When Friday night audiences head home after seeing a movie, they’re occasionally approached by a canvasser from Cinemascore, a market research firm that tracks whether a film can expect good word-of-mouth or bad. The survey has always been pretty basic: A letter grade to signify a moviegoer’s level of enjoyment.
But the four filmmakers gathered last Wednesday night for the Loyola Marymount School of Film and Television’s Steed Symposium are working for more than a letter grade.
Jonathan King, Participant Media’s head of production for narrative films, revealed that a new Cinemascore question was included for Snitch, the Dwayne Johnson action thriller that revolves around the issue of mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
“For the first time we had them ask, ‘Did you know about the issue?’ and ‘Do you care more about the issue?’ ” King told the Los Angeles crowd. “And the response was overwhelmingly, ‘No, I didn’t know this was a real thing.’ And at least 35 percent of the people said, ‘Yes, I want to learn more. Where can I go? What can I do?’ ”
The filmmakers on the “Game Changers: Media, History and Social Change” panel were all chosen for having inspired change with their films. Joining King on the stage of CAA’s Ray Kurtzman Theater were Gideon’s Army producer Julie Goldman, Oscar-nominated documentarian Kirby Dick, and frequent Nick Broomfield collaborator and cinematographer Joan Churchill. Dick and Churchill’s films, The Invisible War and Juvenile Liaison respectively, have pushed forward legislative efforts after the documentaries were shown to Congress and Parliament.
“As a filmmaker, I want people to be dealing with very serious subject matter and come out transformed.”
Moderator Elvis Mitchell—one of America’s premiere film critics—characterized the work of the “Game Changers” panellists as the type of movies where “people kind of go in thinking, ‘I don’t know if I want to see this.’ ”
“I take that as a compliment,” Dick was quick to reply. “As a filmmaker, I want to get into very visceral material, and I want the audiences to experience that too. Documentaries are the most labor intensive artform there is; so I want people to be dealing with very serious subject matter and come out transformed.”
The evening’s discussion touched on topics ranging from how the financing of issue-oriented films has changed in recent years to how certain films, such as A Place at the Table and Waiting for Superman, evolved dramatically from their inception to completion.
The subject kept circling back to how to inspire an audience to act, question its beliefs and change its attitudes. Producer Julie Goldman reflected on screening one of her latest films, God Loves Uganda, to the ultimate counterintuitive audience.
God Loves Uganda explores the efforts of American evangelical missionaries proselytizing in Africa, and how their anti-gay doctrine influenced Uganda’s murderous attitude and policies toward homosexuality.
“A couple of the leaders of that church came to New York and watched the film, which is always a very, very awful, horrible experience to watch it through their eyes,” recalled Goldman. “But afterward, we had a four-hour dialogue. The amazing thing about that film is, it’s bringing evangelicals into a discussion that is kind of beyond our wildest expectations about the responsibility of being a missionary and being very careful about the message and the influence that you have. The influence can be enormous.”
On the positive flipside, that enourmous influence Goldman is talking about could just as easily describe the work of anyone on the panel.
Did a movie ever make you sit up and change your attitudes? Name it in COMMENTS.
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Based in Los Angeles, California, Stephen Saito writes about the movies. His work has appeared in Premiere, the L.A. Times and IFC.com. He recently founded the indie film site The Moveable Fest. Email Stephen | @mfrushmore