As the world shrinks, educating ourselves about critical global issues has become more important than ever. Documentary films tell important, often unknown stories and bring awareness to a wider audience, and are some of the best resources for information, inspiration and entertainment.
They have also become core elements and prompters of social issue campaigns. Indeed, the social impact aspect is what makes many documentaries now so successful.
The documentary “The Great Green Wall” exposed me to the African Union-led initiative of the same name to restore the Sahel region by growing an 8,000 km wall of trees, and the film is a key part of the awareness campaign about the project. I reviewed the film here. Similarly, one of the most notable documentaries from 2020 was the BAFTA-nominated and critically acclaimed film “The Social Dilemma”, which examined how the design of social media can nurture addiction, manipulate politics and spread conspiracy theories. The film is now part of a wider campaign to influence how social media technology is designed, regulated, and used. The #MeToo movement was in many ways driven by documentary filmmakers as well as journalists through films like Surviving R. Kelly, On The Record and Athlete A.
The ease of access to documentaries through streaming services will also likely more readily mobilise movements for social change and justice, revolutionising the world of social impact.
Indeed, it was my passion for documentary films which led me, together with Julian Henriques, to found Formation Films, an independent film and television production company in 1987. Through Formation Films, I produced several award-winning documentary films including Algeria: Women At War, about women who fought in the Algerian Revolution; The Sex Warriors & the Samurai, directed by Nick Deocampo from the Philippines; Rouch in Reverse, a film by Manthia Diawara on Jean Rouch, the father of ethnographic cinema; and Jungle Mix, directed by Alrick Reily in 1995 about three friends sharing their love for Jungle music. Just a few of the 50 + documentary films I produced from 1986 to 1995 before moving to feature film production. Many of the films have been used as campaign tools.
As a long standing BAFTA member, I have the privilege of watching a diverse range of documentaries. Outside of BAFTA, my source for many documentaries is Dogwoof, a documentary film company involved in film production and distribution. Founded by Andy Whittaker, the London-based company offers several award-winning and well-received documentaries with strong social impact. Explore their films by theme here. Netflix is my other streaming platform for compelling documentary series from around the world. Please do share your go-to streaming platform for documentary films.
Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing articles on some of the amazing documentary films I watched during the awards season earlier this year. Welcome your comments and recommendations of films I might have missed and would love to watch.
About Parminder Vir OBE
Parminder Vir OBE has dedicated herself to positively impacting and transforming lives through a professional career spanning 40 years in philanthropy, entrepreneurship, film and television production, arts and culture, and investment funding. She is the co-founder of the Support4AfricaSMEs campaign and The African Farmers Stories, launched in 2020. She served as the CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, based in Lagos, Nigeria from April 2014 to April 2019. Prior to joining the Foundation, Parminder has enjoyed a distinguished career as an awarding winning film and television producer and private equity investor in film and media.