As both activist and actor I understand the profound power of a story well told. Storytelling is what makes us human, it is our common currency and as such can be a powerful tool for positive change. Compelling narratives have the ability to bring us together, to galvanise us into action. Documentary makers commit years of their lives in an effort to bring us these vital and often complex stories and in doing so they make the issues we face as a society both more tangible and increasingly urgent.
This week the winners of the BRITDOC Impact Award will be announced. These awards celebrate the documentary films that have contributed to real and measurable change. The teams behind these films are to be applauded, not only for their tenacity and commitment but for the sheer force of will that is required to get such campaigns off the ground. The winners of these awards have engaged audiences, formed crucial partnerships and lobbied governments and corporations at the very highest levels. Such coalitions are vital – for a film alone cannot change the world – it first has to be seen, heard, felt.
Last year’s award went to the extraordinary “The Act of Killing.” Joshua Oppenheimer’s film challenged the unrepentant former members of Indonesian death squads to re-enact some of their most brutal crimes- the result is by turns surreal, disturbing and profound. The film team worked closely with human rights campaigners to ensure the film was seen both across Indonesia and internationally. “The Act of Killing”s’ subsequent publicity and profile has enabled a generation, scarred by an unspoken genocide, to begin a painful but essential dialogue.
Documentary film is a vital component in holding both governments and corporations to account. In celebrating the documentaries that impact our society we help to keep the legacy of these films and their campaigns alive. The compassion, the determination and the bravery of these documentary filmmakers is breath taking. They use their art, their vision, their mastery of story telling to speak truth to power. Throughout my career I have seen how stories can enchant, how they can engage, how they can motivate us to ask questions of ourselves and the world around us. To say that stories can change the world is nothing new but to reflect on the fact that they have such power never fails to amaze me.
This is part of a series of blog posts ahead of tomorrow’s announcement of the winners of the BRITDOC Impact Award, which celebrates annually the documentary films that have made the greatest positive impact on society. www.britdocimpactaward.org. This blog post was originally published at Huffington Post UK.