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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 10:15PM   |  6 comments
globalsocialchangefilm festival

Post written by Patricia Zimmermann, professor of cinema, photography and media arts at Ithaca College and codirector of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival

Agriculture and Cinema?

What do agricultural economics and cinema have in common?

Stumped?

Two words.

Cynthia Phillips.

And five more... the Global Social Change Film Festival (GSCFF) slated to unspool in  Ubud, Bali, Indonesia April 13-17, 2011.

For Cynthia Phillips, the founding director of this new festival, the challenges of food security, world hunger, poverty, and sustainable futures lead directly and logically to film and media for social change. 

A New Film Festival in Indonesia

The Global Social Change Film Festival and Institute focuses not on film markets, deals, auteurs, landing big movie stars, discoveries of the next breakthrough genius, or launching the next new wave.

“We’re about creating spaces for dialogue around these films,” explains Phillips. “We want to connect filmmakers and activists for community building.”

To this end, the festival plans to convene filmmakers, activists, and audiences for meaningful discussion in Bali, an island renowned for its embrace of the arts, slower pace, and open culture. With only 8 feature films screened in open air venues over 4 days, the festival is making a strong statement that extended dialogue matters.

Phillips hopes that filmmakers will explore how to build audiences beyond festivals by linking with activist groups. And she hopes that activists will learn more about the possibilities of a range of media.

In an international media landscape crammed with film festivals in nearly every city on almost every theme imaginable, the GSCFF possesses an impressive clarity of vision by answering real needs. According to Phillips, the festival focuses on “ addressing the needs of filmmakers to become more effective at outreach, and addressing how activists can become better storytellers.” 

It’s a large mandate—but scalable. For Phillips, one word keeps everything in focus: outreach.

From Economics to Outreach

Phillips sports an unusual background for a film festival director. 

After getting her PhD in agricultural economics from Michigan State University, she pulled together a team to record a convening by the USAID on hunger and poverty in Africa. That lead to a stint in Singapore working in international marketing for American Express. And, now, she’s a high profile, high energy strategic planning consultant for a range of high end clients like One Degree Media, 2020 Fund, and others via  her C. A. Phillips Company.

Along the way, she did some programming for the Sedona International Film Festival in Arizona around sustainability issues and locally sourced food.

That experience ignited her interest in solving a key unresolved problem lurking underneath the utopian, user-generated, all-tools-are-accessible-everyone-can-do everything, Web 2.0 media ecosystem: how do we build audiences for beautiful, well-produced social change films?

Staying on Point

The Global Social Change Film Festival seems to be unpacking that gnarly audience and outreach question in innovative ways. It’s honoring the nongovernmental social media group Engage Media in Jakarta, Indonesia with a special innovator award. It’s giving a special activist award to the Women and Children Crisis Center of Tonga.  And it is honoring Indonesian filmmaker and social activist Nia Dinata.

During the day, the Institute part of the festival will offer a range of pointed workshops on pressing, unresolved, but necessary topics like Commercially Viable Social Change Filmmaking and Distribution, Hybrid Models of Distribution, and Film, Audience Building and Social Action and Environmental Film.

Challenges and Dialogues

However, challenges lurk despite this clarity of vision, marketing savvy, and ability to pull in partners like the Global Fund for Women, Global Girl Media,and First People’s Worldwide. All films need to pass through the government review board for approval, a time consuming process but one that GSCFF respects as part of the media regulatory environment in Indonesia. It’s also hard to pull together resources in a tough economy for a first-time film festival.

Drilling down into details like how to get different activists from around the Southeast Asian region to Ubud for workshops, the endlessly optimistic and undaunted Phillips observes “People are always asking me why start a film festival festival in this tough economy? “ 

Her answer is simple: “I tell them we need to creative a space for dialogue about social change media and activism and outreach.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


6 Comments

This is an awesome idea and I hope I can break free to to this this event (with doing 40 of my own events this year - it may be hard). This is such a cool project - I'll make every effort to be there.

It's nice to see that a person who didn't necessarily come from a strong film background sees the importance of film festivals. Even though it may take much of one's time and resources, the impact that it can have on an audience makes it very well worth it.

One thing I find interesting about this concept is it's innate separation of activist and filmmaker. Drawing from my documentary-watching experience, I guess I had concluded that sometimes it is the most motivated activist that gets together the resources to make a film. The distinction probably points out my lack of knowledge of the film world but the intentional joining of filmmaker and activist is something I had never thought about.

The other part of this article that made me stop was the "how do we build audiences for beautiful, well-produced social change films?" Should the question instead be "how do we build films for beautiful, well-processed audiences?" This addresses the sort of fundamental issue of outreach. It's an interesting concept to be having the audience the priority in any situation with art. On one hand, you should be adhering to yourself as an artist and doing what you love to do. On a second hand you should be attending to the subject as a person or group that trusts you and in turn that you grow attached to. But after everything, what is this film if it doesn't touch people? Should it be the case that you have to work endlessly on outreach to persuade an audience to watch your film? And there comes the question of do we want get 100,000 people to watch my film and forget about it, or have 1000 people watch my film and be truly affected by it. The question of audience is contradictory. What is more important, the audience or the film?

This is wonderful that Cynthia Phillips is doing this work. I think it's very refreshing to see a festival that encourages a dialogue and social change. I feel that most people (myself included) watch documentaries, but then do nothing as a result. I recall a quote from Hotel Rwanda, where the Rwandans ask what Americans will think when they are shown the awful footage from the Rwandan genocide. The American reporter says "I think if people see this footage they'll say, 'oh my God that's horrible,' and then go on eating their dinners."

If there is a way that people can become involved right away, through a combination of film and new media, then something will actually come of the work and effort required to put on a festival. Many have asked Phillips why she's doing an event during such hard economic times--the fact that we have hard times is precisely the reason that it needs to happen. If we are to have social change, it will be through the education of the public, and a film festival is one way of doing so.

I think this film festival is precisely what the world needs in order to have an open discussion about social change. I agree with Jackson that many people see documentaries but still don't do anything about what they saw. It's hard to take action when there is not a place to talk about it and see what can be done. Documentaries do motivate and educate people about tragedy happening but there needs to be a space to take action. This film festival is a wonderful idea to promote change and talk about possibilities for action in the future.

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