4 Film Projects That Are Inspiring Volunteering

Can a film still change the world? It’s a question that has been asked for generations, but one that is as relevant today as ever.

Fortunately, to make a real impact in the world, films no longer need to rely solely on scripts, camerawork or powerful performances to inspire audiences to become active. By using VolunteerMatch tools to connect their audiences to actions within local communities, film makers who want to make change can leverage a wide network of nonprofit organizations (including organizations they have no official relationship with).

The Soloist Puts Service for the Mentally Ill and Homeless on the Map

Earlier this year, VolunteerMatch partnered with Participant Media, the award-winning production team behind the film The Soloist, which tells the story of an L.A. journalist’s challenging relationship with a talented but mentally-ill homeless man.

Inspired by the film’s message, we worked with Participant to create a unique map of volunteer opportunities with organizations doing work in mental illness and housing areas.

The technology is a mash-up of Flash technology with our network of active opportunities, filtered for the causes the film maker cares about. Now, audience members who are inspired by the film can get connected with organizations that are making a difference. The result is perfect line from message (a great film), to inspiration (a fired up audience), to opportunities to get involved (the VolunteerMatch network, to real social change (organizations on the ground making a difference).

That’s what I call alignment. Powered by services and tools like VolunteerMatch, this combination of art, audience, and opportunity (that is, the opportunity to partner with organizations in local communities that are “on the ground”) is a powerful mixture.

Not every film producer has the resources of Participant Media, however. That’s because the more complex the integration with VolunteerMatch, the more likely it is that our fee-based VolunteerMatch Solutions team will be involved.

Enabling Civic Involvement on the Campaign Trail

Fortunately, our free VolunteerMatch SearchLite widget is being deployed by more and more producers as a low-cost/high-impact solution for immediate engagement.

Last year, Independent Lens, a project of ITVS, presented a series of documentary films in public broadcast channels to explore issues of democracy and voting in the run-up to the 2008 U.S. Presidential election.

As a way to complement the series’ message about the power of participating, the Independent Lens team built a page that talked about civic involvement as part of a healthy democracy. They also included SearchLite.

Not surprisingly, documentary films with uplifting messages about involvement are really the sweet spot for integrating with our network. For the producers of many of these, who often have little extra money, using SearchLite makes perfect sense.

Connecting Inspired Audiences with Extraordinary Service Opportunities

This year, a new documentary called The Way We Get By traces the story of three retirees in Maine who have become the primary welcoming party for tens of thousands of soldiers who have returned from overseas service in Iraq and Afghanistan. (You can read the story of one of these volunteers here.)

It’s an enormously touching film, and as its release date approaches, the producers will be putting SearchLite in place to channel the energy it produces. A nationwide broadcast of the film is also planned on PBS on Veterans Day, naturally.

SearchLite is also about to put in place on the Web site for another powerful documentary, The English Surgeon, an award-winning documentary film due out in the U.S. this fall. The film’s focus on the voluntary service in Ukraine of a highly respected UK doctor seems like a sure bet for a connection with opportunities to do skilled work for organizations and NGOs domestically and abroad.

All these films show the powerful trend of film makers doing more than just inspiring their audiences — they’re also empowering them. That’s something we hope is here to stay. What other ways are films encouraging and harness good will? Let us know.