Can Your Documentary Change the World?

When I mentioned I’d be attending the International Documentary Association’s seminar, “Can Your Documentary Really Change the World?” on the D-Word’s message boards, a fellow-D-Worder replied, “I hope the answer is YES.”

I had made the assumption going into this panel that at least part of the reason why filmmakers choose to make documentaries is to try and change the world.

This assumption proved wrong…

In fact, panelist Robert Kenner, Director of FOOD, INC. explained that he never set out to try and change the world when he started filming FOOD, INC.  He simply set out to make a good movie. The changing the world part came later. In fact, Robert admitted, he had no idea how big the Slow Food movement was before he started shooting FOOD, INC.

He sure knows now.

As fellow-panelist, Cara Mertes, Director of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program noted, Robert’s still being pulled into the undertow from the tidal waves of activist activity FOOD, INC. ignited.  Robert admitted he wasn’t entirely prepared to surf those waves – and certainly not for so long after he finished the film (the film was originally released in June 2009)…

But, despite his initial reluctance to take an “official” activist stance, Robert “organically” rose to the occasion. He explained that the more he shot, the angrier he got – realizing the movie really needed to be made when he and his crew kept getting denied access to major food manufacturing companies time and time again. It was then that he realized his job was to anger the audience about the film’s issues as much as he, himself, had been angered by what he had learned along the way. And then his job would be to figure out a way to move the audience to action.

I think most would agree Robert achieved his goals. FOOD, INC. is one of the top grossing documentaries of all time, proving he certainly made a good film (achieving his original intention). The new U.S. Health Care Bill includes a law providing menu labeling (something the film addressed). AND there are countless people now eating more consciously because of the awareness they gained from watching the film – sure to make an impact on their health in years to come.

So, fellow-documentary filmmakers, take note:


Do you have a documentary project in the works that aims to change the world? Post a reply and share your vision for how. I’d love to hear from you.