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The art of telling digital stories

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In the eighties I had the honour and the responsability of representing several times RNE (Radio Nacional de España) in the juries of Premio Italia and Premio Futura de Berlin on documentaries.

In May 2013 Pedro González, one of the founders of Euronews, the European TV channel that came to life in 1993 as the European TV voice in a world dominated since the late 70’s up to them in the global tv market by US CNN, invited me to be part of the Monaco Festival jury this year.

How do these juries evaluate the programs they receive for viewing? I don’t know o f two identical juries, even in the same festival or Prize. It depends on the members, rotating quite often in most of them year by year.

Nevertheless. it is always useful to have clear guidelines, taken from the best professional experiences and from the academic bibliography. There are plenty of options. I’ll include here two  of them.

Storytelling is at the heart of most good documentaries and docudramas. Complex ideas and information are often best conveyed through powerful storytelling creating enduring understandings as well as having a memorable influence on people’s point-of-views and willingness to take action. Even when the outcome of the topic or event is known, audiences still expect a storyline with a goodly dose of suspense while artfully unfolding the facts and information. Story engages an audience in the facts emotionally and intellectually at the same time motivating them to want to know what happens next. While documentaries and docudramas differ in structure, they both are grounded in accuracy in ways that engaged viewers in worlds of ideas they might not have otherwise been able to experience.



The increased popularity of documentaries in all their varied styles, the genre’s success in creating debate about issues that effect everyday life everywhere around the globe, and the public’s growing reliance upon the accuracy of the information documentaries deliver, makes it essential that audiences be made aware of exactly how nonfiction differs from narrative filmmaking, and be given the critical tools with which to analyze the nature of the documentary and evaluate whether it is trustworthy, accurate and worthwhile, or not. POV, one of PBS‘s leading nonfiction film programs, has two online ‘Lesson Plans’ for appreciating documentaries. Although the lesson plans are designed primarily for educators working with junior high and high school students, they can greatly help all documentary watchers to deepen their understanding of the genre and enhance their appreciation of the filmmaker’s art…MORE

Among the many sources mentioned in the previous text, I’ll take one -the article by M/C Journal, Vol. 14, No. 6 (2011) under the headline  Measuring Impact: The Importance of Evaluation for Documentary Film Campaigns


Documentary film has grown significantly in the past decade, with high profile films such as Fahrenheit 9/11, Supersize Me, and An Inconvenient Truth garnering increased attention both at the box office and in the news media. In addition, the rising prominence of web-based media has provided new opportunities for documentary to create social impact. Films are now typically released with websites, Facebook pages, twitter feeds, and web videos to increase both reach and impact. This combination of technology and broader audience appeal has given rise to a current landscape in which documentary films are imbedded within coordinated multi-media campaigns.

New media have not only opened up new avenues for communicating with audiences, they have also created new opportunities for data collection and analysis of film impacts. A recent report by McKinsey and Company highlighted this potential, introducing and discussing the implications of increasing consumer information being recorded on the Internet as well as through networked sensors in the physical world. As they found: «Big data—large pools of data that can be captured, communicated, aggregated, stored, and analyzed—is now part of every sector and function of the global economy» (Manyika et al. iv).  This data can be mined to learn a great deal about both individual and cultural response to documentary films and the issues they represent.

Although film has a rich history in humanities research, this new set of tools enables an empirical approach grounded in the social sciences. However, several researchers across disciplines have noted that limited investigation has been conducted in this area. Although there has always been an emphasis on social impact in film and many filmmakers and scholars have made legitimate (and possibly illegitimate) claims of impact, few have attempted to empirically justify these claims. Over fifteen years ago, noted film scholar Brian Winston commented that «the underlying assumption of most social documentaries—that they shall act as agents of reform and change—is almost never demonstrated» (236). A decade later, Political Scientist David Whiteman repeated this sentiment, arguing that, «despite widespread speculation about the impact of documentaries, the topic has received relatively little systematic attention» («Evolving»). And earlier this year, the introduction to a special issue of Mass Communication and Society on documentary film stated, «documentary film, despite its growing influence and many impacts, has mostly been overlooked by social scientists studying the media and communication» (Nisbet and Aufderheide 451).

Film has been studied extensively as entertainment, as narrative, and as cultural event, but the study of film as an agent of social change is still in its infancy. This paper introduces a systematic approach to measuring the social impact of documentary film aiming to: (1) discuss the context of documentary film and its potential impact; and (2)  argue for a social science approach, discussing key issues about conducting such research. MORE


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