Sarah Mosses is a force to be reckoned with, and we here at Influence Film have been lucky enough to work with her on a number of occasions, including on our film of the month THEY WILL HAVE TO KILL US FIRST (the film is proudly supported by our affiliate Influence Film Features). One of the many passions we share with Sarah is bringing people together around documentary films, in fact she very aptly she named named her consultancy “Together Films.” So, we were excited to connect with her once again and learn more about her long history as a champion for the medium we love, and learn more about how we can support the brave musicians fighting to be heard in THEY WILL HAVE TO KILL US FIRST.
What is it that draws you to documentary film?
I’m extremely interested in the passion, power, and excitement of real experiences. Discovering characters who have lived through extraordinary moments, and are able to tell these stories in compelling ways to an audience.
What is your history with documentary? Is there a red thread that has followed you throughout your career?
My career in documentary started out with the incredible ladies at the BRITDOC Foundation; I started off working at the BRITDOC Festival way back in 2006 and then progressed up to Partnerships Manager working across the Good Pitch and BRITDOC Films Distribution slate. The projects that I worked across, such as Ping Pong and One Mile Away had strong links to social impact campaigns and the launch of the idea of an Impact Producer to support the release of these films. I loved creating new viewing experiences for audiences and bringing on partners to enable these campaigns. This followed me into setting up Together Films after I left. I now consult and mentor with various film Producers, Directors, Distributors, Exhibitors, Charities who are looking to reach new audiences. I don’t explicitly work with just socially minded content these days, but my bedrock was definitely in this area.
You work as a Producer and as an Impact Producer. Since impact production is an increasingly important aspect of documentary filmmaking, but at the same time is a rather new term for many, could you explain what it means to you and your work?
The term Impact Producer was devised when I was at BRITDOC to describe a very diverse and multidisciplinary person on the team who could support the film to ensure that it not only hit it’s commercial remit, but also delivered on the social capital possibilities. By this, did it move the audience to take some form of direct action, and if so, what action did we want them to take? Depending on the films needs this could include building up partnerships with charities who are working in your area (think Greenpeace if you film discusses climate change), through to brand engagement (for funding and reach), and advising on distribution plans to ensure that the right audiences see the film in the right place. What is crucial is both an awareness of film distribution and communications planning so that you can ensure the film is available where it can make the best change. And of course have an eye on costs and where you might be able to raise a budget to cover this extra work.
Can you tell us a bit about the impact campaign around THEY WILL HAVE TO KILL US FIRST Has there been any specific moment, achievement, or change that you are the most proud of?
When reviewing what could achieved with the release of this film, we were extremely focussed on ensuring that musicians who had experienced some form of censorship could be supported. We started by making sure to promote the albums released by the musicians featured in the film. With piracy at such a high, just buying an album by a censored artists can have a great effect. More importantly we felt compelled to support musicians in a more practical manner, so we launched the Music In Exile Fund, alongside our partners at Index on Censorship. After launching at the London Film Festival, we collected donations at screenings events and were able to grant the first fellowship to Smockey, a rapper from Burkina Faso, who had his music studio fire bombed by government supporters. The funds will help him rebuild part of his studio, and provide tangible support on tour engagements across Europe, in order to help sustain his work in his home territory and expand his reach to new audiences.
The fund will be launching as a stand alone charity in 2017, and aims to support multiple musicians each year.
What has been the primary conversation you have observed people are having around this film? Has it stirred up any strong opinions?
The film has started so many conversations, and it’s interesting to meet with audiences after each event to see what has touched them the most. It was saddening to hear that a lot of people didn’t realise that this had even happened in Mali – talk of Boko Haram and ISIS had populated the news, but the Mali situation hadn’t been covered as extensively. Most were shocked at the level of violence that had occurred in the country, and the fact that music had been suppressed. Many discussed their shock at a world without music and tried to contemplate what life could be like without radio, street musicians or gigs taking place.
Often after watching documentaries, people wonder what the one most important thing they can do is. What is this one thing you would recommend to someone after watching THEY WILL HAVE TO KILL US FIRST?
Our first priority would be to keep buying music. Go to your local record store and buy an album from a musician that you know has been persecuted. Songhoy Blues album ‘Music in Exile’ is an incredible debut and, we have released a Soundtrack album, which includes tracks from all the musicians featured in the film. If you are feeling more generous and would be interested in donating to the Music in Exile Fund then please email email@example.com to find out more.
What would your documentary playlist consist of?
The films I would recommend to watch alongside They Will Have To Kill Us First are Searching for Sugar Man, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, Finding Fela, and We Are Together.
THEY WILL HAVE TO KILL US FIRST is Influence Film Club’s featured films for October 2016. Each month Influence Film Club hand-picks one of our favorite docs as our club’s featured film to watch and discuss together. Throughout the month, starting with our newsletter and continuing on our website and social media we will extend the conversation by exploring the various issues touched on in the film, providing filmmaker interviews, suggesting ways to influence, and discussing documentaries in general – because after all, We Love Docs.
Interview by Isis Graham
Between having more than 200,000 followers on social media, holding the number one slot on Australian iTunes, and becoming second highest-grossing documentary with a theatrical release Down Under – our January documentary treat THAT SUGAR FILM has certainly hit its sweet spot. A list of successes like the above doesn’t come out of nowhere, it’s the result of a hard-working team empowering and challenging us from behind the scenes. Making us kick our sugar addiction and get hooked on THAT SUGAR FILM instead, Anna Kaplan plays an exciting role that is forming, shaping and increasingly becoming recognized within the world of documentary filmmaking: the Impact Producer. She is helping bring our film of the month to the world and orchestrate change and now we have the chance to bring her to you.
What is it that draws you to documentary film?
I studied broadcast journalism, but I was drawn to documentary because I always wanted to delve deeper into stories and follow them over a longer period than a news story allowed. I get really excited by bold, cinematic films that play with the form and push the boundaries, but at heart I’m a sucker for a good observational film that follows quirky characters doing inspiring or unconventional things. I love the way documentaries allow filmmakers to challenge the status quo and open the audience’s minds to ideas or issues by allowing them to connect emotionally with the film’s subjects.
What is your own history? Is there a red thread that has followed you throughout your career as a documentary producer and in other pursuits?
I’ve worked in documentary production for most of my career, starting out in the BBC’s documentary department in London, before moving to Australia where I started producing documentaries and short films independently and working with other producers in various production roles. I supplemented the paltry income I made from my own projects working on feature films, TV drama series, online and educational projects, but I always have a documentary passion project bubbling away. My work spans a broad range of topics, from ageing, family and motherhood to youth justice, crime, refugees, Aboriginal rights and female empowerment. The red threads would be social justice and ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I feel incredibly privileged to do this work and I get to meet and work with the most amazing people.
For That Sugar Film you work as an Impact Producer. Since this is an increasingly important roll among documentary film teams but at the same time is a rather new term for many, could you explain what your job looks like?
It’s a real mix and draws heavily on my existing skills base as a producer and project manager, such as writing, budgeting, scheduling, project management, content development, audience engagement, legals, grant writing, financial and narrative reporting and liaising with various stakeholders. But it has also required me to develop a new skill set across campaign strategy, corporate partnerships, social media marketing, non-traditional distribution and project evaluation. I’ve also had to learn to frame the outputs and success of the project in a way that ensures that our philanthropic donors and outreach partners are getting a return on their social investment.
That Sugar Film is loaded with bittersweet facts, but nevertheless is digestible because of its humorous approach. Why did you decide to go this way with the film and how does it influence the outreach?
I actually came on board once the film was finished, so I can’t take any credit for the accessibility of Damon and Nick’s (the producer) approach to the topic. From an outreach perspective, their stylistic and tonal approach was an absolute gift, as while the film is disseminating confronting information for most audience members, you come away empowered to make better decisions about your eating habits rather than feeling confused, angry and bleak about the future.
You have already been able to develop a huge fan base for the film. What is the next step?
We’re currently working on a range of engagement activities for schools here in Australia. We’re developing partnerships to allow us to launch our School Action Toolkit and That Sugar App in other countries. Another big focus for us is developing more resources for a range of settings, like kindergartens, workplaces and hospitals. We’ll also be campaigning for clearer food labeling and better regulation of marketing practices (especially with regard to kids).
After watching documentaries, people often feel moved to learn more, take action or get involved in some way. Is there anything that you recommend to those who feel inspired by That Sugar Film?
Absolutely! First and foremost, we want people to share the film, book and our Website/Facebook page with their friends and families. We also encourage all parents to approach their kids school (via the Principal or parents committee) offering to help arrange a screening of the film for the whole school community (doing it as a fundraiser is a great option). If they encounter resistance, then another tip is to approach the teacher who teaches the ‘health’ curriculum (here in Australia, it’s the Health & Physical Education teacher) and ask them to consider using the film in the classroom. We have a free download of our Study Guide which can be accessed by signing up to the schools mailing list.
Community screenings are great too and we have a community screening kit available to help screening hosts plan and promote their event (the Discussion Guide created by Influence Film is a great resource too!).
What are your 6 favorite documentaries of all times?
THAT SUGAR FILM is Influence Film Club’s featured film for January. Each month Influence Film Club hand-picks one of our favorite docs as our club’s featured film to watch and discuss together. Throughout the month, starting with our newsletter and continuing on our website and social media we will extend the conversation by exploring the various issues touched on in the film, providing filmmaker interviews, suggesting ways to Influence, and discussing documentaries in general – because after all, We Love Docs.
Interview by: Julia Bier