Lights, Camera, Social Action!

By Dan Verderosa, July 19, 2018
IC alum Jim Miller leads a nonprofit film studio fighting for social justice.
Two men stand arm in arm

Jim Miller (right) poses for a photo with actor Martin Sheen, who has narrated several short videos for Brave New Films.

(Photo provided)

Jim Miller ’85 began his film career reading lines with Kevin Costner as a casting assistant on the classic baseball movie “Bull Durham,” but his passion for social justice took him away from the glitz and glam of Hollywood. He now produces documentaries on issues like gun violence, immigration and sexual misconduct.

Miller is the executive director of Brave New Films, a nonprofit film studio that works toward social change. In that position, he helps raise funds, produce films and connect with social justice-oriented organizations to see how the studio can help them achieve their goals using narrative content.

He has produced a number of feature-length documentaries, including “Making A Killing: Guns, Greed, and the NRA,” “Koch Brothers Exposed,” “War on Whistleblowers” and “Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars.” In Miller’s estimation, such films — as well as the shorter videos Brave New Films also produces — can make a real change in the world.

“I think that when you have six or seven million people viewing something with specific messaging and goals, and you have a place for people to go to at the end of the video to learn more, or have a specific action that you would like them to take, it’s helpful in shifting policy,” he said.

Miller was introduced to the power of social justice in the 1980s at Ithaca College, where students and faculty active in the anti-Apartheid movement were calling on the college to divest from companies operating in South Africa. (By 1989 IC had fully divested from companies with investments in South Africa). “That was probably the first thing that I was involved with protesting,” he said.

“I think that when you have six or seven million people viewing something with specific messaging and goals, and you have a place for people to go to at the end of the video to learn more, or have a specific action that you would like them to take, it’s helpful in shifting policy.”

Jim Miller ’85

As a television-radio major in the Roy H. Park School of Communications, he worked on an ICTV news show called “Panorama,” which regularly tackled social justice issues that Miller found fascinating. His coursework and faculty also played a role in shaping his thinking.

“[Professor] Patty Zimmermann had a terrific impact on me,” said Miller. “I took her course on images of men and women in the media, basically breaking down how different images are constructed and different things to look for that you might not initially notice.”

So it was only natural that Miller sought out work with social justice organizations while he was also starting a career in the entertainment industry. One such organization was the National Breast Cancer Coalition, for which he produced a series of benefit shows. As luck would have it, the event planner helping with those shows shared offices with Brave New Films founder and documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald. “It was at the time that they decided to start a nonprofit, so I was fortunate enough to get in on the ground floor,” Miller said.

While his focus is on serious, real world issues, Miller still operates with one foot in the entertainment world — during production of one of Brave New Films most recent documentaries, he worked to get music rights from Bruce Springsteen and Cyndi Lauper.

In recent years, Miller has returned to IC to present some of his films and speak to classes. It’s just another way that he’s making a difference in the world.

“I love it,” he said. “I think it’s something that everybody should do.”