How Do We Measure the Impact of Documentaries?: Data from the Puma Impact Award Nominees

How Do We Measure the Impact of Documentaries?: Data from the Puma Impact Award Nominees
How Do We Measure the Impact of Documentaries?: Data from the Puma Impact Award Nominees

In the world of social issue filmmaking, great work is being done in linking films to real-world issues that need attention.  But at the same time, more and more pressure is being placed on filmmakers to prove that their film is making real-world impact. The jurors for this year’s Puma Impact Award — Susan Sarandon, Ricken Patel, Gael Garcia Bernal, Zadie Smith, and Eric Schlosser —  have the unenviable task of choosing a winner for a 50,000 Euro reward in honor of the outreach campaigning done by the filmmakers behind one of this year’s five nominated films.

Indiewire received exclusive access to more information on the winner’s outreach, and we’re reporting back on the impact campaigns from each one of the 5 films that were nominated for this year’s Puma Impact Award.

Because so many filmmakers are being asked to show their social media stats as proof of their commitment to outreach, we’re showing off that data next to the real world policy and discursive impact of the films nominated for this year’s awards. Comparing the five films, you can see that social media activity interacts with real-world actions in interesting ways.  It’s not the be all end all of social impact, but it does prove that you’re engaging people in a certain way.  

Take a closer look at the impact strategies of the five nominees below, with information provided by the Puma Impact Awards.  The winner will be announced tomorrow, November 13 in New York.

The Act of Killing

Here’s What the Film is About:  Director Joshua Oppenheimer meets up with the men who led the death squads in North Sumatra in the Indonesian genocides of the mid 1960’s in Indonesia, still heroes in many parts of the country, and has them recreate their killings in the style of their favorite gangster movies.  The “gangsters” relish the opportunity to star in the movie of their lives, but after awhile, they start to face the reality and implications of what they’ve done.  

Here’s What the Outreach Accomplished:  The film was released simultaneous to a report by the Indonesian Human Rights Commission, which developed an 850 page report which provided evidence of the military’s implication in the country’s genocide.  With screenings across the country, the film has been a key tool in helping the country understand its history.  

Some Organizations Worked With:   Indonesian National Commission of Human Rights, labor unions across Indonesia, survivors communities in Indonesia, organizations in Indonesian universities.  

100 festivals in 57 countries (premiered at Toronto International Film Festival 2012)

1,000+ community screenings

21 countries with theatrical release

29 city US theatrical release

21 television territories sold

29 awards and prizes

1,300,000+ online trailer views

350,000+ website visits  

6,600+ individuals on email list

8,200+ Facebook likes

10,300+ Facebook likes on Indonesian version of film

3,900+ Twitter followers


Here’s What the Film is About:  Lee Hirsch’s film profiles the bullying epidemic, specifically in our nation’s schools.  “Bully” pays particular attention to the ways that adults are responding to accusations of bullying in hopes that more can be done to prevent this terrible behavior in the future.  The film famously fought the MPAA to get its R rating reduced to a PG-13 rating, in the hopes that young people could see the film.  

Here’s What the Outreach Accomplished:  With screening partnerships with the Girl Scouts, school districts across America, and in government organizations like the Department of Education and Congress, “Bully” gave a much-needed centerpiece to the discussion on bullying.  It even got the endorsement of high profile bully Rush Limbaugh, but it’s unclear how much he’s changed his tune.  

Some Organizations Worked With:, GLSEN, HRC, NEA, Autism Speaks, United Federation of Teachers, Facebook, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Common Sense Media

30 festivals in 13 countries (Premiered at Tribeca Film Festival 2011)

7,500+ community screenings (1,000 via 1 Million Kids campaign, 6,500 via “Bully” educational kits)

574 screens over entire theatrical run

7 television territories sold

10 DVD territories sold

13 awards and prizes

5,800,000+ views on online trailer

1,700,000+ unique visitors to website

168,000+ individuals on email list

350,000+ Facebook likes

39,565 Twitter followers

“Give Up Tomorrow”

Here’s What the Film is About:  Paco Larrañaga is accused of the rape and murder of two sisters who died during a tropical storm in the Philippines.  The nineteen year-old student had overwhelming evidence of his innocence, but for several years nothing could be done.  The film was released after being in production for seven years.  

Here’s What the Outreach Accomplished:  The campaign to free Paco has led to his extradition to a Spanish prison, where he is treated much better but still must sleep behind bars.  In the years since his conviction, the death penalty has been abolished in the Philippines.  The film, though, has led to greater awareness of anti-death penalty campaigns.  

Some Organizations Worked With: From the jury’s dossier, “Fair Trials International, Reprieve and Amnesty International use the film to lobby for Paco’s pardon. Commission Against the Death Penalty, The Innocence Project, and many anti death penalty NGOs use the film to campaign against the death penalty.”

70 festivals in 35 countries (Premiered at Tribeca Film Festival 2011)

175 screens over entire theatrical run

1,700,000+ television viewers in 9 territories

4,200+ DVDs sold

18 awards and prizes

90,000+ online trailer views

71,400+ visits to

55,000+ visits to

6,600+ individuals on email list

6,300+ Facebook likes on “Give Up Tomorrow” and Free Paco Now pages

1,200+ Twitter followers on @GiveUpTomorrow and @FreePacoNow

“The Interrupters”

Here’s What the Film is About:  Chicago gangbusters Ceasefire are the inspiring bunch behind Steve James’s documentary.  The film shows the organization take to the streets to curb gang violence in a city plagued with it.  

Here’s What the Outreach Accomplished: With an issue that often grabs headlines but doesn’t inspire activism, the film has spurred a great amount of discussion on how we can make change in our own communities and what can be done to prevent violence and to help give opportunities to those that don’t think they have them.  

Some Organizations Worked With: CeaseFire, the governments of Philadelphia and Milwakuee; churches and other religious groups (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Quaker) in cities like Oakland, Houston, and Newark; Google’s Chicago office; the American Bar Association; ACLU.

44 festivals in 15 countries (premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2011)

16,000+ viewers at community screenings

41,000+ theatrical audience members

2,900,000+ television viewers worldwide

20,000+ DVDs sold

14 awards and prizes

540,000 online trailer views

100,000+ unique visitors to website

1,500 individuals on email list

7,250+ Facebook likes

5,450+ Twitter followers 

“The Invisible War”

Here’s What the Film is About:  Projecting out into a world that hardly acknowledged the issue at all, “The Invisible War” revealed that 1 in 4 women were being sexually assaulted during military service.  The film reveals the lengths individual members and organizations within the armed forces would go to cover up any accusations.

Here’s What the Outreach Accomplished:  “The Invisible War” has made sexual assaults in the military a huge issue in the media and within the Pentagon.  The attention brought to the issue by the film has spurred a huge amount of action that aims to create a long-term plan to stop the violence.  

Some Organizations Worked With: Protect Our Defenders, Service Women’s Action Network, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Equality Now, NYCLU, The Soldiers Project.

79 festivals in 22 countries (premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2012)

1,400+ community screenings

110 city theatrical release

2,100,000+ television viewers

17,000+ DVD sales

739,000+ online trailer views

19 awards and prizes

282,000+ visits to

190,000+ visits to

39,000+ individuals on #NotInvisible email list

115,000+ signatures on petition email list

36,000+ Facebook likes

8,000+ Twitter followers

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