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Assessing the Social Impact of Issues-Focused Documentaries: Research Methods & Future Considerations

The resources available to assess the social impact of issues-focused documentaries have increased during the digital era. And yet, making the decision about which research methods (and tools) to use to examine the social impact of storytelling may be a challenge within the ecosystem of creators and strategists working in the pursuit of storytelling for social change. At the same time, research methods from social science – in the fields of communication/media studies, social psychology, political science and sociology – have been tested in decades of published studies. This white paper provides a breakdown of social science and market research methods to clearly explain the benefits and limitations of using each one to understand issue-focused documentaries in particular. We examine a group of branded media-impact tools now available, dissecting their underlying research approaches and the ways in which they work optimally to help tell a story about the social impact of storytelling.


Go to: Assessing the Social Impact of Issues-Focused Documentaries (PDF)

War on Water

Marymount Manhattan College students Billy Shields and Stuart Kiczek re-purpose old copyright black-and-white footage to illustrate a more modern point about how consumers can cut down on expenses by filtering their own tap water at home instead of purchasing bottled water. They use only enough of the third party images as necessary in order to give the rest of the footage the feel of a much older film.


Fair Use in Journalism: You Be the Judge!

paperboyJournalists depend upon fair use, often without knowing it. The Set of Principles in Fair Use for Journalism was created by journalists to express the consensus of their interpretation of fair use. The Principles feature seven common situations in which journalists can and widely do employ fair use.

Here are examples of uses of copyright material in those seven situations. Test your skill and use the Principles to draw your conclusions. Then check your answers at the bottom.


Social Justice Documentary: Designing For Impact

Designing For ImpactThe transition from 1.0 to 2.0 opens opportunities for documentarians to fulfill and expand their missions—not only informing individuals and leading public conversation but also building community cohesion and participation. This working paper aims to synthesize current efforts to develop comparable evaluation methods for social issue documentary films. Authored by two researchers who have been jointly documenting the field’s transformation over the past five years, this paper offers a framework for planning and evaluating the impact of these films in a networked media environment.


Fair Use Teaching Tools

The Center for Media & Social Impact has created a set of teaching tools for professors who are interested in teaching their students about fair use. The tools include powerpoints with lecture notes, guidelines for in-class discussions and exercises, assignments and grading rubrics. We hope you'll find them useful!


Examples of Successful Fair Use in Documentary Film

Filmmakers have been successfully employing fair use, even before the Statement of Best Practices clarified their common understandings. Here are some examples of uncontested choices for fair use. They are organized here according to the principles that filmmakers articulated in the Statement, in the categories used in the Statement. These categories are only four of the most common situations for filmmakers; some uses could be hybrid, and others might fall outside these four categories. We welcome more examples at cmsimpact [at] gmail [dot] com.


Social Issue Documentary: The Evolution of Public Engagement

Hate Has No Home

Documentary films are serving as the core for innovative spaces and practices that mark a new kind of public media – accessible, participatory and inclusive. This article examines the campaigns surrounding three films: Not in Our Town, Lioness, and State of Fear to uncover how emerging strategies for online and offline engagement are laying the groundwork for "public media 2.0."


Honest Truths: Documentary Filmmakers on Ethical Challenges in Their Work


Honest TruthsThis study provides a map of perceived ethical challenges that documentary filmmakers—directors and producer-directors—in the United States identify in the practice of their craft. It summarizes the results of 45 long-form interviews in which filmmakers were asked simply to describe recent ethical challenges that surfaced in their work. This baseline research is necessary to begin any inquiry into ethical standards because the field has not yet articulated ethical standards specific to documentary.


Go to: Honest Truths (PDF)

Teaching about Copyright and Fair Use for Media Literacy Education

The Media Education Lab at Temple University has created a whole set of Curriculum Materials for teaching and understanding copyright and fair use. The materials include lesson plans, songs, case studies, and videos. If you're interested in learning more about Fair Use in Media Literacy Education, make sure to check out these excellent materials!


Code of Best Practices for Sustainable Filmmaking

Welcome to the Code of Best Practices in Sustainable Filmmaking. This site currently contains the Code’s Principles (see below) as well as its checklists, carbon trackers, and Web resources. These may be downloaded from the Code. We are working to create an independent website for this project, where we will provide comprehensive and interactive resources for those interested in sustainable filmmaking.