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DIFF: Panels on Making Films That Matter
by Anne Bothwell 1 Apr 2011

Making films that make a difference gets special attention this year at the Dallas International Film Festival. A trio of panels this weekend explore how film can promote social change. And a new $10,000 prize will go to one film in this year’s line-up that demonstrates a dedication to doing good.


Films have always played a role in raising awareness about social ills and injustice. But these days, some filmmakers are going farther than ever to create opportunities for their audiences to do something to solve the problem they’ve just learned about.

One example at the Dallas International Film Festival this year: More to Live For, by James Chippendale and Noah Hutton. The doc follows three men in need of bone marrow transplants as they search for a match. And right after fest-goers watch it, they can get a quick cheek swab and be entered on the  International Bone Marrow Registry. The simple test is offered every time the film is screened.

This year the festival is paying special attention to  film projects that seek to promote social change.

Organizers have added a new prize: the Silver Heart Award acknowledges dedication to fighting injustice or creating social change for the improvement of humanity. Nine films in the festival are nominated, and the winner will receive a $10,000  from The Embrey Family Foundation.

And there’s a new series of three panels called FilmMatters about making and supporting films that spark change. They’re broken down into three topics:

  • Why messaging in movies can change the world – 11 a.m. Saturday, Festival Lounge at PM Gallery
  • What type of film will best reach your audience – 1 p.m. Saturday, Festival Lounge at PM Gallery
  • How planned distribution impacts funding – 3 p.m. Sunday, Festival Lounge at PM Gallery.

I’m looking forward to moderating the “What” panel, which features a pretty amazing mix: Lauren Embrey, the president of the Embrey Family Foundation, has supported several film projects related to human rights, including Playground, about the sexual exploitation of children in America. Brian Malone is a filmmaker (Intelligent Life) from Colorado whose work-in-progress  Middle Ground will be screened after the panel discussion.  Judith Helfand is a filmmaker (Blue Vinyl, Everything’s Cool) and co-founder of Chicken&Egg Pictures, which supports women filmmakers exploring social and environmental issues. There’s also Sahara Byrne of Cornell University who researches children’s habits on the web and why strategies designed to keep them safe often don’t work.  And Kathy Lo, who oversees program acquisitions for PBS.

The other two panels are equally intriguing.  Read more thorough descriptions here. They’ll all  be informative and lots of fun for anyone who supports the idea of making films with a message, mission or purpose. And especially intriguing for filmmakers on a mission, educators who use film in class, non-profit folks or those who have a cause or passion that might benefit from the attention a film could bring, or those of us who simply support the idea of making films with a message.

Hope to see you there.