Change the world - make a documentary?
Saturday 27 October, 10.30am until 12.00pm, Lecture Theatre 2 Can Films Change the World?

Documentary film is a genre which straddles fact and fiction, education and entertainment, aesthetics and documentation. Today, many documentary filmmakers try to persuade us to change our opinions and attitudes, or even inspire us to act.

Such purposive documentaries have found new audiences in the cinema and on film festival circuits lately. Some well-known examples are Michael Moore’s films about US politics, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth about global warming and the Francis brothers’ Black Gold on Fair Trade.

Documentaries have tackled everything from economics to politics, history, nature and celebrity culture, but how effective are documentaries as tools for social campaigning or ‘awareness raising’? Is there a tension between truth-telling and campaigning? Should those making political films take into consideration the influence they may have on the social reality they depict and what, if any, is the documentary filmmaker’s responsibility to his audiences?


Phelim McAleer
joint managing director, New Bera Media; journalist and documentary filmmaker; director and producer, Mine Your Own Business
Alan Miller
chairman, Night Time Industries Association (NTIA)
Jess Search
chief executive, Channel 4 BRITDOC Foundation; co-founder, Shooting People
Poppy Simpson
education developer, British Film Institute; producer and co-director, Ngobile: The Race
Nathalie Rothschild
freelance journalist; producer and reporter for Sweden's public service radio

 Produced by

Nathalie Rothschild freelance journalist; producer and reporter for Sweden's public service radio
Helen Birtwistle history and politics teacher, South London school
Dr Wendy Earle impact development officer, Birkbeck, University of London; convenor, Academy of Ideas Arts and Society Forum

The changing nature of the film documentary - a short history, Alan Miller

 Recommended readings

Make up your own mine
Documentary-activism finds two very different interpretations of the campaign to prevent the opening of an opencast gold mine in the village of Rosia Montana in the Transylvanian mountains
John Fund, Wall Street Journal, 20 August 2007

Wake up and smell the coffee
The advent of Black Gold chimes with a significant shift in cinema-going habits. Never before have feature films had such a compulsion to 'tell' rather than 'show' when it comes to their pet concerns
Jeff Dawson, The Times, 2 June 2007

Extreme Makeover: The Changing Face of Documentary
In an age when practically no one is outside the media loop, every life is understood as intrinsically a production-in-the-making whose idioms are shaped by a spectrum of 'documentary' practices
Paul Arthur, Cineaste, 2005

recommended by spiked

Mine your own business
Kirk Leech, 5 November 2006

Shop till global injustice drops!
Nathalie Rothschild, 19 November 2006

Give us some focking answers, Bob!
Nathalie Rothschild, 19 March 2007

spiked film reviews

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