Showing the big picture: using films to end child marriage

Girls filming a music video in Zambia, 2015 © Maryam Mohsin, 2015

Films can make a huge impact. They can challenge you to think differently, show you a world you never knew existed, or put you in the shoes of somebody else.

Films can mobilise people to take action. They can empower individuals and communities. They can put a little or misunderstood issue under the spotlight. They can help hold governments to account. Films can educate and enlighten.

Many campaigning organisations, such as grassroots civil society organisations and international NGOs, use films for advocacy to encourage a change in a country’s policies, laws, as well as in people’s behaviours and attitudes. Storytelling through films is a powerful way to get influential people, such as policy makers, local communities, special rapporteurs, press or NGOs, on board. Films which are used for advocacy start at the screening, but aim to end with some kind of social change.

“Storytelling through films is a powerful way to get influential people on board.”

At Girls Not Brides we have worked with film producers to tell stories which echo our mission – building a world free of child marriage in which every girl has the opportunity to fulfil her potential.

Many Girls Not Brides members have told us they want to know more about the impact film can have and how to go about using them. Here we share some ways in which films can support your work.

Films can put a human face on the issue

What impact can a film have on advocacy efforts? Quite a substantial one when part of a wider advocacy strategy. Films can put the emotion and empathy back into a campaign. They remind us that the very people organisations work with are more than statistics– they have their own, unique stories.

A great example of this is Difret. Zeresenay Mehari’s drama recounts a game-changing legal case from the 90s that involved a 14-year-old girl named Hirut who pleaded self-defence after fatally shooting the man who had abducted and raped her.

In 2016, the team behind Difret partnered with Girls Not Brides USA, and a number of other organisations, to ask the US government to play its part to end child marriage. They handed in a petition with over 135,000 signatures to the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues with an aim to accelerate the launch of USAID’s Adolescent Girl Strategy, which they achieved.

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Films can start hard conversations

Child marriage is often a taboo within communities, so film screenings can help start sensitive conversations in a tactful way.

Films which are made in collaboration with local communities are particularly effective because they capture the challenges and realities people face, without judgement, and therefore resonate with local communities. Which was exactly what happened with Tall as the Baobab Tree.

Tall as the Baobab Tree follows Coumba’ story, a rebellious teenager, as she attempts to stop her younger sister’s marriage. The film has been screened in nearly 60 villages across Senegal and has been an effective conversation starter with young people and elders alike; a novel prospect for many locals, who often feel as if they are being lectured to and “corrected” for their views.

Films can help you fundraise

Films are a great way to fundraise for important causes, such as child marriage. Dukhtar is a great example of this.

The film tells the story of a mother in rural Pakistan who kidnaps her daughter to save her from a forced marriage. The film was used by A World at School to raise funds for a series of initiatives to keep girls in school in Pakistan. The film was backed by Gordon and Sarah Brown; the Global Youth Ambassadors for Education; Dukhtar film maker and human rights defender Samar Minallah and the lead actress, Samiya Mumtaz. A film with a powerful story can help people relate, and donate, to your cause.

How do I organise a film screening?

  • Decide what the objective of the film screening is: raising awareness, fundraising, advocacy etc.
  • Get in touch with the film producers and ask if you can do film screening
  • Find a good venue
  • Send out invites and get RSVPs
  • Use social media and your friends and networks to help get the word out about your film screening
  • Create promotional materials such as pictures and flyers you can post on twitter and Facebook
  • Invite a guest speaker who can give more background about the issue or help bring it to life
  • Ask the director or one of the actors to attend and take part in a Question & Answer session

 For more tips and ideas on how to use films for advocacy, check out “The Impact Guide: From Art to Impact”.