Impacting the Future / The Future of Impact

By Danielle Turkov Wilson and Amy Shepherd

Society has always moved much faster than politics. Trends, movements, habits and visionary ideas have always been formed and determined by people. And it is from people that stories and narratives are born. With film as a medium uniquely able to uncover and share people’s stories, it is neither surprising nor revelatory that film as a platform has incredible power to revolutionise public opinion and transform society.

But while it’s largely assumed that documentaries, true-life features and the like will act as agents of justice and reform, few films achieve the feat of engendering change organically. Even then, without focused political understanding and impact strategy, will such change last or be just a passing fad? 

“Erin Brockovich”, “Blood Diamond”, “Slumdog Millionaire”, “Blue Planet” – all household name films which in the moment shocked audiences into response and action. How much more power would these films have had with strategic impact campaigns behind them? If audiences had been given the tools to request and demand change, what other or deeper long-term effects might have occurred?

With the right film impact strategy we don’t have to simply hope for change to arrive. Change is real and we can make it happen.

For Think-Film, impact success is defined by influencing high-level policy agendas and igniting immediate, tangible and lasting change. This can include progress towards long-standing goals, network-building and creating/catalysing new initiatives. We’re proud of our strategic political impact campaigns that have stopped companies poisoning smartphone factory workers (“Complicit”), set up new structures to resource and empower women leaders in conflict zones (“The Cave”) and advanced calls for ethical and human-centred artificial intelligence (“iHuman”) – among many others. 

Other more socially-focused impact production can work effectively to stimulate grassroots activities that bring communities together, equip audiences to rise up in protest and empower civil society fundraising and advocacy. Case study examples compiled by Doc Society in their Impact Producers Field Guide show how global impact campaigns have used films to reduce plastic consumption (“Bag It”), promote more empathetic care for ME patients (“Unrest”) and build support for the families of Alzheimer’s patients in China (“Please Remember Me”) – to give just a few examples.

So why, when it can achieve so much, does impact remain an under-recognised and under-resourced part of the film industry? 

Amid new Covid-19 realities, there is an opportunity for the industry to reassess its core structures and priorities. Now is the time to do things differently. At Think-Film, we’re always challenging ourselves and others to be better, aim higher, find solutions. Over the coming months, we will dive deep into the crucial role and immense value of political strategic impact for film. We will challenge directors, producers, marketers, financiers and all other players to reconsider its central importance and value in the entire filmmaking process – and we urge you to take action in response. 

First, we will examine the business of impact, showing the qualitative and quantifiable value that strategic political impact production brings to film and why it should be included in core budgets. Second, we will look at the status that impact has in the film industry and focus on why it deserves recognition, including via credits and awards. Finally, we will show how thinking differently about political impact breathes long-lasting life into film, and why our vision for the future holds benefits for all. 

We love working in the creative, collaborative atmosphere of film, and hope through this mini-series to provoke a constructive exchange of ideas that drives new approaches and ways of working. Join the discussion on social media, and let’s together impact the future by shaping the future of impact!