Film students aspiring to make cookie-cutter Hollywood dung take note: film, especially documentary, has tangible uses that can affect social change. Although mainstream media continues to disparage anti-establishment films regardless of their box office success—Dave Kehr in the New York Times recently stated that "One fears the sort of journalistically dubious, polemical documentary made popular by Nick Broomfield (Biggie and Tupac) and Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine)"—there exists one organization, Arts Engine, working to forge a direct connection between social issue films and groups that can use them to organize, publicize, entertain and, god forbid, educate. The group even has its own film festival—the aptly named Media That Matters Film Festival.
Arts Engine's (www.artsengine.net) Media That Matters uses documentaries and a variety of shorts to encourage action and dialogue on contemporary social issues, and to shed the silly notion that nonfiction films can’t both entertain and inspire. The organization also has an exhaustive database of over 4,500 social-issue documentaries and 850,000 non-profits across the United States, and now is co-sponsoring its film festival with the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival.
Running true to its tagline, "Click. Stream. Action!" the Media That Matters Film Festival forgoes the typical festival lines, guest lists and legions of men with baseball hats and beards, so that it can be accessed from any computer with a decent pipe connection. Officially launching June 13th at www.mediathatmattersfest.org, it will stream for a full year, and also will run on computer kiosks around the Walter Reade Theater during the first weekend of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival.
This year’s lineup of award-winning documentaries, animation, and fictional shorts has been culled from more than 200 submissions, and includes works by youth media producers (Global Action Project’s illuminating Holla Back Dubai) and established documentarians such as Gabriel London (of Gabriel Films’ harrowing No Escape, Prison Rape). But Media That Matters also presents the opportunity to view an array of creative PSA’s such as Wes Kim’s Vision Test, which explores bias through an ophthalmologist’s test, and Luv Me Latex, an animated account of how the HIV virus works. Other topics these shorts engage head-on include environmental malfeasance by corporations in the U.S. and South America, bullying in school, sexual abuse in living-assistance facilities, and the empowering Guerrilla News Network production, Copwatch, which follows activists legally observing police actions.
But more than just another hard-drive accessed collection, Arts Engine also provides links to take action in the form of petition signing, letters to Congress, donations, and the opportunity to learn more through ArtsEngine's own extensive databases.
Of course, it’s still pretty inconvenient for most to watch any video off the Internet. But one hopes that in the face of increasingly concentrated distribution systems (DirectTV was just bought by Rupert Murdoch), and news and current affairs programming that has herded largely to the right in the face of jingoism and general debasement, that Media That Matters will offer a viable alternative model for information. That said, although Arts Engines Media That Matters festival possesses an impressive array of sponsors and a killer concept, the only way it can truly effect social change is if people use the many resources they’re offering to effect some changes of their own.
Media That Matter Film Festival will begin streaming on June 13th 2003 at www.mediathatmattersfest.org. The offline component can be viewed via computer installations at the Walter Reade Theater from June 13-15 and will then be broadcast on Free Speech TV and then begin a national travelling exhibition.