Screening Social Justice: Brave New Films and Documentary Activism

Duke Univ. Mar. 2023. 160p. ISBN 9781478019510. pap. $23.95. FILM
Ortner (anthropology, UCLA; Not Hollywood: Independent Film at the Twilight of the American Dream) turns to the subject of film in this fascinating ethnographic study of a nonprofit production company. Brave New Films creates documentaries and videos that highlight social justice issues, such as economic inequity, immigration, and mass incarceration. Several of Brave New Films’ documentaries are free to watch on YouTube, but the production company also conveys its message through public screenings, social media, and grassroots activism. Along with interviews with the production company’s staff and screening participants, Ortner provides extensive research on the history of activist documentary filmmaking. The book’s compelling exploration of the documentary Suppressed: The Fight To Vote reveals how it evokes various emotions during a film screening and examines its call to action. Ortner’s deep dive is so effective in describing the film’s storytelling method that it may inspire readers to seek out Suppressed and other Brave New Films works.
VERDICT While readers studying film will likely devour this book, non-academic readers may find the research portions a bit dry. However, if they push through, they will find its information, and its filmography of every title mentioned throughout the book, worth their effort.
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