Variety’s Creative Conscience Symposium Celebrates Socially Conscious Filmmakers

“I took people on a vicarious journey,” documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock reminisced with the audience at Variety’s Creative Conscience Symposium Sunday at the Toronto Film Festival. “It created a lot of trust with the audience. And I think we’ve seen that audiences trust documentaries more now. They know you’re going to give them something valuable out of that truth.”

Social impact filmmaking was the topic of conversation with each filmmaker in attendance, having helped to create films that tackle critical social issues that motivate audiences to take action, be it through documentary or fiction storytelling.

Panelists included “Ivory Game” directors Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani, actor and documentary film festival organizer Gael García Bernal and Spurlock, director of “Rats” and executive producer on “The Eagle Huntress.”

The event was presented by Terra Mater Film Studios & Vulcan Productions.

“We made this film because we felt it might be able to help [counter the illegal selling of elephant tusks and the impending extinction of those animals],” Davidson stated plainly. “We’re both filmmakers first, before activists, but we still need to make movies that work. We made the decision early on to make this like a thriller because that’s exactly what it is. The truth of the situation very much mirrored the style of the film.”

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When it comes to making documentaries that take the filmmakers to dangerous places and situations, Bernal was quick to focus the attention on the people that are actually living these situations in real life.

“Metaphorically, [as filmmakers] we want to put our lives on the line,” he said. “It’s an act of faith – filmmaking. But this is nothing compared to the people that are there and doing the work.”

Bernal focused on the motivation of his own social pursuit as a filmmaker and explained that his approach is a very personal thing that he tries not to make the main factor when he picks a project. Instead, he prefers to involve himself socially with films by creating something like his traveling film festival Ambulante. “It’s easier to watch a documentary film than to make one,” he laughed.

Spurlock waxed poetic on the immediacy that documentaries lend to an audience, but considered the global impact of narratives as well, which he thinks can be equally measured.

“Using ‘Eagle Huntress’ as an example,” he said, “on the heels of finishing it, we made a deal with Fox Animation to make it as an animated feature. There’s a reach that documentaries can have that can be amplified by fiction. The two of them can play really nicely together.”

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