I’ve always loved the way a film can communicate what pages of facts cannot. In preparing for the 2013 Columbia Business School Social Enterprise Conference, my classmate Kim Issa ’14 and I went to the Human Rights Watch Film Festival— yet another wonderful event in NYC. The international NGO Human Rights Watch organizes the event, which aims to bring human rights violations to light and create a forum for a discussion of solutions. We heard about a lot of really interesting films and learned a bit more about this broad-reaching organization.
We saw Rafea: Solar Mama and got a chance to chat with Mona Eldaief, one of the directors, and who luckily agreed to come to our conference! While watching Solar Mama, I kept hoping for a happy ending. I’m not going to spoil it for you, as you should see this film and all the others yourself, but I just wanted to acknowledge that even my thought about a “a happy ending” is a bit idiotic. Overall, documentaries are not about making the viewer feel good. In fact, the purpose of many documentaries is to highlight just how unhappy some situations are , hopefully so the viewer will be motivated to do something once they leave the theater. Is this realistic?
Films can do a great job of educating and sparking conversation in a way just statistics or news stories simply can’t. I was a public school teacher as part of Teach for America (TFA) when The Lotterycame out–a film documenting the struggle to get students into NYC charter schools. All of a sudden, everyone – from my friends to people I just met – wanted to talk about the charter vs public school debate. Charter schools, for those who are unfamiliar, are public schools that are funded differently, but most people refer to the traditional district schools when using the phrase “public schools.” And the film did start up some great conversations, but is that good enough?
What’s even more thought provoking is the fact that few of these conversations were with people unfamiliar to the schools topic. That made me wonder further: what if The Lottery wasn’t a documentary? What if it was a film with a big-name star (or two)? Would more people see it, or would that undermine the film’s legitimacy? Is the goal of documentary filmmakers to have their film seen by as many people as possible?
Can’t wait to discuss and see you there!
Below are links to the movies we will be discussing at the panel.