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May 21, 2023

How films can change the world

by Jessica Cohen

Movies are cool, right? Whether you’re a cinephile or not, almost everyone has a favorite film or two. Good films are generally entertaining, enjoyable, transporting, and the list of adjectives goes on and depends on the film. I personally don’t have a favorite film of all time, per se, but Tick, Tick…Boom! (2021) will always have a special place in my heart. Entertaining? Check. Enjoyable? Check. Transporting? Check. Films may seem like simply a form of entertainment, but they are so much more. They have the power to deeply impact audiences and even change the world.

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I recently did an essay for a school project on how films, specifically non-documentary films, can change audiences and society, but I won’t bore you with every statistic I’ve found. Rather, I’ll give you a few examples of this so you can understand if you’re not yet convinced. Bambi (1942) significantly reduced the number of deer hunters in the United States, and the “Bambi effect” was named after the movie! Jaws (1995) caused beach attendance to drop and shark hunting to increase. Philadelphia (1993) pushed the HIV/AIDS epidemic to the forefront of many conversations and helped audiences empathize more greatly with those who had been affected by it. These are just three of hundreds of thousands of films; imagine collectively what this medium is capable of accomplishing.

I’ll use a more modern example many will be familiar with: Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022). Yes, it’s a really entertaining, really enjoyable, really transporting multiverse film with great acting, costumes, cinematography, etc. (It won seven Academy Awards as well, not too shabby). Yet there’s something about it that has deeply impacted audiences. For me personally, this stems from the line “Nothing matters.” There is a key theme of nihilism in this film. We as the audience can take the phrase “nothing matters” in a negative way––what’s the point of anything?––or in a positive way––the universe is inherently absurd, and therefore I feel free to live however makes me happy––which is the ultimate message of this film. Reading reviews, I’ve noticed how many people have been affected by this theme, and how liberating a film like this can be. Films don’t have to end wars or solve world hunger to be meaningful; in fact, some of the best films can urge audiences to think deeply about their own lives.

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Films also don’t have to be “mainstream” to make a difference. There could be a film somewhere in the world that you haven’t yet discovered that will speak to you more than any blockbuster or Oscar winner. You might find it while scrolling Youtube or Vimeo, or at a local film festival (the BraveMaker film festival is July 13th to 16th! Be there!). This is why supporting local filmmakers is so important; their work could have a message or characters that speak to you and/or many others, and by helping to create the film you could very well be helping a future audience member watching it. All of this applies to short films as well. They can have just as much of an impact as feature films.

I’ve been a part of several films, most of them short, all of them ranging in tone, theme, etc. This Is Me (2019), a short film I was in, was written and directed by filmmaker Lydia Isnanto, is all about fighting the stigma that comes with mental health struggles. (This film introduced me to BraveMaker, as it was accepted into its first film fest!) I have a feeling that in the four years it’s been in the world, it has helped someone feel seen. It has helped assure someone that their struggles are valid and that there is nothing wrong with them. As I said previously, a film doesn’t have to change the course of human history to make a difference to people, or even one person. Personally, if I someday make a film that deeply affects even one person in a positive way, it will all be worth it.

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Okay, with all that being said, if you’re a filmmaker, don’t feel pressure to make a deep, emotional, aspiringly-world-changing film. If you feel passionate about a concept, do it. Apollo 10 ½ (2022), a feature film I’m a part of, is about growing up in Houston in 1969, inspired by our director Richard Linklater. Has it changed the world? Likely not. But is it fun, colorful, informative, nostalgic, and laid-back? In my humble opinion, yes. There is absolutely nothing wrong with simply having a good time watching a film and not coming away from it with a life-changing message. (It’s currently streaming on Netflix).

Films can have so much power in our society, and filmmakers should understand the power they yield. No matter if your film is a Jaws or an Apollo 10 ½ or something completely different, keep in mind that your film should ultimately be important to you.

So go bravely make it, and I’ll be watching for it.

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Jessica Cohen

Jessica B. Cohen (she/her) is an actress, writer, musician, singer, aspiring filmmaker, and all-around performer currently living in Austin, TX. She has written multiple screenplays, including a feature, short films, and TV episodes, and hopes to film something of her own in the near future. She won a B. Iden Payne award (excellence in Austin theater) in 2021 for "Best Original Song", and loves all things musical theater (she's currently working on a musical of her own). She has released a few songs on all streaming platforms, which you can look up under "Jessica Brynn Cohen". You can see her in Richard Linklater's Apollo 10 1/2, streaming on Netflix. As a BraveMaker intern, she is so grateful to be a part of its mission for justice, diversity, and inclusion. Follow her on instagram @Jessa.cohen!
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