Matthew Nisbet discusses the growing influence of documentary film and the various approaches of audience engagement campaigns in his post Recent Research on Impacts of Documentary Film on ScienceBlogs. He offers a preview into the forthcoming issue of a special issue of the journal Mass Communication & Society that he co-edited with American University colleague Patricia Aufderheide.
One of the three films discussed includes Working Films’ very own Blue Vinyl audience engagement campaign, where Nisbet and Aufderheide writes:
A very different approach was used by Judith Helfand and Dan Gold in Blue Vinyl, a documentary about the dangers of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a possible carcinogen that has been used in building materials, car interiors, children’s toys, and other vinyl products. The film was structured as a personal journey, with Helfand investigating the implications of her family’s choice to put vinyl siding on their Long Island suburban home. Helfand modeled herself as the average consumer, demonstrating the obstacles to discovering the implications and consequences of consumer choices. Her sometimes comical efforts to find answers to what should be simple questions and to find an alternative to vinyl siding reframed the issues from a narrow focus on consumer choice to a wider consideration of public health and public will. Helfand and Robert West, through their separate outreach organization Working Films, have supported a variety of constituencies inspired by the film to address PVC-related issues in their communities. For instance, Helfand and West have supported organizations that resist incinerators, which put dioxin in to the air. They have also worked with businesses to limit use of vinyl packaging. The film encourages people to become active citizens and informed consumers. The action campaigns that have emerged have done so because through the film, individuals across communities have discovered that they shared common problems, problems for which the film helped provide them a common vocabulary to articulate their interests and concerns.