Drama vs documentary

For the last couple of weeks I have been working with some film-makers to design a campaign to accompany a feature film (drama, not documentary). The idea being that when the film gets a cinematic release next year, the campaign will be launched alongside it and cinema audiences will be motivated to add their support.

This got me thinking about the use of film in campaigning, and particularly drama. I’ve worked on many campaigns that have involved the use of documentary footage, which can be a powerful testimony, but doesn’t do that much to bring new campaigners to the issue (surely if you’re prepared to seek out a documentary on an issue you must be pretty interested in the first place?). And let’s be honest, there are some fascinating documentaries out there but many more are preachy or resort to scaremongering. Some are just too highbrow or plain boring, and very few are any good for appealing to the masses. Drama, on the other hand, could potentially reach a whole new audience. Good drama can be thought-provoking and conscience-pricking, and open people’s eyes to a problem they never knew existed.

I don’t know why more campaigns don’t make use of film and drama but I’ve been racking my brain to think of a recent example, to no avail. In 1966 the BBC broadcast Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home which was watched by over 12 million people. This was, coincidently, the same year at the charity Shelter was founded. Shelter have since said that “the film alerted the public, the media, and the government to the scale of the housing crisis, and Shelter gained many new supporters”. This is surely a ringing endorsement of the power of good drama, so why are there so used few today in campaigning?

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