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American Today


Social Media Conference Focuses on  Stories, Impact

By Mike Unger

“Real Stories, Real Impact” was the theme of the Center for Social Media’s sixth-annual Making Your Media Matter conference, held May 12 at American University’s Katzen Arts Center.

While a little snow—okay, a whole lot of snow—shifted the conference from its usual winter timeslot until spring, nothing could keep filmmakers and media mavens from around the world from attending.

The Center for Social Media, housed in the School of Communication, is directed by Patricia Aufderheide. Both Aufderheide and the center are at the forefront of investigating, showcasing, and setting standards for socially engaged media-making.

“This is my favorite festival because, after all, we’re playing with people’s lives and people’s images,” George Stoney, a production and media theory professor at NYU who’s known as the “Godfather of Cable Access,” said in his conference-opening remarks. “We have to take that very seriously. I’m pleased that Pat’s organization has worked very hard on the ethics of what we’re doing. It’s extremely important.”

The day’s events included workshops, speakers, panel discussions, networking, and idea sharing.

“I really love Making Your Media Matter because it’s a day where amazing people from all over the place get to meet each other,” Aufderheide said.

The keynote speakers were Pamela Yates and Paco de Onis, who along with Peter Kinoy form Skylight Pictures, which for a quarter century has made documentaries on human rights and the quest for justice.

“We find that when we make our films [there’s] one specific story, but we keep in mind that the underlying universal themes of the film can have great impact on [wider] audiences,” said Yates, who directs the movies. “The reason we make these films is to get them out there.”

Skylight’s most critically-acclaimed works include State of Fear, which examined Peru’s fight against terrorism under President Alberto Fujimori. Viewed by many as a cautionary tale of government gone-too-far, the documentary had a major impact in South America where it was credited with swaying public opinion. Eventually Fujimori was convicted of human rights violations and sent to jail.

Its latest movie, The Reckoning, focuses on the birth of the International Criminal Court. Shot on four continents in six languages, it was an official selection at last year’s Sundance Film Festival.

The Reckoning is a flagship for many other things we want to do,” said Yates, who also helped start, a Web site at the core of a campaign to build global public awareness of the International Criminal Court. “The broadcast is just the opening salvo.”