Forming your team and envisioning your program
These are the essential first steps. Gather a dedicated coordinating group together and reach for consensus on the goals, parameters and scope of the project. Having the support and sponsorship of our parish has been invaluable to our project from its inception.
Objectives and/or circumstances may dictate that showing films at your place of worship is your preferable option, particularly if educating parishioners and having an intra-parish conversation are chief goals. We decided to take the message into our community at large, and have found that doing so has led to a wider attendance and greater civic engagement than we would have realized had we hosted the program on church grounds. Our instinct was that some of our non-Christian/non-religious brothers and sisters might find a secular site more inviting, and that has turned out to be the case.
Partnering with a civic organization or local enterprise that can provide a free public space or share costs is a good way to keep expenditures down, and deepens community roots. Suggestions: A library, museum, school auditorium, art gallery, recreation center, fair trade retail store, etc. The facility should be accessible to differently-abled persons. We have enjoyed a very special, mutually beneficial relationship with our hosts, The Armory Center for the Arts, a distinguished gallery and a leading arts education institution in our area.
Film selection and acquisition
Previewing films for quality and content is an absolute necessity to ensure that the messages and information they present meet the standards you establish for your program. Always check a film’s total running time to make sure that it fits with your allotted time frame and leaves room for discussion afterwards.
The films we choose frequently require permission and licensing fees for public viewing over and above the purchase price of a home use DVD, regardless of whether or not an admission fee is charged. A film’s website will often include information regarding public screening requirements or a contact person to call or email. Some organizations offer a reduced “activist rate.” Documentaries currently in theatrical or cable distribution are rarely available for licensing. A list of the films we’ve presented and their website links is attached.
Community discussion and facilitation
Holding a facilitated post-film community discussion is an integral component of every event and requires a safe space for audience members to express the often intense feelings and emotions that our films generate. We find it helpful to establish a few basic guidelines for conversation, i.e. maintaining a respectful tone, encouraging dialogue rather than debate, practicing “active listening,” sharing the “air time,” etc.
Inviting filmmakers and local educators/activist leaders to speak on behalf of the film and its particular issues can make for a very special event. Presenters should be consulted beforehand to work out program details and remind them of the importance of helping the audience shift from a passive to interactive experience when the film ends. Ideally, organizers should be trained in methods of facilitation and prepared to take on the facilitator/moderator role when necessary.
We recommend that whenever possible screening organizers suggest current action items for audience members to take in support of positions the film advocates or in protest of injustices depicted therein. We often provide resource listings of topic-related websites and reading material where further information and action opportunities can be found.
Providing good picture and sound and clear, unobstructed sight lines to the screen is of utmost importance to the audience’s appreciation of the films’ content. Microphones for speakers and audience responses may or may not be necessary, depending on the acoustics in the room.
Schedule your screening in whatever way works best for your organization and audience. We hold ours on the second Thursday of every month from 7:00-9:00 pm. We believe that keeping to a set day and time has helped us build continuity and a base of regular participation from month to month.
Suggestions for spreading the word about your events: Recruit a graphic artist to design attractive flyers for distribution to local faith communities, college campuses, libraries, bookstores, etc.; submit articles for your church newsletter, alternative newspapers, public radio stations on-air announcements, blogs and websites of supporting organizations; create a website or Facebook page for your organization; keep an address book/listserve of participants’ email addresses for sending out notices; provide sign-in sheets at the event for first-timers and those with new contact info, and update your list between each event.
Providing refreshments makes audience members feel at home and creates an opportunity for conversation. Serving fair trade coffee, tea and snacks helps us promote the benefits of fair trade. Donations and inviting attendees to bring snack items can help defray cost.