It has been a week since inauguration day, and the constant media churn just won’t let up.
There is content being thrown out just about everywhere, and it is hard to identify what’s genuine and honest. The results of the election left those on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter struggling to curb excessive“fake news” and biased declarations. Audiences are overwhelmed with the number of news outlets that claim the truth, and it seems to lead to more disconnect; algorithms and a fractured landscape make it hard for all of us to stay informed, or even just open-minded to other perspectives.
What does this mean for documentary filmmakers and nonfiction content creators? What will it take to foster engagement outside of our own bubbles? In an article from IndieWire, Dan Cogan, the founder and executive director of Impact Partners, offers his attitude on the subject: “In all my conversations recently, documentary filmmakers and industry people are saying, ‘How do I understand these people so different from me better, and how do I create an honest picture of their world and give them a voice? Not ‘How do we shut these people down?’ If people are feeling disempowered, how can I empower them?”
Better valuing the simple act of telling stories as a tool for political progress, and collectively investing more in the making of honest and empathetic documentaries, could help foster a more civically engaged and media literate society. These pieces can prompt conducive discussion from people of all political beliefs.
However, as the social compacts that have traditionally protected freedom of speech are transformed in front of our eyes, we creatives need extra support to do our work safely. “Now, it’s ever more imperative for documentary-friendly financiers to create legal defense funds for filmmakers so that they are safe from attack,” says Lee Hirsch, director of Bully (2011), and the cofounder of the Local Voices project. “We don’t yet know what sort of crackdowns we’re going to see. Journalists are going to need protection.”
Storytellers have never really been keen to lay low, especially when they tend to lean towards difficult subjects. Sonya Childress, Firelight Media’s Director of Partnerships and Engagement, maintains that determination, declaring that “there is an even greater need to disrupt the harmful narratives that came out of this election around communities of color and the number of other communities that were targeted. We understand how some filmmakers are shifting, but we are not shifting.”
Ultimately, it is time to embrace the power of our craft. As documentary filmmakers, we have a responsibility to tell honest stories. Now, more than ever, we need judicious documentaries that bridge our divides.