February 27, 2003 Episode 36: Lights, Camera, Social Action

Turns out, our little home town (okay, small city) of Victoria is quite a haven for documentary filmmaking, especially documentaries with a social conscience.  This was made evident recently at the Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival where six socially conscious films created in some part by Victorians were featured.  Seven of the Victorians connected to the films were present to discuss how documentaries affect social change.  The panel, The Changing Image, was sponsored by the Victoria Film Producers Association.  

We were inspired by ViFPA's panel to think about the role that documentaries play in making social change and if that role has changed as filmmaking has become more accessible through digital technologies.  To further explore our thoughts on the subject we interviewed Sher Morgan, director, co-producer and co-writer of the film, Silence of the Strings, and with Dianne Searle, Executive Director of a local media cooperative called MediaNet

We found that documentary making is story-telling at its base and documentaries with social change in mind seek to tell stories that get lost in mainstream media.  The new technologies are making more stories available, especially in an environment like Victoria where knowledge and equipment are shared within formal and informal networks.  But there is a great big bottleneck at the point of distribution.  The new digital channels and the Internet offered some hope of opening up the possibilities of distributing such works to a wider audience, but these avenues seem to be controlled by other, more commercial interests.  That control thwarts the social change aspect of these works because these outlets tend to support, explicitly or implicitly. the status quo.  Thus to affect social change, alternative avenues of distribution are necessary.  This makes the filmmaker an activist in more than one sense of the word.



David and Julia Jary wrote in The Harper Collins Dictionary of Sociology:

Quote, It is true that sociology is always, in one way or another, examing social change, it is also true to say that sociology itself was a child of social change. It is no coincidence that sociology emerged as a discipline when theorists attempted to understand the nature of the dramatic social, economic, and political upheavals associated with the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries in European societies, close quote.


Lisa McIntyre wrote in her introductory Sociology text The Practical Skeptic: Core Concepts in Sociology:

Quote, As I sit down to write about culture, I feel like an ant trying to describe an elephant. The first thing that must be said about culture is that it's big. But my task is more difficult than the ant's-an ant can turn away from the elephant and not see it. I cannot escape from culture; it surrounds me, it's inside of me, and I take it wherever I go, close quote.


Stephen Duncombe wrote in the introduction to Cultural Resistance Reader:

Quote, The very word "culture" is elastic. Here I'm referring to culture as a thing, there as a set of norms, behaviors and ways to make sense of the world, and in still other places, I'm describing culture as a process. The term "cultural resistance" is no firmer. I use it to describe culture that is used, consciously or unconsciously, effectively or not, to resist and/or change the dominant political, economic and/or social structure. But cultural resistance, too, can mean many things and take on many forms, close quote.


During the recent Victoria International Film and Video Festival, the Victoria Film Producers Association, also known as ViFPA, hosted a panel of local documentary filmmakers, representing six films, to discuss how documentaries lead to social change. Moderated by Don Hill, former host of CBC Radio One's Tapestry and a filmmaker in his own right, the panel showcased their six films and discussed the roles that documentary played in social activism. ViFPA graciously allowed us to tape the session.


In addition to attending the panel, we spoke with Sher Morgan, co-producer, co-writer and director of Silence of the Strings, a documentary of the story of Victoria young people who have fought to maintain their string orchestra program. To help us make sense of what we learned we returned to the interview we did with Diane Searle, executive director of MediaNet.

Interviewing these talented Victorians, attending and recording the ViFPA panel session and, indeed, going to the Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival, led us to think about the role of documentaries in culture. Specifically, we wondered how documentaries lead to social change. This week on First Person, Plural we ask what a documentary film has to do to lead to social change in an episode we call, Lights, Camera, Social Action.


Wed like to thank the Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival, the British Columbia office of the National Film Board of Canada, and the Victoria Film Producers Association for helping us to explore documentary filmmaking for this episode. We are especially grateful to the filmmakers who participated in ViFPAs The Changing Image panel discussion on documentary films and social change.They are

Finally, wed like to thank Dianne Searle, executive director of MediaNet for her support.

copyright by Pattie Thomas and Carl Wilkerson 2002


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