Social Issue Networks and Film Festivals: Media Makers Analysis

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In our final installment in this series on film festivals and social networks, we’ll look at what insights a media maker can learn from our analysis in order to further optimize their festival application strategy as they answer the big question:

What festivals could introduce my film to topic-relevant social issue influencers?

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Social Issue Networks and Film Festivals: Festival Analysis

Figure 1: Top 15 film festivals by number of social issue influencers in each of the 16 social issue networks. The blue color indicates a top-tier festival (as identified by POV), and green reflects a non-top-tier festival. X-axis normalized across all issues.

This is the third of four posts mapping online social networks; today we’ll be focusing on film festival organizations and their reach within these networks. (If you’re just joining us, you can read more about the series here and here.)  Specifically, we’ll be addressing the following questions, as posed by a hypothetical festival organizer:

Which festivals reach social issue influencers? Where does my film festival rank among film festivals’ social issue engagement as a whole? What social issue network(s) have I attracted attention from in the past and which should I target in the future?

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Social Issue Networks and Film Festivals: Issue Advocates

Figure 4: Breakdown of four Human Rights network sub-groups by the film festival accounts with the four highest network followers.

We’ll begin our multi-part analysis of social networks from the perspective of an issue advocate asking the following questions:

Who is talking about my issue online? Do these individuals cluster around specific topics? How do the various issue networks compare in size and structure? Which, if any, are connected to (or likely to be influenced by) film festivals?

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Social Issue Networks and Film Festivals: Our Method

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There are many reasons to participate in a film festival. For documentary filmmakers in search of an audience, festivals provide access to communities of interest and practice, and hold promise for distribution deals and broader public exposure. From the largest and best-known—think Sundance, Tribeca, and South by Southwest—to smaller, themed events like the Green Film Fest, there are many festivals to choose from; by some counts, this number is well in the thousands. Criteria such as reputation and popularity steer filmmakers and attendees toward the most prominent among them. But no two audiences are alike; the extent to which a film may or may not resonate with its viewers is, for many hopefuls, a great unknown.

It’s certainly not an easy nut to crack. Luckily, emerging methods from computational social science can help us begin to distinguish among festival audiences—and provide concrete information to help guide participants to those events most appropriate for their particular project.

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Meaningful Media Now: Tribeca Edition

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As an organization interested in media impact, our “water cooler” chatter around the office took a different turn for April. This month, we ventured out to the Tribeca Film Festival. Many associate the festival with film, so we decided to spend our time exploring the lesser known but equally interesting side — the stories told through the interactive, immersive and virtual reality exhibits. Read on to see some of the meaningful media HI staff has been talking about from Tribeca in these emerging forms of storytelling:

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Making data evocative

Tribeca Film Festival isn’t the first place you’d expect to find an art installation that plays with sensory deprivation, virtual reality, and biometrics, but that’s exactly where the UK-based creative agency Anagram chose for the Stateside debut of their immersive documentary experience, Door into the Dark. Those participating were asked to “replace the visual with the sensual”  by blindfolding themselves, donning heart-rate monitors and headphones that would provide narration as they moved through an unfamiliar, staged environment.  HI joined forces with Tribeca and Anagram to analyze the biometric data collected from participants throughout their avant-garde narrative experience.

In this post, our Director of Design and Technology Clint Beharry and in-house designer Sher Chew chat about their experience creating meaningful visualizations from the biometric data provided by Door into the Dark participants.

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Sundance Film Festival 2014: Focus on measuring media impact

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Impact measurement can be an intimidating challenge for film professionals. Social impact is a complex concept with near infinite variables and measuring change in a rigorous way can be a time consuming task that requires a host of specialized skills. On the other hand, the low hanging fruit (Facebook likes, BOX office revenue, etc.) may not be meaningful metrics for a film’s social impact goals. At Harmony Institute, we frequently hear questions like: What’s behind all the buzz about impact measurement? Is it fair to expect or require filmmakers to be held accountable for this type of work? What are some best practices from the field? With all of these concerns, it’s easy to understand why impact measurement can be overwhelming.

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New directions at the San Francisco International Film Festival

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Film festivals have long been a forum for recognizing artistic achievement, discovering new films and directors, and making distribution deals. But as the industry adapts to new technology and distribution models, festivals are changing as well. Last week the Harmony Institute participated in the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival, which is developing innovative new programming for audiences and filmmakers. Partnering with like-minded organizations BAVC and Active Voice, we discussed the latest strategies and tools for film engagement and impact.

What can documentaries teach narratives?

Steven Soderbergh’s widely discussed keynote on the state of the film industry set the tone for conversations on distribution and creative freedom throughout the festival. In anticipation of these shifts, festival organizers created Artist to Entrepreneur (A2E) a new programming series that connects narrative filmmakers to technologists and distribution experts.

At A2E, HI participated on a panel focused on adapting engagement and measurement strategies pioneered by documentaries for narrative filmmakers. Shaady Salehi of Active Voice emphasized the importance of strategic planning for engagement, and Jennifer Gilomen of BAVC provided case studies of documentaries that had successfully engaged audiences. HI discussed the importance of audience measurement and real-time data during the narrative distribution process. Many of these strategies were drawn from the recently released Impact Playbook and re-imagined for the optimization of distribution of narrative films.

As narrative filmmakers increasingly use crowdfunding and community screening platforms, we believe that data can help successfully engage backers and viewers. In complex and competitive viewing environments, these tools will help filmmakers of all stripes find audiences.

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Image: Still from A River Changes Course | Migrant Films

Interactive Impact

The San Francisco International Film Festival also presented an opportunity to talk with audiences and filmmakers about impact. HI took part in a salon titled Interactive Impact: Making change Through Audience Engagement to share our perspective and learn from other participants in this emerging field.

The salon introduced a filmmaker perspective to the discussion of social change. Kalyanee Mam, director of A River Changes Course and Jeremy Teicher director of Tall as the Baobab Tree (we highly recommend both films) spoke about how filmmakers can navigate creative and advocacy positions related to their films. The panel and  audience also discussed how to best manage partnerships with nonprofits and the challenge of finding the time and energy to both make films and engage their audiences to make change.

Mam plans to screen her film, which chronicles issues of urbanization, labor, and the environment in modern Cambodia, throughout the country, often to citizens who lack access to media. Teicher is working with Girls Not Brides to address child and adolescent marriage, an issue that is dealt with in his film. Both films are complex and aesthetically rich—they remind us of the power of film to explore the nuances of important global issues.

Top Image: Interactive Impact Panel photographed by Pat Mazzera | courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society