Activist Political Economies : Theory and practice in Circulation
… or to rephrase this rather elaborate title : how to make theory and practice meet to produce documentaries and elicit social changes ?
No, this panel did not provide univocal answers and guidelines, and you’ll need to look elsewhere for an Activist Filmmaking for Dummies.
But it did provide three examples of tactics to produce activist films, and reconcile theory and practice.
- Making theory with the makers: listening to filmmakers
Angela J.Aguayo, from Southern Illinois University, has been conducting extensive research on how to rethink documentary theory. Herself a filmmaker, she advocates for different sources in research. Yes, theory is important, but the experience of the filmmakers should not be overlooked. She conducted interviews with over 50 filmmakers, to find out their experience of what works and what does not. Her research is ongoing.
- Researching what activists want and need before producing media
Larry Daressa has been a member of California Newsreel, the oldest producer of activist films in the country, since its beginnings. In recent years, California Newsreel has been experimenting with a new modus operandi. They created a huge directory of their audiences: associations, teachers, policy makers, etc. They sent them questionnaires, to assess their interests, needs and priorities. Questions covered everything from the topics and style, to length and distribution. They decided to invest the (little) money in films that social change actors would actually use.
- Bridging gaps and showing the invisible: the case of prison activists documentaries
Marty Fink, from Concordia University, has been studying the case of documentaries addressing health issues in prisons, specifically HIV AIDS. Video devices are strictly forbidden in prison, effectively depriving inmates from a way of representing their living conditions. But some films get to cross, at least a little, of that line that confines prison to invisibility. In these cases, films serve as a bridge between the inside and the outside, and resist the “silencing effect of the prison”.