The problem with charity films
Using real people’s stories can be a really successful way to connect with hard to reach audiences. People listen to stories and relate to them, imagining themselves in similar situations. But when you tell these stories it’s important to be respectful. You’ve got to see the person behind the story and give them a voice.
Too many films focus on people as problems. They see the disability before the person, or they use people’s suffering as a tool to drive donations in a way that dehumanises them.
Over the years this has been flagged up as a problem. In fact the Comic Relief and Sport Relief charity recently announced they are no longer making films with celebrities visiting developing countries, with these types of films being criticised as ‘poverty tourism’.
With this in mind, here are some tips to create engaging films that challenge perceptions around poverty and disabilities, and help to break down harmful stereotypes.
Take away tips
1) Let people tell their own stories
No one can understand a situation as well as the person living it, so let them be the one to tell their story in their own words. You can provide a loose script for them to follow, but the less intervention there is the more genuine and honest the story will be.
Similarly, avoid using third party narration. It’s important to give the person a voice.
2) Give them the camera
It’s a technique used by photographers for years. Giving people cameras to capture their own moments can be incredibly powerful. It gives people ownership of their story and allows their personality to shine through and it humanises them. Which ultimately makes for a much more engaging film.
3) Remember they’re the subject, not the object
Objectifying people in charity films needs to stop. Not only is it degrading, the films are often predictable and can actually drive people away from watching. So don’t be afraid to branch out and try something different.
Here are three films that show how it’s done…
Oxfam – Rice growing revolution
This film by Oxfam is a good example of people telling their own stories.
Susanna tells us about her working life and how the building work Oxfam have done has helped empower the community. Although she’s not yet self-sufficient, Susanna’s optimism and dedication to her work shines through.
WaterAid – Photography project
Letting people document their stories is a refreshing and enjoyable way to give an insight into their lives.
This film by WaterAid is a lovely example of this, and of personal moments that aren’t able to be captured by outsiders. Like this photo taken by Haja of her son Sessay (left) and his friends. I recommend having a look around the link for more of their photography.
Muscular Dystrophy UK – Hear my voice
Giving people a voice is crucial. And believe it or not can be commonly overlooked in charity films.
This film follows interviews with two young people Sam and Zoe, and their experiences of living with muscular dystrophy. The documentary style is enjoyable to watch and can easily be made on a low budget. Goes to show how sometimes in film, less is more.
Imogen Gower in an Assistant Producer at Magneto Films. She recently graduated from King’s College London with a degree in English Language & Linguistics. Imogen has joined the team at Magneto and is training in film production.