The Documentary Australia Foundation is using the shared passion and common interests of philanthropy and documentary film making to build powerful partnerships that ignite social change.

There’s quite possibly no one with greater convictions about the power of film to effect social change than Documentary Australia Foundation CEO, Dr Mitzi Goldman.

“Increasingly, I think humanity is coming to a crisis point about how we participate meaningfully in our world,” says Goldman who has been a documentary film maker and educator for more than 30 years.

“I think that’s why the role of art is so critical today because it gives us a voice. It gives us a process; a way of thinking. It helps us reflect and share and then discuss the issue and build community through art.”

“When you see powerful stories on the screen it creates greater empathy and deeper connection with the issues. You are transported to another person’s world.”

Since 2008, the Documentary Australia Foundation (DAF), founded by philanthropist and documentary maker, Ian Darling, has served as a hub to connect documentary film makers and funders by brokering creative partnerships for social impact.

Using this model, DAF has facilitated the production of more than 200 documentaries with 612 films approved and $8.2 million in funds distributed in 788 grants.

The model has helped fill an important gap in the local documentary film making industry, Goldman explains.

“Traditionally, docos were made for public broadcasters,” she says. “That meant that funding mechanisms were in place with the ABC or SBS and the federal and state film funding agencies. As times have changed, documentary film makers have had to embrace the more commercial remit of our public broadcasters who, as part of the globalised TV market, prefer light, factual entertainment and formatted series. So where does that leave social issue documentaries?”

“Philanthropy is out there trying to make a difference in the world but a lot of the things that get funded are not very visible, so the question is how do you keep an issue in the public eye long enough to make significant long term change?”

“There’s such close alignment between both the documentary and philanthropic sectors in terms of passion and dedication to an issue and film can be used in so many different ways to keep a story alive within the community. As a conduit organisation, DAF has formed a safety net for both film makers and philanthropists. Our aim since the very beginning has been to make it easy for people to give their support, no matter what level that involvement might be.

“It’s not complicated, it’s not at all bureaucratic—the donor is engaged in something meaningful and receives a tax deduction for their gift; the film is supported with an uncomplicated grant and a new relationship.

“The process offers security to the donors and visibility to the projects that are available on our site,” Goldman continues.

“Film makers can run a crowdfunding campaign through our website that’s all tax deductible. Whatever comes in will be passed on to the film maker as opposed to an all or nothing funding scenario like Kickstarter.

“The internet has made it possible for film makers to have a direct, unmediated relationship with an audience even before anyone even funds them. That’s useful for donors, who can see what that community of interest is and whether there’s a shared message there.”

One of DAF’s biggest critical and commercial successes to date has been its inaugural film project I am a Girl, in which director Rebecca Barry captures the stories of six girls from across the world and explores themes of gender equity.

Helping to secure philanthropic involvement from the outset, DAF was able to supply $30,000 in seed funding to cover initial shooting costs and the production of a website and promotional trailer. After the film makers pursued traditional funding routes with no success, DAF redoubled its efforts and managed to find two donors willing to co-fund the production during a conversation at an Australian Women Donors Network event.

A broader partnership then developed with more than half a dozen funders including Intrepid Foundation, Thyne Reid Foundation, WeirAnderson Foundation and child sponsorship nonprofit, Plan, which could see powerful synergies with its own campaign “Because I am a girl.”

Each of the funders were instrumental in the film’s launch, using their combined networks to fill cinemas in Sydney and Melbourne where the film ran for six weeks, before heading to other cities across Australia. The size of the cinema viewing audience alone was estimated to be around 14,000 people.

“The success proved to the cinemas that there is an audience out there for these types of films,” Goldman says.

In terms of impact, the cinema screenings were just the start. The film has aired twice on ABC2 and is featured in the QANTAS inflight entertainment program. The “host a screening” option has seen the film play in community halls and lounge rooms across the country to support fundraising and community action across the globe. Engagement opportunities included providing postcards for viewers to write to the girls featured in the film.

Five curriculum guides for NSW and Victorian high schools have been developed and mapped for different subject areas with more than 1000 copies of the Education Toolkit downloaded from the website. Similar study guides for US students are currently in production.

A full impact report has been completed with 79 per cent of audience members who provided feedback indicating they thought I am a Girl would make people think, feel and behave differently about the issues raised in the film.

For Goldman, the success of I am a Girl and other DAF initiatives, such as last year’s wildly successful Good Pitch2 event held in partnership with Shark Island Institute, speak to the power of philanthropy and film making to spur social change.

“It’s so reaffirming,” Goldman says. “At Good Pitch2 we had more than 300 philanthropists at the Opera House pledging their support for the films that were being pitched.”

In 2015, DAF is working to create an annual screening program and membership model that will engage members at different levels and offer even more ways to be involved.

“The zeitgeist about acting locally about global issues is really empowering in a time when so many of us feel disempowered. For every idea, its time needs to come and I think the time for philanthropy and film making is now.”


To read more about Good Pitch2   held in Sydney in October 2014, head hereWatch the trailer for I am a Girl below.

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