Media for Change

Media for Change

Leighton is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Miami University and a producer for TricksterFilms.

Date Posted: 
2011-09-20 14:50

Blog Series:

The Media for Change workshop held by Vision Maker Media brought to light many of the challenges facing both educators and independent producers today. However, there seems to be a disconnect between the needs and desires of educators, the model of the independent producer engaged in content creation for public television, and the shifting realities of funding and distribution. The needs and concerns are neither mutually exclusive nor insurmountable, and I think that what became apparent is the need for organizations like Vision Maker Media to engage essentially two kinds of documentary/media making, those on a smaller scale, and those on a larger scale. Furthermore, a shift in outreach and distribution models could facilitate both endeavors. 


First, the community-level, lower-cost model of content creation geared towards grassroots campaigns, youth education, and more specific topics that on their own may not garner a wide audience on traditional public television outlets should be supported. While such low budget media may not be viable for many independent producers to engage on a regular basis, it would involve more people (i.e. students and community members) in the creation and dissemination of shorter programming. Such programming could find wide audiences on the web, especially with the use of portals and the infrastructure of companies like Working Films discussed at the conference. Furthermore, based on the discussions at the Workshop, such programs could have a wide educational audience, especially if the content were free (or low cost) and included contextual, pedagogical materials. It would be a great way to directly connect indigenous communities with wider activist and academic networks, and bolster the profile of Vision Maker Media. Questions do arise, however, with more activist content given the constraints of CPB funding.

Second is not to forget that professional, independent indigenous filmmakers not employed full time with academic or arts institutions need to be encouraged and supported in their efforts to create high-impact documentaries and other content, and need to have at least some access to the resources required for such activities. These programs are meant to compete with other programs on national and international mediascapes, and US-based producers—when compared especially to their Canadian counterparts—have access to far fewer resources. Any funding contractions will lead to an even more disparate playing field in the global mediascape, and would constrain the overall goal of telling indigenous stories and countering long-held stereotypes on multiple fronts.   

The differences in these models for content creation became apparent in discussions with both the educators and the media makers, and the distinction needs to be kept clear, which it was often not in the discussions. Again, these models are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and synergies could be developed. But they are very different, with differing production expectations, costs, and outcomes.


Several things became clear at the workshop: K-12 educators need materials that conform to national educational outcome standards, and have little time to develop unique lesson plans. College-level educators would like more help in determining which content matches their curricular objectives, and while they may not need prefabricated lesson plans, they do need guidance. Many Native community members would like to create and integrate programs into local needs and concerns. Independent, professional producers often do not have the resources to dedicate to full-time outreach, and not all producers are full time educators or activists. Vision Maker Media has begun to address some of these concerns, but it was also noted that these efforts have only begun.

College educators could do much to lift the profile of Vision Maker Media content, including writing formal academic reviews, posting online blogs and reviews, and spreading the word to colleagues about Vision Maker Media’s Native programming. A space on the Vision Maker Media website for educator testimonials and interactions would be a great idea. One idea was to create a series of clips for classroom use, organized around a central topic or theme.  In theory, this seems like a good idea, but some artists and filmmakers may object to having their work disseminated in “clip” form.

Constraints: While the seemingly limitless possibilities for outreach and community engagement for high-impact programming were discussed, there are limits to resources available to independent producers for such activities, which are often removed from public television production budgets. Strategies to gain financial resources for such activities were discussed, but producers need constant guidance on this, something Vision Maker Media could facilitate. What also became apparent is that the price of acquiring high-impact content for many educational institutions is too high. Some suggestions, like a streaming subscription service, could be sustainable for both Vision Maker Media and its producers who rely on royalties, and it should be explored. Other models include lowering the “institutional” DVD price for individual educators who need to purchase media on their own but want to show programming in their classes.

Brief Recommendations for Vision Maker Media:

1. Develop a platform for community level engaged media, geared towards smaller series-based and web-based content/platforms

2. Maintain support of high-impact programming from independent Native producers

3. More directly link marketing of Vision Maker Media to the needs of educators, noting the significant differences between K-12 and higher education

4. Make a plea to college educators (especially) to help in raising the status and relevance of Vision Maker Media programming

5. Support high-impact content producers in outreach and community engagement activities

6. Act as more of a hub for activities, rather than directly maintaining or administering. That is, certain elements of outreach, and platforms/infrastructure for non-broadcast content, could be outsourced but overseen by Vision Maker Media, such as web portals for micro productions, and spaces for educators, media makers, and Vision Maker Media to connect for outreach and pedagogical purposes. This would also allow community activists to connect with programming more readily.

7. Consider any major change in outreach for programs that have been contracted for public television use and the issue of rights and clearances. This could be a constraint for the use of some programs in alternate platforms and lengths.

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