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For the Media

Making Media That Matters:  American University Film and Media Professionals Explore Change-Making Media

Four American University film and media professionals  are available to discuss a variety of issues related to creating media that achieves social change.  Each will lead or moderate presentations at the Making Your Media Matter 2010 conference, held Wednesday, May 12, at American University’s Katzen Arts Center.

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Documentary Film Ethics
Patricia Aufderheide, director of AU’s Center for Social Media, the organization hosting the conference, says “Documentary filmmakers claim to tell important truths, but they lack standards that help them do that job with the greatest integrity—particularly in difficult economic conditions.”  She will present the Center’s latest report—Honest Truths: Documentary Filmmakers on Ethical Challenges in Their Work. The report finds that documentary filmmakers are often forced to make hard choices when values come into conflict, but don’t have consensus over how to make those choices. From using photos bought in a flea market to represent a subject’s family to breaking an animal's leg to make a predator-and-prey shot easier to shoot, filmmakers interviewed for the report said they found themselves in challenging—sometimes horrifying—situations.

Green Filmmaking
With the success of films like An Inconvenient Truth and celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio advocating green lifestyles, you would think the film industry would be a bastion of environmental consciousness. But the film and television industry is one of the worst polluters in the Los Angeles area, according to a 2006 study. Filmmaker and AU professor Larry Engel wants to help filmmakers everywhere turn over a new leaf with theCode of Best Practices in Sustainable Filmmaking, a how-to green filmmaking guide he will present at Making Your Media Matter. “Filmmakers want to be sustainable, but few tools exist to help them do this,” Engel says. “This code is the first clear, comprehensive guide in sustainability supported by scientific review and specifically designed to account for the challenges filmmakers face on a daily basis.” The code includes checklists and CO2 trackers and provides a way to document emission and waste to determine how much carbon needs to be offset. Engel will discuss his use of the code to keep his forthcoming film Potato Heads: Keepers of the Crop eco-friendly.

Fiction as a Force for Social Change
Films such as Precious are starting national dialogue on pressing social and cultural issues such as the challenges facing inner city youth and the evolution of the American family.  “In fiction, there is not only the freedom, but also the necessity, to dramatize,” says Claudia Myers, a filmmaker and AU professor who will moderate the panel Fiction for change: How are narrative films making a difference? “Writers and directors are always told to ‘raise the stakes.’ Their mission is to make things as dramatic as possible to engage the audience.” A producer that worked on Precious will be on the panel, as will the executive vice president of social action and advocacy for Participant Media—the company behind films such as The Soloist,The Kite Runner, and An Inconvenient Truth.

Mobilizing for Impact
Making media that matters means more than creating media on behalf of a social change issue—it means mobilizing people to act. Jessica Clark, an AU scholar in residence and author of the new book Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics Through Networked Progressive Media says impact in the new media landscape is all about networking. “Community and audience engagement has become a critical creative practice,” says Clark, who will outline the different connections media makers need to foster to have impact. “To make media that effects change, media makers need to develop solid partnerships with groups that are also invested in that issue.”  Clark’s book analyzes the rise of networked progressive media in the United States and how made an impact on the political landscape, culminating in the election of Barack Obama.

American University is a leader in global education, enrolling a diverse student body from throughout the United States and nearly 140 countries. Located in Washington, D.C., the university provides opportunities for academic excellence, public service, and internships in the nation’s capital and around the world.