Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pink Ribbons, Inc.

Pink Ribbons, Inc.

As a filmmaker, one of the things you end up asking yourself all the time is "how long is this movie?" And it's also one of the questions other people ask YOU all the time. I've been working on a documentary for a while now, and it's probably in the top five of questions I get asked. Number one, incidentally, is "when will the movie be finished."

The answer to both is similar. It'll be done when it's done. And it'll be as long as it should be.

Stories have a length, and a rhythm. And almost always, films are too long. Especially documentaries. There are a lot of reasons, and I've fallen victim to them all. I'm probably still doing some of these things, so I'm not saying this out of some sort of "I'm better than this" impulse. I'm saying it as somebody who struggles with the exact same things.

Pink Ribbons, Inc. is too long. Which is a hard thing to say, because there's nothing in it that isn't important. The pacing isn't even all that slow, though it is a nice leisurely pace. The problem is that at 98 minutes, absolutely no one is going to see this movie that doesn't already know the contents of it. The message they are trying to get across and who they seem to be trying to speak to aren't the audience for the film.

The audience for a feature length documentary on this subject are people who are already upset about pinkwashing, who already understand the hypocrisy in most Breast Cancer foundations and marketing. And that's the heart of the problem here. I'm not even that involved in the subject or that invested, and there wasn't a single piece of new information in the film for me.

It was packaged well, shot well, and edited well. The graphics were consistent and done nicely. The film used a great device to divide up the different topics covered, by repeatedly going back to visit various charity "walks" and fundraisers and talk with participants about why they were walking and what challenges they were facing.

But I couldn't figure out what it's purpose was. I had a bit of the same problem with the book, which I had thought I would enjoy reading. But it was obviously a thesis paper that was expanded into a book, and the writing was a little dry and a bit hard to crack into for me. And for this kind of topic, that's just not going to make the impact. The reason breast cancer charities can do so many immoral things is because they're so very, very good at speaking in a simple, common language that encourages people of all ages and education levels to get involved and support them. If you want to expose their problems, you have to speak to the same audience just as well, or better, than the charity themselves. The book didn't accomplish that.

I feel like the movie was an attempt to do it, and like I said, there's no one place where they fail. They actually do manage to explore the difficult topics in ways that are accessible. But who is going to watch it, in the end? People who walk in the fundraisers aren't going to seek this film out, and if they come across it the first thing they'll think is "why would I spend 90 minutes of my life being told I'm wrong and part of the problem?"

The trailer for the film actually was extremely well done. It touched on the various topics quickly, and was this great little snippet to really make people think and possible make them want to research the topic more. If you pulled out any one segment of the finished documentary, I think it could do the same thing. There were several graphic moments about the marketing of breast cancer themed products that I think should be made into PSAs immediately.

In the end, the film is fine. It's even good. But since it offered nothing really new to people who are already even vaguely on their side, I can only assume the intended audience was people who don't know any of this information. And I don't think that those people are going to watch a feature length documentary, I don't think they'll even get through the first thirty minutes. If the filmmakers are planning an action campaign, or if this was intended as part of an action campaign, I think the best thing to do would be to start breaking out portions of the film and making shorter sections that are available online through YouTube or Vimeo, something embeddable. Then start encouraging different websites to blog about them, and at the end of each video you can say, "if you want to see everything, then watch the film."

Because it is all important, and it is well presented if you're wanting to reach a new audience with these facts. But how do you get that new audience? That's the question. I'm hoping the filmmakers have already thought about this and are working on it. Or that those who participated in the film are. Because in the end, we as filmmakers have to remember not to preach to the choir.