Movie and television directors, producers, and writers interested in saying something of substance to their audiences have often been confronted with a quote generally attributed to former studio head Jack Warner: “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.” Despite this adage’s implication that films and TV programs should avoid the political and stick to entertaining (and make their studios and networks gobs of money), a number of movies and TV shows over the years have dealt with vital issues and encouraged pro-social behavior.
Now—whether because of, or in response to, opportunities offered by newer media such as the Internet and cable television—a variety of untraditional film and documentary makers seek to do more than portray positive action on the screen. These companies and artists want to motivate their audiences to get better informed on their issues, volunteer to help the subjects of the movie or program, and even advocate for legislation that offers protection to victims and tries to right the wrongs portrayed.
Probably the most publicized of these filmmakers is former eBay president Jeff Skoll, who through his company Participant Productions has committed an estimated $100 million to co-financing and producing a slate of theatrical releases. These movies include An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s documentary on global warming released earlier this year, and the current Fast Food Nation, about a marketing expert’s odyssey to discover how his hamburger chain really makes its meat.