New group aims to promote civic engagement through film

Can documentary screenings fuel activism and inspire college students to change the world?

According to one of the newest organizations on the Hill, REACT to FILM, it can. The Tufts chapter of REACT to FILM, spearheaded by senior Minyoung Song, is organized under the national organization of the same name. Its mission is “to promote social responsibility and spark civic engagement” in young people by showing inspiring documentaries on a variety of issues.

The films, chosen at the national level by a film selection board at REACT to FILM, are shown simultaneously at almost 50 college campuses across the nation.

There are three screenings every semester, and each covers a different topic meant to be discussed and followed up on after the screening, Song said.

“The intent of it is to create a national movement where people react to the same documentary, the same issue, at the same time,” Song said. “[Students can] go on Twitter, go on Facebook, go on all the social media and connect to each other and create a ‘buzz’ about the issue.”

Don Schechter, who teaches the Ex?College course “Making Movies,” said film is hugely effective in inspiring people to make a change.

“It’s complicated, but people believe what they see” he said. “Because people accept what they see and don’t take what they see with a grain of salt I think they are much more willing to go along with whatever that message is, than if it’s someone talking at them.”

Sophomore Emma Turner agreed that the films’ impact does not come to an end when the lights in the theater come on.

“By allowing an audience to experience the message, instead of just hearing the message, they can become a part of it,” she said. “Film is all about persuasion or manipulation of emotions to get you to feel something or experience something along with the actors. So either way you’re tied to what you’re seeing, and that would make someone want to bring more awareness to the issues.”

According to REACT to FILM Director of Educational Programs Dahlia Graham, the simultaneous screenings are a key point to rousing attention on the issues brought up by these documentaries.

“We can generate buzz around the film, around the issue and whatever action steps are related to the film,” she said. “By screening the film simultaneously nationwide, more people can take action and have the collective power to make a difference.”

Graham hopes that using social media will encourage cross?campus dialogue and help connect students with a common drive to make a change in the world around them.

“We have a Facebook, a Twitter, a Pinterest and an Instagram,” she said. “We’re hoping that people will start interacting more and more through social media” she said.

REACT to FILM’s Facebook and Twitter page — with over 4,000 likes and over 700 followers, respectively, at time of print — help keep their chapter schools up?to?date on news and upcoming films to be screened. Along with their website, these pages allow students to share their reactions to the films.

“They upload [their responses] to our Facebook page or email it to us,” Graham said. “We’re encouraging a variety of different reactions.”

Social media is the ideal way to spread ideas and get the word out, according to Schechter.

“It helps to encourage people to show up,” he said. “Half the battle is getting people to show up. Social media is a way for people with ideas or events to pressure their friends and their contacts — or encourage them — to show up, which I think is a really big step. This enables people to get a larger crowd that would be interested, that they don’t normally have contact with, who may have no idea but want to know more.”

REACT to FILM has a page for each film, accessible from their website, which provides exclusive clips relating to the screening, a quiz about the film and specific suggestions for how students can take action to combat the issue at hand.

With each documentary, they provide a variety of “Action Steps,” or ways to react to the film, to prompt students to create personal and community changes.

For example, after viewing the most recent presentation, “Let Fury Have the Hour,” the students were urged to “join the Arts Action Fund,” “host an event to help raise funds for the VH1 Save the Music Foundation” or “create your own branch of ‘The La Lutta Creative?Response Think?Tank’ in your community.” These suggestions are posted on the website and raised in discussion at the events themselves, led by chapter leaders at each university.

Creativity and ideas springing from the students themselves, however, are always encouraged.

“Ultimately, we provide suggestions, but we want students to be inspired to take action in their own way,” Graham said. “We want to expose the students to the issue, engage them in a conversation around the issue and then inspire them to make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of others around them. How they do that is up to them, and we just provide some outlets and ideas.”

To get this conversation and activism going at Tufts, Song is working to expand REACT to FILM’s audience on campus.

“I contact departments that may be interested in the documentary issues, student organizations, other people that may have a stake in this issue,” she said.

Song and other chapter leaders are provided with promotional flyers and other means of support to help increase interest in this organization.

Though it is still in its beginning stages of growth, Song has great hopes for REACT to FILM’s impact on campus.

“It takes time for organizations to receive publicity,” she said. “Down the road, I envision that this will become a medium in which people will learn about issues that they would otherwise not have. There are mainstream films that people are attracted to, but people are less aware of documentaries.”