International Documentaries in Global Development: Outreach, Measuring Impact and Engagement

By Julie Tumasz

Public and private organizations can use documentaries to widen the public’s awareness of development issues, motivate public involvement, and have a beneficial impact on non-profits’ social change goals. Non-government organizations (NGO), federal governments, and the private sector use a variety of different strategies to reach, impact, and engage documentary audiences – both while watching the film and afterwards, through activism and advocacy. Measurable outcomes of documentary films can be seen in several steps of the documentary process: the story, outreach, impact and finally, engagement.  The best strategies for organizations to effectively complete these steps are to engage the viewer before, during, and after the viewing.

This article will examine two widely distributed feature-length documentaries from two different American filmmakers that focus on promoting the same social goal of education. World Vision Documentaries describes the importance to tell a development story from the perspective of an outsider because that is the same perspective as the audience the filmmakers are targeting; these films were primarily aimed at American audiences. These feature films, making use of long-form storytelling, appropriately match the complexity of development work unlike short-form advertising, spots or social media.

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A filmmaker captures a rural school in Kabwe, Zambia. Documentaries inform and motivate the global public to participate in international development issues. Photo courtesy of Flickr User Francesco Volpi, under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License.

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