Documentary Filmmaking for Social Change
How a Passion for New Economics Led Me to Film
By the Fall of 2015, when I first arrived in the Bay Area to live, my long-time curiosity about economic systems had led me to a lot of amazing solo learning (such as reading Sacred Economics, The Origin of Wealth, Shock Doctrine, Debt, The Moral Limits of Markets, etc.), but very little community and action. But, I had very little idea what to do with all of this knowledge!
“Should I create some kind of community learning group around new economy?” I wondered. “Or maybe I should teach a really awesome and radical new economics course at a local high school?” Really, I had no idea where to start.
My friends will remember me asking often, a year ago, things like, “I have read so many articles about this lately, but is anyone actually organizing around this, or is this just an academic fascination with a lot of curious journalists grabbing hold as well?”
Getting Involved in the Universal Basic Income movement
I got my answer by moving to the Bay Area. This Fall I found myself at a historic Create-a-Thon around Basic Income in San Francisco. I almost didn’t go. But I did. And once there, I ended up very quickly joining a film team and, by the end of two intense day, making a film about the stories of the participants of this historic event, entitled Tell It To the Sun.(One of the fascinating things to me about Universal Basic Income is that it appeals across such a broad range of the entire political spectrum, from social justice activists to libertarians, and this short film captures that incredible range).
While getting involved with a film project was a total surprise at first, in the months since then, I have not been able to let go of my excitement about film as a medium for cultural change, perhaps one of the main ingredients in any sort of political revolution.
And I have realized that, as a lifestyle and career, I have realized how natural an extension of my work as a facilitator it is to be part of a film project.
Now, that same team is exploring a feature-length film on Universal Basic Income, and, as part of that, I am eager to develop and explore my skills as a filmmaker more intentionally this year.
What does it take to be a great filmmaker? What are the careers of documentary filmmakers like? What roles would I best fill on a film team? There is so much I don’t know, as I begin this journey.
So, this Fall, I’m going to put some more teeth around an actual learning plan to learn more about film. Here’s what I think that will look like this year:
- Kin: growing my community
- Interview filmmaker about the different skills and roles of filmmakers
- Go to more filmmaker happy hours and meetups and screenings in the Bay Area
- Hang out with friends like Tania Ku, Ken Fisher, and Amy Hart more often. And check in with fellow Open Master’s member Tess Brustein about her work in this area, too.
- Head: growing my knowledge and skills
- Take an online course. Some possibilities include (get advice on which to start with):
- Take a local course (at SF City College), some options:
- Follow more blogs, podcasts, and discussion boards about film, such as:
- Every Saturday Night is Documentary Night!
- Goal: watch twelve documentary films this Fall that expand my awareness of social issues I care about. Focus on films directed by women of color.
- Hands: Putting it into practice this Fall
- Check in with my learning buddies (below) for advice on this play.
- Fund our UBI feature-length documentary, and begin shooting by Christmas.
- Create one more short film in 2016-17 (perhaps about Open Master’s, Alt*Div, or another short one about Universal Basic Income)
- Write short blog in December reviewing my learning with these resources.
Where is this heading?
My dreams and goals are very simple here. If I only ever make one film, I still want to learn whatever I can along the way to do it the best that I possibly can. Although, I have to admit; I’m already thinking of new ideas for films I want to make every day. The bug has bit me!
However, if this ends up blossoming into a real career in film, all the better.
Left to right: Haifaa al-Mansour, Loveleen Tandan, Aaron Sorkin, Lina Srivastava.
Learning Buddies and Champions
Left to right: Ken Fisher, Tania Ku, Tess Brustein.
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