Compelling storytelling, films, emerging platforms, and social media are all tools that can engage diverse audiences and have meaningful impact. The materials offered here are for environmental media makers everywhere. We will continue to expand and evolve this curated list of case studies, reports, impact toolkits, and resources. For questions, suggestions, or if you are interested in posting your content here, contact Maggie Burnette Stogner, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Center for Environmental Filmmaking provides up-to-date information on how to leverage films for meaningful change. Here are some excellent resources:
The CEF 2020 “Impact Media Report” (www.cefimpactmedia.org) AND CEF - Impact Media Report2020 (For mobile devices: CEF-Impact Media Report2020_Mobile)deepens our understanding and furthers our thinking about how nature, environmental and conservation science media can change hearts, minds and behaviors. We have unprecedented opportunities to engage audiences in the critical challenges facing our planet, from climate crises, pandemics, species extinction, to environmental injustice and racism. The report addresses how can we use media as a positive agency for individual, societal, policy, and cultural transformation. It provides innovative, visionary ways to engage and achieve lasting impact, from mass audiences to micro-targeted decision-makers. Its case studies provide models for increasing diversity, equity and inclusion; building media capacity in local communities; and amplifying of a global range of perspectives.
The Doc Society Impact Field Guide is an excellent, comprehensive resource that provides tools and materials for increasing impact for nonfiction filmmaking. It includes strategic planning, budgeting, distribution, partnerships, campaigns, audience engagement, assessment tools, and many case studies . PBS POV also provides excellent resources for impact.
Campaigns of the following films offer a wealth of knowledge and successful methods for impact planning. Gasland, Virunga, Bag it, Black Fish, Chasing Ice, Chasing Coral, Food Inc are among the many case studies worth exploring
Before Josh Fox's Gasland was released in 2010, the practice of fracking for extracting natural gas, also known as hydraulic fracturing, had escaped scrutiny. This film was a catalyst for raising awareness about the toxic environmental impact of fracking. It is an example of the powerful impact a film can have and was nominated for a 2011 Academy Award. Using an investigative, verité style, Fox traveled to twenty-four states in the U.S. to explore the effects of fracking, and discovered tragic consequences to people, animals, and land. The film was made with a modest budget of around $30,000 dollars but raised over $200,000 towards creating a highly successful impact campaign. Several cities in Pennsylvania and New York banned fracking. Fox screened the film in hundreds of cities in the US and worldwide, intentionally going to dozens of affected communities to empower them to rally support using the film. He provided people the means to engage with the campaign through social media and through the film’s award-winning website. In addition, he screened the film several times with legislators and top governmental agencies like the EPA, to influence policy.
Virunga, directed by Orlando von Einsiedel, brought attention to mining and civil unrest that gravely threatened mountain gorillas and park rangers in eastern Congo. The primary aim of Virunga’s campaign was to bring the film to the widest audience possible. Partnering with Netflix to make it available under their curated Originals slate boosted viewership tremendously. Through Netflix the film reached 190 countries to a potential audience over 75 million in 2014 alone. The film gained visibility through its Executive Producer Leonardo DiCaprio and built key partnerships in the business and governmental spheres that helped bring the film to decision-makers and influencers.
Bag It, directed by Suzan Beraza, used humor to touch audiences, telling its story through an average American man who embarks on a world tour to discover all the ways that plastic is part of our world. Raising awareness, education, and community change were the three main aims of the impact campaign created by the filmmakers. Notably, the team hired a policy director with prior experience in campaigning around the plastic bag issue who served as the liaison for leading business outreach, raising public awareness, and pursuing legislation in communities. The team devised several innovative strategies to spread education. Bag It helped Aspen, Colorado successfully pass a bag ban in October 2011 and has worked to pass legislation in at least 117 communities.
Back in 2009, UK producer Andrew Buchanan and American University Professor Larry Engel co-authored The Code of Best Practices for Sustainable Filmmaking. Supported by grants from the Ford Foundation through SOC’s Center for Media and Social Impact, the Center for Environmental Filmmaking, and WWF, it was clearly ahead of its time.
Used as a foundation for green filmmaking, it has lead to a greening of both fiction and nonfiction work throughout Germany, and was the foundation for the UK Doc Society’s Green Protocol. It was also part of the foundational work that created France’s EcoProduction initiative.
The Code provides a simple planning system for focusing on sustainable filmmaking starting in preproduction. It provides five simple principles for green production, and includes spreadsheets and forms to aid production companies and producers to efficiently green their films.
Once the spreadsheets have been completed, the producers can enter the results into online carbon calculators to determine their footprints and then seek mitigation through carbon offsets.
In a test case by Prof. Engel soon after publishing the Code, he saved about $5000 on a $75,000 short film about potatoes by following the Code.
Green filmmaking may take some effort, but it helps the only planet we have, and saves money in the long run.
The Center for Environmental Filmmaking strives to facilitate and provide information on how to leverage films for meaningful change. Organizations like PBS POV and Doc Society (aka BRITDOC) are two organizations that provide excellent tools and materials for increasing impact. Planning impact from the outset with a strategic plan, budgeting, distribution, partnerships, campaigns, audience engagement, and impact assessment are some of the topics explored.
As we seek environmental justice for vulnerable communities harmed by climate change or poor air quality, we also must promote and seek racial justice. To help our community build an understanding of these issues, the American University Office of Sustainability has compiled a toolkit of recommended readings, podcasts, films, case studies, and more.
Tools and resources for quarantine entertainment
She Explores Podcast
This podcast follows the stories of women who are inspired by time spent outside, including themes of solo hiking, entrepreneurship, diversity, conservation, and more. We recommend episode 143, “Creativity to Guide Us Through,” a focus on inspiration to be found at home.
Live Camera Feeds
Check out these six animal webcams recommended by the Sierra Club, where you can watch jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Atlantic puffins in Maine, and nests of Great Blue Herons!
Prep for Your Next Trip
Have you been brainstorming your next film project while in quarantine? Be sure to check out these tips from National Geographic for action and adventure photography, how you can protect your equipment from the elements, and practice and prepare at home now.
Films for the Planet
We recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and now challenge you to make every day one for the planet! Earth Day Network has put together a list of nine films you can watch for free to continue the celebration. Alternatively, MacGillivray Freeman Films has released some of their most popular educational films online and has included activity guides to accompany!
Overviews and industry reports can be valuable tools for looking at the big picture. Here are a few recent ones of interest, made available by American University’s Center for Media and Social Impact.
Tools of the trade: Documentary filmmakers talk gear
Ever wonder what gear is behind the films you love so much? What's being used the most? How does it hold up for environmental and documentary projects?
Check out this great article by International Documentary Association to get to know the tools of the trade!
Brownbag Lunch Series
What event have you attended recently that talked about underwater 360/VR filmmaking AND wildlife motion graphics all in one hour? Rewatch CEF's Zoom Live stream from Wednesday (Oct. 14) for a virtual lunch hour as we chat with #AUSOC alum Nick Zachar National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA and Kayt Jonsson U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about being environmental filmmakers within government organizations.
2018 STATE OF THE DOCUMENTARY FIELD STUDY
A new report by the Center for Media and Social Impact in association with the International Documentary Association and The National Endowment for the Arts investigates what the opportunities and challenges are in today’s documentary field, as well as questions of diversity, access and career sustainability.
WHEN MOVIES GO TO WASHINGTON
Written by Caty Borum Chattoo and Will Jenkins
This study examines how documentary films can influence public policy at the federal level.
MOVIES AND GRASSROOTS COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
Written by Caty Borum Chattoo and Will Jenkins
This study investigates the role of documentary films in state and local public policy.
The Center for Environmental Filmmaking is also proud to present the Code of Best Practice for Sustainable Filmmaking, written by AU professor Larry Engel and utilized by groups, organizations and independent filmmakers across the United States and overseas. This code was written as a guide to ensure that filmmakers are adopting pro-environmental practices throughout their production process.
The code was developed in 2009 based on a global survey of best practices in sustainable filmaking involving American University as well as 175 other filmmakers and companies. It was reviewed by experts in the field of climate change, carbon reduction and sustainability for scientific validity.
It was adopted and translated by producer Katja Schwarz to be used widely in the German filmmaking industry in films and popular tv shows. The German government now provides incentives for film productions to "go green" and reduce their carbon emissions. It has also been utilized in the United Kingdom to successfully produce two films. The Doc Society is working in conjunction with the British Film Institute and Larry Engel to create a new draft of the code to be used more widely in the UK.