Stories fictional and factual in social-change campaigns
Documentary films are often used in social-change efforts. But fiction films? Not so much. That’s surprising, given that fiction can be every bit as truthful as fact, and, when done artfully, just as moving. On their own, films may move people emotionally but not move them to action. It helps to have audiences presented with ways they can take action after the film ends. The San Francisco-based organization Active Voice organize “engagement campaigns” around films; and they’ve got both feature and doc films under their belt. The group is spearheading a series of screenings around the new doc “Who is Dayani Cristal?” — slated for release this Spring, the film looks into the last days of a Honduran migrant whose body was found along the U.S.-Mexico border. (The clip above is a scene from that film.) The Active Voice-organized screenings will seek to advance policies that protect migrants. Or consider the social-action campaign that Active Voice co-organized around the 2007 feature film “The Visitor.” That film is about the friendship that develops between a disillusioned economics professor (played by the familiar character actor Richard Jenkins) and an undocumented immigrant — and what happens when the latter is arrested and detained. What sounds like a possibly strident political film is actually a moving tale of friendship and commitment — so artfully done, and such good entertainment, that you hardly know your sense of justice is being aroused until you’re yelling at the screen. (For more information, read Active Voice’s 2009 case study of that campaign, “Imagine That: How The Visitor Helps Viewers See Their Way from Outrage to Action.”) Two films that have the power and immediacy of truth, not to mention the star-power of the people on screen. Maybe fiction and fact aren’t necessarily so different after all.