Written by Emily Verellen Strom

Last week, I attended a Summit hosted by The Reford Center at the Sundance Resort. One of the goals of the Summit was to think about messaging around climate change and how to build a successful outreach and engagement campaign for a climate-focused documentary.

One of the presentations that stuck with me from the Summit was by Matthew Nordan who outlined what is and isn’t working in our national climate discussion. He pointed out that terms like “climate change”, a focus on the “invisible hand” and dumb policies are certainly failing us. But, there are things that do work: heroes, good policies and infusing a sense of urgency into the discussion.

All of these successful strategies are important for filmmakers and impact producers to keep in mind when thinking about campaign strategy. Heroism, in particular, stood out to me as something that documentary film does incredibly well – tell the very personal and relatable stories of inspiring individuals and organizations that are making a real difference. Matthew also had us thinking about the different archetypes of heroism: The Mother Theresa type (silent, selfless volunteer), The Elon Musk/Richard Branson type (mold-breaking entrepreneur), The Malala Yousafzai type (brave, outspoken and unexpected), Cory Booker (dedicated public servant), etc.

In the climate movement, these heroes are everywhere. There are even entire organizations set up to focus on highlighting and supporting their work. Still, we don’t hear nearly enough about the “wins” they achieve every day. We need these stories because they infuse more hope and energy into this, and just about every other, long overdue social change. And, of course, documentary film and other digital storytelling is an incredible way to amplify those heroic stories. A few Fledgling grantees that have done just that come to mind: No Impact Man, Catching the Sun, The Island President, Bidder 70, and Gasland. They are a great reminder of the power of heroism and the importance of lifting up individuals and organizations to give us hope.

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