In Kelly Anderson’s feature article Conversation Starters from the May/June 2008 issue of realscreen, she asks ‘Are audiences just there to be entertained or can filmmakers aspire to motivate their constituencies?’ Shine Global thinks the latter is possible.
Executive Director Susan MacLaury and her producer husband Albie Hecht launched the prodco in 2005 as a not for profit dedicated to making films about the plight of impoverished and exploited children around the world. The impetus to start the New Jersey based company was the children of Uganda, and knowledge of their crisis also resulted in a film called War/Dance. Directed by another husband and wife team, Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, War/Dance follows the children at a refugee camp who are both rescued child soldiers and winners of a regional music competition. The goal with each of Shine Global’s films is to present the children not as victims, but as agents of their own change.
Another goal is to raise social awareness and effect political change. A tall order, and quite an expectation of a medium that makes it easy for people to be moved by the message but walk away without taking any action. MacLaury’s method is to screen their films at rallies, and for lobbying groups, educators and, when possible, policy makers. However, the issues of running a production company sometimes get in the way of screening in this way. ‘We had been asked last year to show War/Dance at the United Nations, but there was a concern on the part of our distribution company that if the film was seen as primarily an advocacy piece rather than as a film with cinematic value in its own right it might hurt its cinematic value,’ says MacLaury. While following this advice seems to be counter to their cause, the not for profit has to think about monetary intake because they operate off of donations and proceeds from each of their films go to the children they document. Though they did hold off on the UN screening last year, they are back on the docket of potential films to be shown at the UN and are hoping to get in a screening by the end of 2008.
In order to stay in touch with the communities they document, while giving back to the causes they believe in, Shine Global partners with NGOs while in the production stage of each project. In the case of Harvest, their latest film about migrant farm worker children whose labor feeds America which is due to wrap at the end of 2009, the company will be partnering with organizations such as the American Farm Worker’s Opportunities Program and the College Assistance Migrant Program which has programs in 40 colleges around the country in which they give full scholarships to eligible child farm workers. They also link viewers who want to give directly to charities that help children in need through the website for their films. It’s one thing to hope viewers will care, but so far, says MacLaury, Shine Global is finding that viewers are reaching out to help. ‘We get a lot of emails from individuals who saw War/Dance who say ‘we don’t want to wait and see if you get profits we’d like to help children now.”