Producing a non-profit film can be difficult because the work is so important. There’s a looming social/humanitarian/environmental problem and taking a chance on a film production isn’t always in the cards. Also, words like “capital” and “budget” tend to complicate the matter, too.
Filmmaking is an act of courage, a leap of faith, no matter what role you play in its production. It takes vulnerability and strength to believe all of these pieces will come together and make something that’s good, not to mention something that actually connects with people.
It’s very hard to tell what makes a film great. Students spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to learn the secret. Critics write hundreds of thousands of words trying to explain it. And still, it usually remains a mystery. But we had a revelation recently while talking to Diego Contreras about his “Unimpossible Missions” series for GE, an ad campaign meant to show off GE’s ingenuity by accomplishing seemingly impossible tasks. What makes Diego’s work great is how he invests a staggering amount of meaning into even the smallest details of his films. There is nothing trivial in his work. Even the snowballs have backstories.
The Oscar-nominated Body Team 12 would be a sci-fi horror film if not for the fact that it really happened. The short documentary follows the eponymous Liberian body team tasked with the most grueling job in the fight against Ebola: collecting its victims. Their work was dangerous and controversial; but more than anything, it was heroic.
Hazuki Aikawa makes films that might make you uncomfortable. They tackle subjects that confront norms and may make you squirm in your seat. When a tsunami hit Japan in 2011, she made a series of experimental films encouraging people to listen to the sounds of the carnage. Her work is always provocative. And for good reason. Hazuki is not only challenging our preconceptions and biases ⎯ she’s also challenging her own.
It’s easy to make charity films the wrong way. Low budget, heavy handed, cliché ridden, predictable. If they work at all, it’s because they shame us into caring. But that’s the old way of doing things. At least according to Stefan Hunt, whose cause-based films rival Wes Anderson’s for their playfulness, spontaneity, beauty, and fun. They’re great films regardless of the cause they’re promoting. Many of them have won Vimeo Staff Picks. For Stefan, creativity and storytelling are just as important as educating people on an issue. “I want to inspire people to help, not guilt them into helping,” Stefan told us.
You don’t need a reason to make films, but it helps. Case in point: Paul Pryor, director and cinematographer best known for his work with TOMS Shoes, Charity: Water, and The Adventure Project. Paul makes films for a very simple reason: to help people. His work has helped raise awareness and funds for some of the most important issues facing our world today. (Thanks, Paul!)
There are two stories behind every photograph: the story of what was being captured, and the story of capturing it. Tales by Light, now streaming on Netflix, focuses on the latter, documenting the wild, often perilous journeys of world-class photographers as they create their spectacular images.
Lately, there is a movement toward highly constructed, pristinely executed “nonfiction” films. These films capture real people, real places, and real stories with a heavy imposition of cinematic techniques. If you talk to these directors, they freely admit to directing events, doing multiple takes of supposedly spontaneous moments, and generally making up stuff. But then there are directors like Elizabeth Lo, an NYU grad who’s pushing her work in the opposite direction: messier, less narrative-driven, raw. Her films have been featured in Sundance Film Festival, Short of the Week and she’s been named as one of the ’25 New Faces of Independent Film’ by Filmmaker Magazine.