With a film premiering at the Cornwall Film Festival, a speaking engagement at the View from Here film festival in South Devon, and his own production company not yet a year old, it’s a busy time for Gareth Allen. We found out more about his ‘campaigning’ work, and asked ‘Can films change opinions?’
What’s your background in film?
I have a BA (Hons) in Communication Studies and a Post Graduate Diploma in Broadcast Journalism. After graduating I worked for ITV for 16 years in news and documentary. At the start of this year I set up my own production company, Sound View Media. I work for corporate clients and broadcasters. My clients include The Eden Project, Forum for the Future and Sustainability South West. Many of my films are ‘campaigning’ and two subjects which have been at the centre of that are sustainable development and disability. I sat on the ITV News Group Diversity Panel for four years, this group’s mission was to ensure ITV news included people from all backgrounds in its output.
I also make films in collaboration with friends and colleagues for competitions and festivals, our latest film is Discommunity written by a young screenwriter from Plymouth it will premiere at the Cornwall Film Festival.
Film can be a powerful medium but can it change opinions? Do you have any experience of opinions being changed through film?
It’s really hard to quantify and qualify how much films change opinion. You can gather anecdotal evidence but this usually amounts to if someone liked or disliked your efforts. I think that film can provoke, question and ask people to change but I’m not sure it can do it alone.
Has a film like the Age Of Stupid changed opinion about climate change, or does it just show people the way? Did Supersize Me stop people from eating McDonalds? Maybe they did, but how can you measure that? When the BBC first showed children starving in Cambodia millions of us reacted and sent money to the African nation. Was that opinion changing or awareness raising? If this powerful piece of film actually changed opinion, and all the things that followed like Live Aid, would the people of Cambodia still be struggling today? Perhaps film is one part of a combination of media ‘tools’ which help to inform and overtime change opinion.
I made a series for ITV called What On Earth fronted by Melinda Messenger, the programmes showed people ways of reducing their impact on the environment, I hope some viewers changed their ways! If one person changes is that worth it? I think that filmmakers should present evidence and facts and allow their audience to make up their mind. Would you rather watch a well-balanced argument which allows you to form your own opinion or a blatant piece of propaganda?
We’ll be discussing this subject at the View From Here Film Festival on Tuesday, December 1 from 7pm, at the Jolly Farmer in Newton Abbot, come and join us.
What role can film make in helping to create, define and reinforce a sense of community?
Everyone talks about how we need to build stronger communities and film represents an opportunity for people to come together and build relationships. Either through participation in filmmaking or through watching, film enables understanding and collaboration. Again I’d say it is just one tool in a very large box. I think if an audience can relate to the characters and situations they are presented with then it can help to reinforce a sense of the community in themselves. Broadcasters always strive to feature people like you and me in their programmes. It gives the viewer a sense of belonging. But filmmaking and defining community is a very small part of community itself.
Film activism seems to have been most effective on environmental issues. Why do you think that subject lends itself so much to the medium?
It would be interesting to measure what effect a film like The Age of Stupid has had had on its audience? And is that effect any different than a film like The Day After tomorrow? Same subject, different approach. The measurable effect of a film such as Franny Armstrong’s is bringing an issue like climate change to the forefront, but arguably a more mainstream film like The Day After Tomorrow reaches a much bigger audience. Is the Age Of Stupid preaching to the converted? Do the rest think it’s going to be boring so they go and get a big chunk of CGI from Holywood instead?
What, for you, makes the most effective, issue-led activist film?
Well-told, people-led stories presented in a balanced way. For every opinion there is always a counter and I think films should always present other views and let the audience decide what is right and what is wrong – don’t dictate that to them, who says your opinion is the right one.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Film is a fabulous medium for communicating views opinion and ideas – long may it stay that way. By the way I quite liked The Age Of Stupid, I went to the premier and enjoyed watching Miliband squirm…
Gareth Allen, thank you
Find out more about the View from Here film festival