Doc-friendly organizations such as Britdoc now assess the potential “usefulness” of projects at development stage, supporting those most likely to make an impact and devising wider campaigns around them. Search cites Penny Woolcock’s recent documentary One Mile Away as an example. “Penny spent two years helping to negotiate a truce between the two biggest gangs in Birmingham, then making and releasing that film, getting it in front of urban audiences in other parts of the country so that they might start discussions in their communities about how they can reduce violence.” The film is credited with a drastic reduction in gang-related crime in Birmingham, says Search. “This wasn’t something Penny started off doing because she thought it would be a commercial success.”
Likewise, for all its self-centered gimmickry, Project Wild Thing’s mission to get kids off their tablets and into the woods is backed up by a “Wild Network” of 300 charities committed to tackling these issues, including the National Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. What could have been the flaw in the movie’s message has turned into an asset, via a campaign to get youngsters to “swap screen time for wild time”. So in theory, issue cinema is a more powerful tool than ever, and making more change than ever, with more backup than ever -- which means artistic merit is more important than ever, not less. To have a transformative effect, you still have to make a good film.