Can Films Change Lives?

October 1, 2018  • Institute Staff

Bhagwat Thorat lives in a Delhi slum with his three daughters. He pulled his girls out of school when they reached puberty in order to marry them off; child marriage is a widespread practice in India. But then he attended a screening and discussion of the documentary film The Revolutionary Optimists, which depicts the hardships faced by children in Kolkata slums and one man’s efforts to empower those children. Thorat wept as he contemplated the misery his daughters would face as child brides. The next day, he told the screening facilitator that he planned to re-enroll all three girls in school.

This is one of many stories coming out of Women and Girls Lead Global, a project developed by Independent Television Service in partnership with local organizations to empower women and girls in Bangladesh, India, Jordan, Kenya, and Peru. Women and Girls Lead Global uses international documentary films to spark discussions about sensitive and taboo gender topics. Those conversations help participants rethink their own ideas and behaviors as well as develop solutions to the challenges women and girls face in their communities. For the past five years, the Institute’s Aspen Planning and Evaluation Program served as ITVS’s partner, helping them learn from and evaluate their efforts to motivate social change through Women and Girls Lead Global films. Just a few of APEP’s findings:

Documentary films inspire. Depicting real people overcoming obstacles inspires participants and strengthens their sense of agency. The screenings prompted many to act—from campaigning for female candidates in Kenya to improving Bangladeshi girls’ safety in school.

Quality facilitation is essential. Productive discussions at screenings require careful, ongoing facilitator training, clear discussion guides, small audiences, and call-to-action cards that help participants understand how to take next steps.

Local stories are powerful. Short films set in the audiences’ own countries are an invaluable complement to international documentaries, allowing audiences to see themselves and their everyday realities on film.

Social change takes time. Facilitators needed a sequence of three or more screenings in order to meaningfully engage participants in a process of building trust, discussing taboo topics, and shifting attitudes and behaviors. Building local partners’ ability to lead that process creates roots to sustain progress and engage more communities going forward.

Want more insights into how film can inspire social change? Check out APEP’s work as well as the mission of Women and Girls Lead Global. |