Last semester, my goal was to research the impact of documentary filmmaking through the eyes of up-and-coming talent from high school and the college chapters of the nonprofit React to Film (RtF) programs, as well as from amateur filmmakers around the New York City area. Through my experience as a Social Media intern for RtF, I have learned that many of the goals that this particular organization had set out for itself had, sadly, not been able to go through due to financial constraints.
RtF is a nonprofit that acts both a megaphone and a mouthpiece for social change. However, being a nonprofit means that the organization and it the beck and call of their board and major donors. As a journalism student, most of my work experience has been in some sort of media/publication industry, so working for a non-profit was a completely new endeavor for me.
I learned that being a not-for-profit organization, sadly, means that the staff is at the mercy of its donors. No donors means no inspiring screenings, or college chapters, or high school programs. While this can be disheartening, especially when it’s known that there are people out there with an outlandish amount of money who could easily donate to an organization like RtF, it’s a constant motivator. The staff at RtF wants to do well to be impress their donors and get more people onboard with their cause.
However, motivation is not all it takes to stay afloat while working for an non-profit. Unknown to me, nonprofits can fire people just like in any other job. During the last few weeks of my internship, I saw RtF’s already small staff axed in half after not being able to collect enough donations from the last two screening at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Personally, I found these firings to be even more brutal, as these workers really cared about their cause, but simply could not raise enough money to be seen as useful to the organization.
This was a hard lesson for me to learn during my time at my internship, because while I was primarily there to learn about documentaries and social media, I would be lying to myself I didn’t believe in RtF’s mission statement. RtF is exposing issues and creating a dialogue with others through documentary films. I was also able to work alongside women who are breaking gender roles and are inspiring, hardworking individuals.
As an intern, I was lucky enough to work with the non-profit’s team to expose the world’s problems through social media. Every retweet, like and share leads to more eyes being opened, and the inspiration for more people who have the potential to change the world. I was also able to meet influential directors, such as Alison Klayman and Antonio D’Ambrosio, who took real life events and made them extraordinary through film.
It was incredibly disappointing that many of these projects were at the will of donors and investors. This became very apparent when working with Klayman while RtF was screening her latest documentary, “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.” As a multimedia journalist, Klayman prided herself on her coverage of life in China, as well as the ongoing tensions with Tibet. She has been featured in “The New York Times,” “New York Post,” “PBS “and other notable news outlets. And while her talent was evident, she found it difficult to receive enough funding of her documentary.
Klayman had turned to Kickstarter, a crowdsourcing site that allows people to have their projects “backed” by donor through a rewards system. She had originally only set her project to receive a funding goal of $20,000, but by May 2011 her documentary received $52,175 with nearly 800 backers.
The story of her Kickstarter success was shared through RtF, and inspired many young students in the organization’s college chapters to look into Kickstarter for their own movies. Regardless, I wish there was more that RtF could do to support these movies instead of simply leveraging them for others to watch.
Besides waking up from the nonprofit delusion, I was able to grow as a writer during my time as their social media intern. Towards the end of my internship, I would have each of my Facebook posts, Tweets and Blogs looked over by my friends or family before sending it to my supervisors. After reading it myself, I would ask whoever was copy editing to read my piece aloud and to let me know if anything sounded off or looked strange.
Slowing down and taking the time to copy edit my work allowed me to see my writing in a different way and really workshop it to be much crisper.
Taking the time to slow down was an important lesson for me, especially working in an environment where I personally felt that every email, phone call, or update had to be made that very moment. In reality, most of my responsibilities could be prioritized, and I found myself much more organize during the last few weeks of my internship.
As my time at RtF draws to a close, I see the importance of social media in the modern day as a means to promote not just content, but ideas. Without things like Twitter or Facebook, many of RtF’s followers were be uninformed about the newest movie screening at MoMA through the organization, or the happenings of its directors. RtF is able to connect with people all over to world from a tiny office in midtown all thanks to the power of the Internet. This is a feat that could not be accomplished a decade ago, and as technology advances, their connection can run deeper. Though I did not gain the experience that I had hoped when first embarking on my internship, I have learned more than I ever thought possible and have left RtF with skills that I will use throughout my life.
The REACT to FILM documentaries, Hell and Back Again and Living for 32 exposes the effect that violence has on its victims, both physically and emotionally, revealing the true cost of violence.
As my work with REACT to FILM comes to a close, I’m beginning to reflect on what I’ve learned during my time there.
Asides from the tool box obtained by being in charge of an organization’s social media presence, I’ve also learned a lot about myself. Mostly, how to deal with different kinds of people, especially those who are difficult to work with.
I learned that sometimes people are difficult simply because of who they are. It may have nothing at all to do with anything personal, So try not to take it personally. Working on such big goals with a small staff, especially when many of them work from home or on the other side of the country,it’s easy to get frustrated and be snippy. It’s important to remain calm, and to separate you from your work.
With that, I was able to learn more about myself as a writer. I learned how to write more efficiently by doing press releases and weekly blog posts. This was especially the case with Facebook and Twitter posts, every word needs to matter due to character limitations.
Jackie Northacker, REACT to FILM’s 22 year-old Operations Manager, always knew she wanted to change the world. Already heavily involved in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Northacker wanted to reach out and inspire social change. She discovered the non-profit, REACT to FILM, as a senior at SUNY New Paltz, while looking for an internship.
“I wanted to work with film and production but also utilize my public relations education, so it fit perfectly,” she said.
Dahlia Graham, the organization’s education director, was Northacker’s supervisor during her internship. She saw the potential in Northacker, and took the young intern under her wing, trusting her as more of an assistant than a typical intern.
When Northacker went back to New Paltz, she founded the SUNY New Paltz chapter of REACT to FILM’s College Action Network. Still in operation today, the club remains one of the nonprofit’s strongest chapters.
After graduating with a degree in Journalism with a concentration in Public Relations, and minor in Psychology, Northacker went to work for an advertising sales company. There she sold advertising space in USA TODAY specialty publications to various businesses, but was unhappy.
“When I graduated college, I wanted to love going to work every day. I wanted to be a part of something that was greater than myself,” said Northacker. “A lot of kids just graduate college wanting a paycheck, not caring about what work they do. I knew that I didn’t want to limit myself to a job that just paid my bills. I wanted a job that would challenge me and also reward me in a very deep way instead of just a monetary way.”
She joined the REACT to FILM team again, though this time full-time, after Graham notified her that Lindsey Jacobson, the former Operation’s Manager, was leaving.
As REACT to FILM is such a small organization, the responsibilities of running this non-profit almost seem endless at times.
“I was basically thrown right into the mix my first day and hit the ground running,” said Northacker. “I do event planning, public relation efforts, social media, overall logistics/scheduling, assisting Dahlia with the educational programs, and of course billing and office upkeep.”
Northacker admits that it is definitely frightening to come out of college and have such a strong position at an organization. She wondered if I would be good enough, but believes that every newly graduated student feels that way.
“I try to think of my responsibilities as a motivator to become greater, better and stronger, instead of using them as a way to doubt myself,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here if Dennis, Coralie, and Dahlia didn’t believe in me!”
After being in her position for nearly three months, Northacker learned that she’s more capable of things than she ever imagined.
Northacker feels that it’s easy for people her age doubt themselves when you graduate because of endless “We will keep you in mind!” email responses from jobs. However, she realized that she can do whatever she puts her mind to and doesn’t need to limit her goals due to what others say or believe about careers.
“I do what makes me happy, not based on what makes other people happy,” she said. “I learned that if something doesn’t work out, you move on, you grow, you become better because it happened.”
After being part of the organization for so young, Northacker feels that REACT to FILM has become part of her identity. She’s the type of person who advocates social issues, desires change in the world, is passionate about education, and has a great love for documentaries.
Though she believes her greatest achievement has yet to come, Northacker refuses to fail and is extremely proud of every REACT to FILM screening event she books through the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The most recent one, held on April 6, will screen the Academy Award winning documentary “Searching for Sugar Man.”
“It is quite challenging to plan a 400 person film screening event at the MoMA in a month time and to make sure it is a huge success,” she said. “The night of when everything is running as planned is my sign that I did a great job.”
Many of REACT to FILM’s documentaries have touched Northacker deeply, though nothing has affected her as strongly as “The House I Live In.”
This Sundance favorite captures heartbreaking stories from individuals at all levels of America’s War on Drugs. The documentary is a penetrating look inside the United States’ longest war, and a portrait revealing the profound human rights implications of the country’s drug policy.
“The War on Drugs in society is something that isn’t talk about enough. Most people don’t understand the vicious cycle of drug abuse, drug selling, and prison time for drug dealers/users that goes on in our culture,” said Northacker. “It’s too taboo to talk about. Our society is so eager to point the finger at drug dealers and drug users, but refuses to understand what the real problems are. Such as drug addiction, low socio-economic status, lack of prisoner rehabilitation. Why doesn’t America help those who are living with drug addiction? Why doesn’t America help prior convicts become better citizens in society to give them another chance at life? These are topics that are talked about in the film in a very personal way, which is why I love it so much.”
Northacker has big goals for REACT to FILM, including developing a college curricula to bring the College Action Network into college classrooms. Currently, she’s working closely with Graham in hopes that within a few short years, the organization will be in over 100 colleges and 1,000 high schools across the United States.
Though her work life isn’t the only thing that’s taking off, as Northacker is also taking her first steps into fiscal and emotional independence. Recently, she’s moved out of her parent’s home on Long Island and into an apartment in Brooklyn. As she hits her one year anniversary since graduating, Northacker is excited to embark on the adventure that is the beginning of her adult life.
“Adulthood is a new freedom that you can’t understand till you get there, but when you do, it’s incredibly amazing.”
As discussed in the documentary Food Inc., every grocery store is a haven for food product monopolies. Companies like PepsiCo, which owns the potato chip brand Frito-Lay and sugary drinks like Pepsi Cola and Gatorade, have stake in all levels.
There are many skills from working as a Social Media intern that I find myself using in my daily life.
For one thing, I find myself using #hashtags and @tagging more in my pedestrian social media life. This has helped me share my articles and work with people all over the social media space, showing just how helpful it can be to spread the word.
However, as Managing Editor of The Ticker, I am responsible for the paper’s social media presence. With that said, using things like tagging has allows us to expand our reach by 30% this semester. We’ve already hit 1K followers on Twitter, as well.
But as millions of people create content each day, how does one find the best and use social media to engage a larger user base? This is something that REACT to FILM has been working on improving, and being a part of that process has been incredibly exciting.
This week on the RtF blog, I shared why I work for React to Film.
“Every retweet, like and share leads to more eyes being opened, and the inspiration for others to help change the world.”
My favorite RtF films are Miss Representation, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, and Electoral Dysfunction.
As Jackie works on revamping REACT to FILM’s social media method, Dahlia has given us goals to hit for our Facebook followers:
5000 likes by end of spring semester (May)
7500 likes by end of Summer 2013
10,000 likes by end of Fall 2013 semester
20,000 likes by end of Summer 2014
Though I won’t be with REACT to FILM pass May, the Facebook page is creeping up to its 4,000th like. I hope we can hit these goals by the time my internship is over.
A war is not just fought on the battlefield, as issues spill over onto the lives of civilians and among those fighting. This week, my blog for REACT to FILM focuses on two movies that handle war going on off the combat zone and into the tents of soldiers and homes of civilians.
REACT to FILM News: The War on the Home Front
What responsibility does a government have to its people?
This week, my REACT to FILM blog takes a look on how a country’s government responds to its issues ranging from voting to national disasters through Electoral Dysfunction and The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom.
REACT to FILM News: Taking Political Responsibility