Hawthorn Lecture: But Does It Work? Film and Political Impact


Time: TUESDAY, March 3, 2020 | 5:00 – 6:30 PM

Location: The Place of Many Trees (Multipurpose Room), Liu Institute for Global Issues, 6476 NW Marine Drive, University of British Columbia, Vancouver


But Does It Work? Film and Political Impact

Under the pressures of neoliberal economic policies and right wing extremism, U.S. society is becoming increasingly unequal and undemocratic.  At the same time, since about the turn of the 21st century, the forces of political resistance have been growing.  This talk is one piece of a study of one particular node in an expanding network of progressive organizations, in this case a production company that makes films for the purpose of informing and inspiring grassroots political activism.  Here I take up one question that bedevils efforts to activate people through film and other media, the question of “impact.”

Often confronted with the charge that they are “preaching to the choir,” how do political filmmakers see their work as contributing to real change?  The case in point is a company called Brave New Films, based in Culver City, CA, and its just-released film about the  proliferation of strategies of voter suppression in the U.S.

(The film, which is called Suppressed:  The Fight to Vote, is 38 minutes long and is available for free on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03DGjnIkTdI.)



Sherry B. Ortner is a Distinguished Research Professor of Anthropology at UCLA. She received her A.B. from Bryn Mawr College, and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.  She has received numerous grants and fellowships, including awards from the National Science Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. She has done extensive ethnographic and historical research with the Sherpas of Nepal, and her final book on the Sherpas (Life and Death on Mt. Everest:  Sherpas and Himalayan Mountaineering) was awarded the J.I. Staley Prize for the best book in Anthropology (2004).  She has also conducted several major research projects in the U.S., including a study of her high school graduating class (New Jersey Dreaming:  Capital, Culture, and the Class of ’58), and a study of the world of independent film (Not Hollywood:  Independent Film at the Twilight of the American Dream).  In addition to her ethnographic work, she publishes regularly in the areas of social, cultural, and feminist theory.  Her current research project concerns the use of film in social activism.

All are welcome to join us for the event reception from 4:00 – 5:00 PM.