132. Caty Borum Chattoo with Marcia Smith: How Documentaries Empower People and Inspire Social Change


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Only a few years after the 2013 Sundance Film Festival premiere of Blackfish—an independent documentary film that critiqued the treatment of orcas in captivity—visits to SeaWorld declined, major corporate sponsors pulled their support, and performing acts cancelled appearances. And that was just the beginning of the impact of documentary films.

Producer and scholar Caty Borum Chattoo joined us in conversation with producer Marcia Smith to examine the role of social-issue documentaries in civic imagination and social critique, with support from her book Story Movements: How Documentaries Empower People and Inspire Social Change. Today’s documentaries interrogate topics like sexual assault in the US military (The Invisible War), racial injustice (13th), government surveillance (Citizenfour), and more. Chattoo argued that artistic nonfiction films are changing public conversations, influencing media agendas, mobilizing communities, and capturing the attention of policymakers. In this exceedingly relevant discussion, she invited us to consider how documentaries can disrupt dominant cultural narratives through complex, creative, often investigative storytelling.

Caty Borum Chattoo is Executive Director of the Center for Media & Social Impact and Assistant Professor at the American University School of Communication. She is an award-winning documentary producer, scholar, professor, and strategist working at the intersection of social change communication, documentary, and entertainment storytelling. She is also the co-author of A Comedian and An Activist Walk Into a Bar: The Serious Role of Comedy in Social Justice.

Marcia Smith is president and co-founder of Firelight Media, which produces documentary films, provides artistic and financial support to emerging filmmakers of color, and builds impact campaigns to connect documentaries to audiences and social justice advocates. Under her leadership, Firelight Media was honored with a MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. Firelight Media’s flagship Documentary Lab program has supported more than 80 emerging filmmakers over the past decade, who have premiered at festivals such as Sundance, and gone on to earn numerous festival, Peabody, and Emmy Awards.

Buy the Book: https://www.thirdplacebooks.com/book/9780190943417

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