Crowds, Distro, Digital A-Go-Go


Moss, Costa Rica 2009

Things are changing fast; when I took SKATV films to Europe in 2002 I had a (bloody heavy) backpack full of VHS tapes, when we were submitting Nothing Rhymes with Ngapartji to festivals in 2010 we primarily posted DVD copies to festivals for consideration and now for Queen of the Desert most festivals are happy to review a secure online screener.

It’s an exciting time to be making media as new technology & ideas emerge rapidly that are changing the way that we use media; both as makers and as users. It follows that there are considerable opportunities for independents to control their own distribution, potentially generate new revenue streams and be in more direct contact with their audiences.

Vimeo has just announced its Video on Demand (VOD) program and youtube are rumoured to be about to launch their version. Distrify is an interesting model where you can use their platform to embed VOD in to your own site. More and more films are offering digital downloads direct from their sites either for personal use or to run public community screenings. Crowd funding and crowd distribution are creating new ways of financing and marketing films with all kinds of models being experimented with. (One of the projects that I love in this space is the climate change doco Age of Stupid, more on that soon.)

This week the A2E Direct Distribution lab took place at the San Fransisco international Film Festival, Indie Wire writes a great summary of the lab and asks Is Digital Distribution the Future for Indie Film?

At the recent Australian International Documentary Conference in Adelaide Tim Sparke from Mercury Media (UK) argued that digital distribution opportunities signal the end of broadcaster control and that it’s the most exciting time ever to be in film. Documentary filmmaker Cathy Henkel also spoke at AIDC and passionately painted an exciting vision for the future with more control and different funding models opening up for independent filmmakers in her session Riding the Freedom Streams (see the Screen Hub review). Cathy is currently working on Rise of the Eco Warriors a feature doc aiming for cinema release which she hopes to use to change palm oil legislation to prevent logging in Borneo.

In Australia VOD has not taken off as it seems to have in other countries where Netflix, Hulu and itunes lead the charge. This could be a combination of audience habit, crappy internet and there not being many players operating in the market in Australia yet. As a side note check out this neat comparative NBN policy simulation; yet another reason why we really don’t want Abbott in government folks.

For all the excitement, I think in Australia at least we are only at the very start of this shift in media consumption. I had assumed audiences were watching more stuff online than perhaps they are, yet.

I was surprised when I got my viewer info from ABC for Queen of the Desert, they estimated 110,000 watched it when it was broadcast on ABC2. I was super excited to hear what the iview stats were as almost no-one I know has a tv; most people I know watch everything online. So you can imagine my surprise when ABC let me know there had only been 4500 views on iview!

Still, when we get a decent broadband connection in Australia I suspect that viewer habits will change dramatically.

I agree that it is a very exciting time to be making content. I like changing landscapes; there is a great sense of possibility.

PS Whilst this is not actually a distro platform or model Linklib is a really cool looking tech tool that I heard about at Hot Docs. It allows you to embed data in your content that brings up the links and references on the viewer’s second device while they watch it. Neat.


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Hot Docs: Which Way to the Front Line?

Which Way to the Front Line from Here? is a moving portrait of photojournalist and filmmaker Tim Heatherington who was killed whilst working in Libya in 2011.

He was clearly a super lovely, engaged and enthusiastic guy with a great talent for disarming people and capturing beauty amidst chaos.

His first conflict zone work was in Liberia where he was shooting video and stills at the same time whilst travelling with the guerillas towards the capital. He was so taken by the relationships he built he spent the next 8 years working in West Africa not just in media, but as a teacher and for the UN etc.

Civil war in Liberia

He had a deep commitment to reframing the face of war. He spoke about war zones as a space where the extremes of the human experience and human spirit were illuminated.

He commented that whilst he was motivated by moral righteousness he didn’t think this is what would shift people, that this is not what he should be showing audiences from the front lines. He rarely filed traditional conflict photos. Instead he focused on the intimate, the human and surprising moments of connection.

He was also fascinated by manhood, masculinity, risk, love and connection between men in combat. There are some interesting parallels here with Big hART’s Drive project which explored autocide, young men, cars and risk in North West Tasmania.

In 2007 he worked in Afghanistan where he followed an american military platoon from their deployment and throughout their service in the Korengal Valley. He spent 12 months living with these young men alongside filmmaker Sebastian Junger (who directed this film). Together they made the documentary Restrepo.


The sleeping US soldiers series he produced in Afghanistan is particularly moving as it conveys a vulnerability that we rarely see in coverage of soldiers at war . His portraits of the friendship and love between the soldiers are deeply touching. I’ve not thought much before about the deep bonding and love that arise in conflict zones and he captures it beautifully. It was also a shift for me to sympathise with american soldiers on the frontlines; I have thought a lot about returning soldiers, but not so much about life at the front.


I wept a lot through this film; at war, at trauma, at the loss of such a whole-hearted person, but mainly at the joy of watching a life of integrity lived large and full. It is a joy to watch someone work across difference, build respectful and real relationships and based on that capture images and stories that change the way that we see the world. A beautiful film.

Check out some of his photo essays here.


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Hot Docs: religion and reason

Two films I saw this week at the amazing Hot Docs doco festival made me think differently about the role and influence of religion and religious institutions on society. I really know and have thought very little about religion, different denominations or practices having grown up without any form of religion and not knowing many people with strong religious practices. Religion was ridiculed and treated as a joke in my childhood so I’ve always kind of shrugged off thinking about it and just laugh at things ridiculous things the pope or Pell say without giving it any more thought. It’s interesting in all my activism and political organising and wracking my brains about social change I’ve never really thought much about religion in the mix. I am now realising this has lead to a kind of naivete on my part about how much influence religion actually has on the world…..

God Loves Uganda explores the disturbing role of American evangelical missionaries in Uganda, in particular their influence on the proposed anti-homosexuality bill. It’s a deft and worrying film. I met with Allie, one of the Outreach Coordinators from Picture Motion (who are a new org that works on social impact campaigns for films) at Hot Docs and will be meeting with some more folks who working on this side of the film in NYC as part of my research trip.

When I watch these church sermons with their rock bands and crying young people or when I’ve heard about churches like Hillsong etc in the past I’ve tended to assume they are some loony fringe with little clout. I am really shocked when I hear about the scale of their reach and the size of their membership. One of the orgs profiled in God Loves Uganda hope to have reached every community in the world by 2020…

The Unbelievers is a clever and funny “rock n’ roll film about science” which follows evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss on a global speaking tour about the importance of science and reason. It’s totally engaging, which is maybe not surprising given the ideas, but it’s not a particularly visual topic, so I thought the filmmakers did a great job.

Until watching The Unbelievers I didn’t realise that talking about evolution was even remotely controversial. I kind of feel like I’ve been just a wee bit blind here and feel kind of silly in some ways not to have thought about this much before! I suppose I move in largely non religious circles and religion does not seem to have the same grip on public life in Australia as it does in the USA.

I was surprised to learn of 535 members of the US Congress only 1 identifies as an atheist and that the other 534 say that they follow a religion of some kind. Dawkins contends that many of them are lying about their beliefs because they would not get elected if they did not affiliate with a religion. Gillard is the first Australian PM to declare herself an atheist although others have been non believers (more about Aust PMs and religion here). Apparently this just wouldn’t wash in the States.


I was even more surprised to learn that there are gatherings of atheists called ‘Reason Rallies‘ in the USA and that there is actually a need for them. The Unbelievers shows footage from a 30,000 strong atheist gathering in Washington D.C which received no mainstream media coverage. Crazy stuff.

Watching the fervour and power of the churches portrayed in God Loves Uganda (deliberate non naming and non linking here!) made me angry and worried. Watching The Unbelievers was a kind of antidote and it’s relief to know that ideas of reason to counter the disturbing religious right are also doing the rounds.

Highly recommend both films! And am very open to more education about the influence of religion, but I am also kind of hoping if I ignore it is will go away?!

EDITED NOTE: I have certainly thought about religion and colonisation especially observing its impacts in Central Australia. However I think I’ve thought of religion as a thing of the past, not of something of growing contemporary influence and this is where I think these films gave me an important reality check.

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On Ngapartji Ngapartji

Ngapartji Ngapartji Project Video: NGAPARTJI NGAPARTJI 2007 from Big hART on Vimeo.

All this thinking about impact and cultural driven social change campaigns has prompted much reflection about my experiences at Big hART. I plan to write more about a few of our projects and thought I would kick off with Ngapartji Ngapartji.

Ngapartji Ngapartji was based on Arrernte Country in Mbantua (Alice Springs), Central Australia between 2004-2010. We worked in town camps in Alice Springs including Little Sisters, Kartne and most often Abbott’s Camp as well as Pitjantjatjara communities in WA, NT and SA; most frequently in Ernabella, SA.

Like all Big hART projects it worked on many levels and involved film, dance, music, play, collaboration, travel, campaigning, community development and friendship across the arc of the project’s 6 years. This included a one year ‘entry process’ the body of the project and an 18 month ‘exit strategy’. Whilst there is often a broad project design sketched at the outset the entry process is a time of discovery, relationship, trust and partnership building where the direction of the project is honed with participants. For instance we didn’t know we would be making an online language site or a language policy campaign when we started the project. A good blog about the genesis of the language policy campaign can be found here.

Once we were underway we were at once focusing on the opportunities for the core participants – a group of 6 young people from Abbott’s Camp – and our big picture social change agenda. We were constantly managing the tension between our on-the-ground process and delivering high quality and high impact work out in the world.

We had a core team of five with some changes over the years; a creative producer (me), a community producer, a filmmaker, a language producer, an artist/language worker and a literacy worker. We worked closely with a group of elders and Pitjantjatjara language advisers, with other Big hART producers, key performer Trevor Jamieson and creative director Scott Rankin providing advice and guidance from interstate. When we toured the stage show the company would expand to 27 people and when we staged the production in Ernabella we swelled to 54 people camping for 3 weeks (with the donkeys!) on an outstation 12 kms from the community.



Trevor on the road to our camp at Itjinpiri Outstation, SA

The project produced;

  • An online Pitjantjatjara language learning website ‘The Ninti Site’ made with videos from young people (teaching an indigenous language online in an Australian first)
  • Over 75 short films some of which are archived here created in workshops with over 250 young people
  • Two bilingual touring theatre works, which were performed at Sydney Opera House, The Dreaming Festival, Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Sydney Festival, Melbourne International Arts Festival, Perth Festival, Canberra Theatre Centre and at Australia House, London and ICAF, Rotterdam
  • A language driven literacy and crime prevention program
  • 6 albums, in reggae, gospel and traditional inma
  • Attempts to shift the perception of young indigenous people in the local community and nationally through touring the show and associated positive media profile,
  • Staging of the theatre show on-country in Ernabella
  • Award winning dance performances at the APY Lands schools dance off
  • Presentations at a diverse range of conferences
  • An evaluation paper ‘The Consequences of Kindness’ from Murdoch University
  • Many academic papers and chapters in books about the project
  • An award winning documentary Nothing Rhymes with Ngapartji which premiered on ABC TV in 2010
  • 2000 ‘Ngapartji Ngapartji Memory Baskets’ distributed to every project participant and partner, all major libraries nationally and every Pitjantjatjara community school and arts centre
  • A campaign to establish a national indigenous languages policy – which was announced at Garma Festival in 2009
  • We won a Deadly Award for Most Outstanding Achievement in Theatre, Trevor won a Sydney Theatre Award for Best Actor and the project was shortlisted for an NT Innovation Award
  • Two legacy projects; Nyuntu Ngali and Namatjira

All of this activity was interwoven; workshops in filmmaking built literacy training in, touring theatre shows were opportunities for local and national media profile, script work enabled language exchange and every presentation of the play was used to leverage the language policy campaign. Across all of these activities was in-depth thinking about ways to encourage identity shifts; in individuals (both project participants and workers), in local communities and in audiences.


It was a remarkable, dynamic, complex and layered intercultural project.

One of the most exciting aspects of Ngapartji Ngapartji was the collaboration; across cultures, across language, across areas of expertise and the sharing of leadership across these differences. The whole was greater than the sum of the parts; it was an amazing network of people to be part of.

The theatre production explored the impact of the Cold War and the British Atomic Tests (1953-1965) on Pitjantjatjara people through prism of the remarkable actor Trevor Jamieson’s family experience in the South Australian desert.

It’s a magical piece of theatre” – Sybil Nolan, Herald Sun
The most important event for local audiences to see this Festival” – Andi Moore, Artszine
It does honour to the festival that has presented it” – John Slavin, The Age
“An inclusive plea for understanding and justice” – Miriam Cosic, The Australian”

Ngapartji Ngapartji means ‘I give you something, you give me something’ and is a Pitjantjatjara concept of reciprocity and exchange. In many ways the exchange was almost invisible to people, which was fascinating. I don’t think the Pitjantjatjara members of the project realised how profound teaching their language and sharing stories was for the audiences. At the same time I don’t think audiences realised the importance of listening and of learning language to the Pitjantjatjara company. There was a benign simplicity in the act of teaching ‘Kata Alipiri Muti Tjina” (heads shoulders knees and toes) to audiences in the show, disarming people so completely and creating a beautiful moment of awkwardness and openness that set the scene for much of the broader project.

An important aspect of Ngapartji Ngapartji was to allow this exchange to take place between audiences and cast – online and in performance spaces – and to avoid Big hART being gatekeepers or intermediaries as much as possible.

The indigenous languages policy campaign built slowly alongside the community relationships and touring work. Achieving the language policy was incredibly satisfying and important. We continue to keep pressure on the government to match this policy commitment with more resources, to include indigenous language in the national curriculum and to put languages at the centre of the Close the Gap agenda.


Measuring the impact of Ngapartji Ngapartji across the breadth of the project is quite a task. As I said my recent post on impact – you often ‘know’ what works but it is often harder to actually articulate it. Dr. Dave Palmer from Murdoch University wrote this fantastic evaluation ‘The Consequences of Kindness’ which looks in detail at the projects plan and outcomes.

The success of the language policy campaign is easy to identify by the launch of the policy itself in 2009.

The success of the theatre show and documentary can be measured by its’ sell out seasons, standing ovations (every single show commanded standing ovations except the outdoor presentations on country where standing ovations are not part of cultural practice), positive reviews and audience feedback.

However, the social impact at an individual level, on the choices and social trajectory of participants and the attitudes of the broader community of Alice Springs and Australia is much harder to track.

As Big hART see our work as highly collaborative and not top down we are more reluctant to claim high levels of impact on the lives of young people we work with than say a more traditional NGO or government agency might be. We are not always very comfortable claiming that our projects ‘turned people’s lives around’ or ‘saved’ them.

That said it is clear that a six year project that provides this range of opportunities, training, travel and life experiences achieves impact. I certainly observed sustained growth in many people involved in the project, myself included.

Dr. Palmer’s report concludes, ‘There is also very good evidence that young people’s involvement had a powerful impact on their levels of self confidence, pride, social identity, self discipline levels, sense of possibilities for the future and hope.’

Big hART are participating in an ARC longitudinal research study with Murdoch, QUT and Durham Universities to assess the long-term impact of our projects in the communities in which we have worked. I am looking forward to having more language and ways of speaking about that aspect of our work when the study is completed later in 2013.

It is hard to capture in a short post just how much I learned from this project and where is sits in my heart. Suffice to say that I really came to understand collaboration across difference and that small groups of people can leverage enormous change with the power of a beautifully told story.

I have so many enduring memories from bush trips, from tours, from language learning and from road trips or camp outs. It completely convinced me of the genius of the Big hART model and of the capacity for culture-lead social change to have sustained impact on individuals, communities and at a policy level.

There is a huge part of my heart full up with six years of stories, language and experiences that made up Ngapartji Ngapartji, and so so much love for everyone involved. Wiru mulapa!

The project website is archived here and has a wikipedia page here. There is a chapter in Art and Upheaval which explores the development of the project and an essay in ReAwakening Languages about the language maintenance aspects of Ngapartji Ngapartji.

The Ninti site is currently undergoing maintenance but most of the language videos are on Big hART’s vimeo channel here

You can watch the documentary Nothing Rhymes with Ngapartji here

The Ngapartji Ngapartji Memory Basket is in most state library collections, every library in the NT and the National Library in Canberra.

I’ve posted a couple of reviews of the stage production here and the documentary here.


 Pics by Brett Monaghan, Keith Saunders, Heidrun Lohr




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What’s your impact?


Excellent exploding mud pools, NZ; summer 2012

How do you measure the impact of your arts, media, story and culture driven projects?

How many people came to workshops? How many news stories ran? How many facebook likes? How many retweets? How many people saw the show or film? Unsolicitated feedback? Policy change?

How do you measure social change? Attitudinal shifts? Cultural impact? Change in a participant’s life?

Evaluation is often a requirement of funding, but it is also really useful internally when you ask the right questions and can really understand how and what worked.

You often ‘know’ what works, but it is sometimes hard to capture and articulate this gut feeling.

There are some things you can measure with figures and stats and some things that you have to capture through story, reflection, anecdotes and interviews. I am not very academically minded so sometimes I find this area tough to navigate, but I do know that action-research, reflecting on your process and changing, reviewing, updating how you work is important in honing your practice.

There are no templates for making change – if you could perfect a plan for change, you’d be pretty popular. There is always much debate as to what created the tipping points in any social movement, behaviour change or major public shift. There are so many theories about how social change is encouraged and achieved – I’m not going to try and address them all in one blog post as fascinating an area as it is. I might come back to this though!

That said there are a couple of things I firmly believe. Firstly everyone will always try and claim that their project or campaign made the change. I think you have to take a systems approach when understanding any major change. Although there is often a catalytic moment (often cultural) this usually sits against on a backdrop of diverse lobbying, good timing, zeitgeist, community opinion, viral ideas etc. Secondly culture and story are fundamental to making change as story and culture are what we do and who we are. This to me is the guts of why art and story matter; and this is what we need to get better at understanding and measuring our impacts.

One approach that I really like in analysing what worked and why is “appreciative inquiry; solving problems by looking at what’s going right. As opposed to the concept of “debriefing” which often errs on the side of the negative ie ‘what went wrong and how can we avoid repeating that’, appreciate inquiry is an interrogation of ‘what worked and what were the conditions that allowed for success’. I highly recommend checking out some reading and methods on this approach – I use it a lot and find it to be really useful.

It seems that there is a kind of explosion of thinking and methodology in the area of impact around social change film making. I am sure that I will write about this again, but for now here are some great online resources I’ve been working my way through.

Evaluations and impact reports;

• Big hART have some great evaluations of our projects up on our website (which we really need to overhaul when we are not so busy on projects!) These are for the most part quite long and after looking at some other evaluations, particularly the Brit Doc ones, I am thinking of distilling some of these in to shorter documents. We’re also taking part in a longitudinal study with QUT, Murdoch and Durham Universities looking at the impact of our projects on young people we’ve worked with over many years.

• Brit Doc have published some great evaluations on the films An Inconvenient Truth, Gasland and Budrus among others.
Working Films – who are an all round inspiring outfit – have made a series of films about films making social change to answer How do social issue documentary films do more than just raise awareness?
• Harmony Institute have published this review of Bully’s impact on social media.
• Pray The Devil Back to Hell film has written a report on its impact
• Participant Media – who make feature films (Lincoln, Promised Land) and docos (An Inconvenient Truth, Food Inc) and now have a TV channel – have also written about their impact


Fledgling Fund Impact Diagram

And here are some resources for measuring impact;
Sparkwise is a new data collecting platform that is free and enables you to capture then transform your data in to graphics; I’ve just started playing with this with Queen of the Desert’s social media so I’ll keep you posted on what I think
• The Fledgling Fund has published ‘Assessing Creative Media’s Social Impact’ (PDF)
• Centre for Social Media has published ‘Social Justice Documentary Designing For Impact’ (PDF)
• Bay Area Video Coalition have just released their ‘Impact Playbook’ (PDF)
• Determining the Impact of Film and Video article regarding discussions at Media That Matters conference
• The Arts of Engagement interview with Working Films and Brit Doc about social engagement and impact

It seems that the documentary field is charging ahead in this area particularly in the USA. I am less familiar with resources for measuring the impact of community cultural development or theatre projects.

If you know of any other work in the film or CCD or theatre spaces I’d love you to share them. (Click the little speech bubbles at the bottom right of this post to leave a comment).

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The Bully Project – Film and campaign


Bully is an American feature length documentary which follows five kids and their families over one school year and explores the impact of bullying on their lives. It is also an important conversation starter on a deeply insidious issue.

This year, over 13 million American kids will be bullied, making it the most common form of violence young people in the U.S. experience. Through the power of these stories, Bully aims to be a catalyst for change and to turn the tide on an epidemic of violence that has touched every community in the United States—and far beyond.

Bullying is so common in schools and workplaces that it is often normalised or accepted as ‘just how it is’ or ‘kids will be kids’ or ‘this workplace is just really high pressure, sometimes people get stressed’.

Bullying is insidious, often hidden, or if witnessed observers often fear that they will in turn be targetted if they say anything, so they remain silent.

According to a recent Australian Government report 1/4 students will be bullied at school. The Australian Human Rights Commission estimates between 400,000 – 2M Australians will be harassed as work. That’s some frightening stats.

I experienced some fairly nasty bullying in high school. For a couple of years I avoided walking around school by myself or going certain places outside school as I was scared I would be attacked by a group of girls who were constantly threatening me. Watching this film brought back the memories of chest clenching fear and constant low level anxiety.

I have also been the target of workplace bullying, once on a voluntary activist campaign and once on a film project. Both of these experiences required a substantial amount of work to get past. Bullying can have a big impact on your self esteem, mental health and general well being.

On top of my personal experiences with bullying I’ve witnessed bullying in a range of workplaces; in NGOs, political offices, environmental organisations, businesses and sporting associations. It seems that no institution is necessarily exempt just because of their politics or ideals.

I found watching Bully pretty emotional at times and yet inspiring because of the transformative campaigns and conversations that is it initiating.

The Bully Project is the filmmakers’ portal for their outreach and social impact campaign. Young people who featured in the film have gone on to become high profile anti-bullying advocates and the site provides a range of ways in which people can get involved in or start their own campaigns.

The film claims to have reached over 800,000 people to date and is making headway in schools and at a policy level initiating peer education and supporting schools to set up programs to counter bullying.

The filmmakers have also developed anti-bullying curriculum in partnership with Facing History and Ourselves.

Stand with the Silent is a parallel campaign that was initiated by parents of young people who had taken their own lives as a result of bullying. Also worth having a look at The Bully Effect a ‘where are they now’ follow up film that CNN put together.

Bully is another impressive example of a film about an important issue that has developed and executed a strong social impact campaign. Hurrah!

If you see someone being bullied offer them support. If you are being bullied please seek support.
It is not always possible to find that in your school or workplace, but there are a range of other places to go;
Reach Out counselling services
National Centre Against Bullying
Bullying No Way (a school resource)
Australian Human Rights Commission Bullying at work fact sheet
These are Australian links, but most countries have school and workplace bullying support services set up and are fairly easy to find online.

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Kicking off in London town


It’s been a very exciting week in London town, not least with the passing of Thatcher, and I’ve been hitting the ground running with a stack of meetings with producers, presenters, venues, theatre companies and artists regarding possibilities of bringing Big hART projects here. We’re looking at touring shows, screenings films and running training as well as potentially setting up an ongoing residency through which we could start a long term project in the UK.

On top of the Big hART meetings, catching up with friends and zipping around on the tube (can we please get some decent public transport in Australia already!) I’ve had a couple of meetings to kick start my Churchill research and thinking.

Yesterday I met with Mark Atken one of the producers of Crossover. I took part in a Crossover Lab in Adelaide five years ago that was incredibly useful and inspiring. I am still in touch with a number of people I met there including Emma of Homage to Uncertainty fame and Fee from Really Big Road Trip amongst other fantastic folks. I also continue to use a lot of the idea generating processes we played with at the Lab in my practice. Talking with Mark reminded me of the ways in which thinking about audience and how and why they use technology, can and should be a big part of how you design cross platform projects. Seems obvious, but sometimes you can get so swept up in a project you can forget about where you want it to go, what you want it to do and who you want to see it when you finish making it.

This morning I met with Beadie Finzi from the Brit Doc Foundation. What a powerhouse! It was so exciting to talk with someone who clearly articulates the power of film, role of partnerships, new models of funding films, ways of measuring impact and was so open with ideas, knowledge and contacts. The sense of being part of a movement and network was palpable and really affirmed the focus of this trip.

Aside from the fantastic rapid fire overview of the work of Brit Doc and a bunch of recommendations of models, impact assessments (read these they are great) and organisations to check out there were a couple of stand out ideas.

The first is how essential the quality of your work is to your capacity to have a powerful influence. We talk a lot about this at Big hART where we are committed to high production values in the work that we make. Especially as it comes from a community process it needs to stand on its own as a work and not be supported out of a generosity from an audience – it needs to stand alongside commercial and mainstream work despite its very different process of creation and broader social change agenda. Beadie made a strong point as to how fundamental this is to an impact campaign working and I completely agree.

The second big take home for me was the title of Impact Producer. Actually having a name for the role of designing and executing a social impact campaign is fantastic: of course that’s what the role is! It’s not straight producing and it’s not just distribution or marketing or outreach – I love this title and am really keen to start using it where relevant.

Brit Doc Foundation do a lot of things – I recommend digging through their website – but one of the major live events they have initated is the Good Pitch.

Good Pitch brings together documentary filmmakers with foundations, NGOs, campaigners, philanthropists, policy makers, brands and media around leading social and environmental issues – to forge coalitions and campaigns that are good for all these partners, good for the films and good for society.

Good Pitch², which is not dissimilar to the TedX model, allows local groups to stage a Good Pitch event. The training/handover for this involves bringing a producer to shadow a Good Pitch process before committing to organising one. I am very excited about the idea of a Good Pitch² taking off in Australia and when I got home from meeting Beadie I shot off emails to Big hART, AIDC, Adelaide FF, Sydney FF and Antenna FF as well as a number of Australian filmmakers excitedly encouraging the idea!

I think an event like Good Pitch would encourage a greater network of and language for social change filmmakers in Australia.

To wrap up this post here are some docos I am excited about. I haven’t seen any of these films yet, but I’ve been looking at their social impact campaigns and look forward to checking them out:

The Invisible War The Invisible War is a groundbreaking investigative documentary about one of America’s most shameful and best kept secrets: the epidemic of rape within the U.S. military. The film paints a startling  picture of the extent of the problem—today, a female soldier in combat zones is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire. The Department of Defense estimates there were a staggering 22,800 violent sex crimes in the military in 2011. 20% of all active-duty female soldiers are sexually assaulted. Female soldiers aged 18 to 21 accounted for more than half of the victims.

God Loves Uganda God Loves Uganda explores the role of the American evangelical movement in Uganda, where American missionaries have been credited with both creating schools and hospitals and promoting dangerous religious bigotry.
The film follows evangelical leaders in America and Uganda along with politicians and missionaries as they attempt the radical task of eliminating “sexual sin” and converting Ugandans to fundamentalist Christianity.

Budrus Budrus is an award-winning feature documentary film about a Palestinian community organizer, Ayed Morrar, who unites local Fatah and Hamas members along with Israeli supporters in an unarmed movement to save his village of Budrus from destruction by Israel’s Separation Barrier. Success eludes them until his 15-year-old daughter, Iltezam, launches a women’s contingent that quickly moves to the front lines. Struggling side by side, father and daughter unleash an inspiring, yet little-known, movement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories that is still gaining ground today. In an action-filled documentary chronicling this movement from its infancy, Budrus shines a light on people who choose nonviolence to confront a threat.

Great article “Shifting Narratives Through Documentary Film: A Case Study of ‘Budrus’” by Julia Bacha from Just Vision.

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MIDWAY; tragedy and beauty


I’ve landed in London and to avoid the snow (from the Pilbara to London is quite a temperature change!) and recover from jetlag I am staying inside today doing research around social impact film. I’m reading all kinds of impact assessments, looking up stacks of filmmakers and organisations, digging up loads of inspiring things. A standout find for today is MIDWAY.

Whilst reading about Impact Partners I came across MIDWAY (due out late 2013).

Photographer Chris Jordan and team shot the film in the Midway Atoll in the North Pacific Ocean. According to Jordan the 1.5 million Laysan Albatrosses that inhabit Midway, nearly all are found to have plastic in their digestive system.

The MIDWAY film project is a powerful visual journey into the heart of an astonishingly symbolic environmental tragedy. On one of the remotest islands on our planet, tens of thousands of baby albatrosses lie dead on the ground, their bodies filled with plastic from the Pacific Garbage Patch. Returning to the island over several years, our team is witnessing the cycles of life and death of these birds as a multi-layered metaphor for our times. With photographer Chris Jordan as our guide, we walk through the fire of horror and grief, facing the immensity of this tragedy—and our own complicity—head on. And in this process, we find an unexpected route to a transformational experience of beauty, acceptance, and understanding.

MIDWAY looks beautiful and tragic, I look forward to seeing it and the associated impact campaign. You can follow the film here on facebook and twitter.

Midway trailer

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Granito – How to Nail a Dictator; trial of General Montt starts


“Granito” means “tiny grain of sand,” and is a Maya concept of collective change, about how all of us persevering together over time can cause change and bring justice to society.

Granito is a unique story of destinies joined by Guatemala’s past, about how a documentary film intertwined with a nation’s turbulent history emerges as an active player in the present…

Granito is a fascinating film by Skylight Pictures that explores the relationship between Director Pamela Yates’ 1982 film When the Mountains Tremble and the current campaign for justice in Guatemala. It is at once a powerful lesson in history and a compelling film about the power of film itself; the power of bearing witness and the power of film to contribute to social justice.

Yates was young and brazen when she made When the Mountains Tremble 29 years ago. She managed to infiltrate both the guerrillas and the military during the genocide that lead to the deaths of over 200,000 Guatemalan people, mainly Maya indigenous people. Some of her footage, including interviews with former military leaders, is now being used as key evidence in the trial of former military General Efrain Rios Montt. The trail has just started and will run over the next few weeks.

Not unlike Pray the Devil Back to Hell the subject matter is saved from being utterly devastating by the dignity, hope and stories of those have continued to struggle for justice. Not only within the film, but also around the film. Knowing that the film is working on other levels – as evidence in the trial and campaigning for human rights more broadly – makes hearing the trauma of the past easier to handle because there is a sense that justice will win out.

Skylight Pictures do much more than make films; their films are connected to and part of human rights movements and campaigns. Their documentary The Reckoning about the International Criminal Court was linked to a campaign to which Skylight created; International Justice Central. IJ Central “is a resource, developed by Skylight Pictures, for concerned citizens around the world who want an effective International Criminal Court to prosecute perpetrators of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.”

Skylight have also created an open publishing digital space for the sharing memories of the Guatemalan genocide; Granito; Every Memory Matters. And they are launching a digital toolbox of campaigning tools later this year.

Skylight make fantastic feature length docos on tough complex issues, get large scale exposure for these films through festivals, television broadcast and distribution and they embed their films in smart campaigns to create more pressure and leverage on the issues that they look at in their films. This approach is not dissimilar to the Big hART model and I am keen to learn more about the how of what they do.

I saw The Reckoning at the Adelaide Film Festival in 2009 and have been following Granito since supporting its kickstarter campaign a couple of year ago. I’m a big fan of their work and I’m really looking forward to meeting up with these filmmakers.

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Queen of the Desert – Festival Screenings

Upcoming Screenings:
Qantas Airlines inflight June – December 2013

Past Screenings:
Cockatoo Island Film Festival Sydney 27th October 2012
Darwin Friday 2nd Nov Fist Full of Films Festival Darwin Entertainment Centre
Olive Pink Botanical Gardens Alice Springs Sunday 18th November 2012
Melbourne Premiere Bella Union, Trades Hall Tuesday 20th 6.30pm
ABC2 TV Premiere Sunday 25th November 9.30pm
ABC2 TV repeat Wednesday 28th November 10.30pm
ABC iview online 26th Nov – 10th Dec
Rainbow Serpent Festival Lexton, Vic Sunday 27th January
Bloody Hero Film Festival Phoenix, USA February 9th – Winner Best Short Documentary
Bangalore Queer Film Festival, India February 22nd
Mardi Gras Film Festival Sydney February 24th
Melbourne Queer Film Festival March 18th
BFI London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival March 19th and 20th
Sarasota Film Festival, Sarasota USA April 7th and 10th
High Falls Film Festival, Rochester USA April 18-21st
Translations Film Festival Seattle May 2013
Pink Apple Film Festival Switzerland May 2013
Boston LGBT Film Festival 2-12 May
Tel Aviv Queer Film Festival June 2013
Transcreen Amsterdam June 2013
Frameline San Francisco June
Gay Rio Brazil

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