Development Fund. Within five minutes the fund wished to support the film through sponsorship. We were on our way and faster than I thought we would be.
I started to contact other philanthropic groups in the hope they'd follow in Macquarie's footsteps. I received many knock backs but one Friday afternoon I received a magical phone call. The Rio Tinto Aboriginal Foundation called up and said that they had heard about the film and wanted to be a sponsor. They felt their logo on the film would also let other people know that they had a funding source available to assist Aboriginal projects. It was a win-win situation.
So within about 3 weeks we had raised our Prints & Advertising budget of $50,000 (topped up by Hopscotch of course). We then needed to find money to cover the deferred costs -such as the composer's and the sound designer's fee. At that time, a wonderful lawyer from Allen Allen and Hemsley sent me an article about the GPT group and their concern for Bob's community of Mutitjulu. The GPT group was the company behind the tourist resorts on the other side of Uluru. They were very supportive ofKanyini and not only did the Chairman personally donate money to help cover some of the deferred costs but the GPT group covered the rest of the deferred costs. It couldn't have been a better outcome. Uncle Bob was particularly happy.
It was the grant from the Shark Island Documentary Fund that sealed our chance to market and promote Kanyini to every Australian school. We needed assistance building up the website, creating marketing material, promoting to schools via screenings and mail outs and the logistics of distributing the DVDs to schools right around the country. Having every child around Australia view Kanyini is an ambitious plan but it's an achievable one and one we are starting to realize". - Melanie Hogan 2006
Our Brother James
James Dalmann killed himself in 1996. He was 20. In this very personal film, director Jessica Douglas-Henry returns to Geraldton in Western Australia with her sister Alix to document the impact of her brother's death. Alix was the person closest to James. She was 17 when he died. In the three years that followed, she lost five other friends to suicide. Although this film is about James, it's also Alix's story. It's about the people left behind, whose lives have been changed forever by the suicide of someone they loved. Retelling the story is one way to reconcile what has happened. It's a difficult but necessary journey, and in the end, a life-affirming one.
Statement by Jessica Douglas-Henry, Director
"Our Brother James was a very personal response to a much broader tragedy. The loss of life through suicide has a profound influence on our society and I wanted to explore the motivation behind a young person's decision to die by suicide while also focusing on the impact of suicide on those left behind and a community's attempt to do something about it.
Since 2001 the film has had an extremely successful life as an educational resource for professional development with mental health and social workers and as a teaching tool for older secondary students, tertiary students and youth and community groups. I have received mail, phone calls and personal feedback from people whose lives have been affected by the suicide of someone close to them, have seen the film and experienced it as a powerful healing tool and as an inspiration to do something about the issue." - Jessica Douglas-Henry
A documentary insight into the growing youth underclass in Australia - with a major focus on homeless children.
Statement by David Goldie, Director
"With around 10,000 phone calls and letters (not emails) after episode one screened, it was the largest public response to any ABC program to that date (1989). It seemed to touch a nerve, prompting not only a widespread public awareness, but private and government responses including the setting up of the Oasis Youth Centres across the country" (a collaboration of the advertising industry, the Salvation Army and NSW State Government) - David Goldie, (Director)
Following the Fenceline
An important documentary about breast cancer and an innovative approach to public awareness taken by 14 remarkable women. In mid-1996 a group of 14 women rode motorbikes around Australia to promote breast cancer awareness. Mainly middle aged women, their arrival in towns on motorbikes made quite a sight. Many riders from a number of motorcycle clubs raised money, had barbecues, rode legs of the journey or escorted the 'fenceliners' in and out of towns and cities. This made the ride look even more extraordinary.
Statement by Pat Fiske, Director
"When I heard about a bunch of middle age women riding around Australia on motorbikes for breast cancer awareness, I thought it could make a very good film. The trip would doubtless be full of drama and humour. I had a breast cancer scare myself so I knew quite a bit about the disease and the statistics (1 out of 7 women get breast cancer). I made the film to make a difference in people's lives. I thought there would be a large audience for this kind of program. I made it for women from early 20s to old age in mind.
We got nowhere raising money. Along the way, I pre-sold videos to all and sundry all around the country, which kept me on the road financially. I charged $50 per VHS copy. I came back with 50 hours of material - too much really - and no money. The prospects were dim. I showed the people at the ABC the rushes - they weren't excited by the footage and couldn't see a film in it.
Through one of the women bike riders, I met with someone from the Cancer Council about possible financial help to complete the film. They agreed to accept monies sent to them and give those donors a receipt that allows them a tax deduction. I raised about $15,000 this way. People did come to the party, they were wonderful. I found a young editor, Karen Johnson, who came highly recommended and who wanted the job and was prepared to work for low wages. And she did a great job. Chris Rowell who suggested the idea in the first place, provided an editing facility. Soundfirm mixed for nothing (the manager's mum had had breast cancer) and Frame Set and Match charged a very reasonable amount and said I didn't have to pay until I sold it. Then when they did get their payment they sent it on as a donation to the Cancer Council.
I did sell Following the Fence Line to the ABC when it was finished - the Documentary Department liked it immediately and recommended it be bought! Many cancer councils bought the film and it screened at many a meeting. Many of the women who were on the ride were asked to speak about their experiences time and time again for years afterwards and they would always use the film. It was useful in that I know it inspired a lot of women to have mammograms, get their breasts checked and for a few, maybe saved their lives." - Pat Fiske
Inheritance: A Fisherman's Story
In the year 2000, the Hungarian river Tisza is flooded with tons of cyanide from an Australian-Romanian gold mine. The poisonous chemical causes an environmental disaster, killing over 1200 tons of fish and devastating the river's eco-system. Fishermen like Balazs Meszaros struggle to survive. In this hopelessness, Balazs travels to Australia to meet with the mining company responsible, to discuss compensation and present them with the human tragedy at hand. He must save his people and preserve a way of life.
Statement by Peter Hegedus, Director
"My feature documentary serves as a primary example in terms of how a documentary can develop and be driven by social conscience.
Following the political transition in Eastern Europe in 1989, for the first time ever, western capital began pouring into old Soviet bloc countries. Australian companies were among the many that attempted to make profitable investments in the region. Esmeralda was an Australian mining company that invested in the construction of a gold mine in Romania and enjoyed cheap labour but used a western technology that was inappropriate for the harsh European climate. This was naturally overlooked by a post communist (non-existent) environmental protection agency and as a result, an accident occurred which almost caused the extinction of a river system. Inheritance: A Fisherman's Story was made in response and as a consequence of the disaster.
It was in conjunction with the film's extensive exposure overseas including being short listed for the Academy Awards for best documentary in 2003 that led me to the idea of arguing that documentaries can and need to develop social conscience in a global society troubled by various social, human rights and environmental issues. Even if the change occurs on a micro level, as documentary filmmakers we have a responsibility to shed light on the various issues and contribute to the healthy dialogue that aims to make this world a better place." - Peter Hegedus (Director)
NEXT: Building Relationships