Mobile technology has made more of us film makers than at any other time in history. This amazing ability to record our lives has had a dramatic effect. From thirty second clips to reportage, smartphone videos have already changed the world. Of course, using the power of moving images to highlight issues is nothing new. Cinematic art has a long history of getting a grip on our emotions, too. To see how effective they’ve been, we’ve taken a look at some films, which made the world think, argue and ultimately, change.
Battleship Potemkin (1925) – Director: Sergei Eisenstein
A film that inspired pro-Bolshevik (later communist) sympathies, filmmaking techniques and even later artists like Francis Bacon. Eisenstein was a contradiction, wanting to make films for the ‘common man’ but also loving intellectual concepts. His use of montage was greatly inspired by his knowledge of Japanese and love of haiku.
The Jazz Singer (1927) – Director: Alan Crosland
Squeaky voices beware when the first commercial talkie appeared. Edison had already shown us the technology. The Jazz Singer netted a $3.5 million profit (the film cost $500,000) and made Warner Brothers the dominant voice in cinema it still is today. Film had a voice.
Gandhi’s first interview (1931)
In this tiny piece of film, we heard the man who prompted eventual Indian independence from British rule talking about being ‘…prepared to return to jail’ but not wearing ‘artificial’ European clothes to meet the King. When asked ‘Would you be prepared to die for India’s independence?’ he said quietly: ‘It is a bad question.
The Triumph of the Will (1935) – Director: Leni Riefenstahl
Riefenstahl was a slippery interviewee, claiming her Nuremberg rally film as too artistic for audiences. In reality, it was shown widely in schools and local halls and used manipulative emotive telephoto lens technology. Goebbels denied propaganda but called it a ‘Grand vision of our Fuhrer.’
Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967) Director: Stanley Kramer
Once insulted by a director in an audition, who told him that he was ‘just a dishwasher’ – Sidney Poitier became more determined to succeed. Morgan Freeman, who considered him a role model who paved the way for other black actors in the industry, called the handsome dignified star a ‘bright light.’
The China Syndrome (1979) – Director: James Bridges
Soon after the film’s release, there was a real accident at Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania. When once challenged if she was anti-nuclear, Jane Fonda simply said she was ‘… interested in the alternatives.’ Both film and incident prompted caution and discussion of all things nuclear.
The Times of Harvey Milk (1984) Director: Rob Epstein
Epstein stated that Milk ‘… understood his place in history.’ Milk’s killer Dan White was convicted of manslaughter and the term ‘Twinkie defense’ was born – referring to White’s consumption of junk food as evidence of his depression. Harvey Milk gave hope and pride to a generation of gay men and women; this documentary sealed his legacy.
Rosetta (1999) – Director: Luc Dardenne
Rosetta prompted the Belgian Government to change the law to award teenage workers minimum wage. When someone complained of nausea from the hand held camerawork, the director suggested ‘…see your doctor and ask for some motion sickness tablets, then go see the film.’
An Inconvenient Truth (2006) – Director: Davis Guggenheim
Al Gore bluntly told interviewers that George Bush had not wanted to see the film and that’s why he wrote the book that prompted it in the first place. He also aptly described political will as a renewable resource. Controversial, it opened up debate and action on climate change that continues today.
Your smartphone probably has a better video camera than the camera used in nearly half these examples. Surely then, it’s only a matter of time before smartphone documentaries join this list. A naive dream or perceptive insight? Let us know your opinions in the comments below.
Updated October 1, 2015 7:59 am