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“Films are films,” so should we even be talking about measuring their social impact?


In a recent blog post by Alison Byrne Fields from Philanthropy News Digest, she discusses the potential impact a film can have on our society and the role of filmmakers in this process.


Given we have an article in the pipeline from London’s Old Vic Theatre, we thought this would be a great opportunity to tee up the subject of social impact in regards to arts and culture.


In the original post, Alison describes a survey conducted in partnership between Aggregate (of which she is President) and the attending filmmakers at the True/False Film Festival in 2014. Its purpose was to understand filmmakers’ attitude to social impact. A key result was 72% of those surveyed declared their featured films at the festival could have some form of social change.


Simultaneously to the release of the survey results, Participant Media, a film and television production company started by Jeff Skoll, established a metric index in order to measure the ability of a film to inspire and spur individuals to take action.


Alison seems unsurprised that there was apprehension to such indexes, as filmmakers believe that their films have the potential for greater impact than simply spurring an immediate response from their audience. Thus, 66% of the surveyed filmmakers were against the idea of social impact measurement. Their chief concern revolves around a scenario where “filmmakers and funders begin to weigh the ‘effectiveness’ of films solely in terms of the actions taken in the short term by the audiences for those films. It could lead to the bankrolling of more didactic narratives about issues that lend themselves to relatively straightforward solutions. And that would be a blow to good storytelling.”


Furthermore, Alison is concerned that the return on investment angle of many of these films may eventually take the wrong turn, as not many of the filmmakers are actually willing to act upon the social issues their films address, or they simply don’t know how to.


The article explains how some filmmakers are more than happy to leave the social action to the experts in the social sector. Fields emphasises the need for “more foundations [to] invest more in outreach strategies for the films they invest in, in order to better take advantage of the emotional impact a good film so often has.” This, she believes is the best means for social impact from films.


Put simply, “films are films” and “if they deliver a visually interesting experience, spark conversation, and inspire people to engage in new ideas, they should be considered a success.” Alison is of the belief that metrics to demonstrate social good are ultimately useful, but when it comes to films, “if they’re good, they’ll get people thinking” regardless.


Many thanks to Alison Byrne Fields from Aggregate and Philanthropy News Digest for sharing her thoughts and insights into world of cinematography and metrics. Be sure to follow her on Twitter and comment below.