Reacting to Film: Reflecting on a semester of documentary film

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.

About Caroline Albanese

Caroline Albanese's is a Journalism student at Baruch College, Class of 2013.

01. May 2013 by Caroline Albanese
Categories: Assignments, Independent Study Proposal, REACT to FILM | Comments Off on Reacting to Film: Reflecting on a semester of documentary film