Lights. Camera. Help. Plans To Showcase Quality Nonprofit Films

by Shannon Aronin on September 4th, 2010

Originally published on May 24, 2009.

Lights. Camera. Help. is a nonprofit film festival coming this summer that will feature the best of the best in the Films for a Cause Category.

Why do we love movies? They reach us, teach us, inspire us, make us laugh, and generally spark various emotional responses. While big budget Hollywood narratives with A List stars certainly have an advantage in doing this, by and large their primary goal is to entertain us for money. Other filmmakers use their art simply to tell a story and connect people. The nonprofit sector is so reliant on connecting people and generating emotional responses. This is a culture that recognizes the value of bringing people together to share experiences, to understand other people, to have empathy, and to appreciate and foster beauty in the world. It’s a natural home for idealistic filmmakers.

A few of those idealists, David J Neff, Aaron Bramley, and Rich Vazquez realized that nonprofit films are an unrecognized genre, one which runs the gamut from “amateur-ish” user generated content to feature length documentaries with celebrity narrators. With ever improving technology and resulting increased access to filmmaking tools, more and more nonprofits are producing videos. A few are even doing it exceptionally well. Lights. Camera. Help. was born from a desire to recognize the best. Taking note of nonprofit films that are doing a good job using this medium will allow them to have greater visibility, benefitting the deserving organization by spreading their message. They will also serve as an example to other organizations, thus improving the field as a whole and establishing benchmarks and standards of what the best look like. It identifies best practices in nonprofit filmmaking. Finally, it is important to keep talented passionate nonprofit filmmakers happy so they don’t give up and start exclusively producing 30-second laundry detergent spots. Many of them are freelancers and so their work, their art, is rarely celebrated beyond a “thanks, nice job” from clients. Until now.

The nonprofit film genre possesses a few broad characteristics.

It must be truthful. Like a documentary, a nonprofit film must illustrate their subjects in a life-like way.
It should be powerful enough to make us care. Nonprofits have limited resources, so everything from local PSAs to feature length documentaries have to get the biggest bang for the buck.
It should tell a story and identify a hero. The “hero” could be a client, a nonprofit organization, a donor, or a volunteer for example.
It is mission driven and is produced with a purpose. A nonprofit video has a goal, or at least it should. That goal can be advocacy, awareness, fundraising, training or behavior modification. Anyone viewing a nonprofit film knows that the film has a purpose, but they will tolerate your “messaging” if you are engaging and interesting.
Lights. Camera. Help. is the world’s only nonprofit film festival. The festival was launched on April 30, 2009 with a submissions opening party “Real to Reality.” Attendees were excited about the submissions so far, but there is a great opportunity to expand the competition. Co-founder David Neff urges nonprofits to consider submitting their films, saying that “not participating is missing a huge opportunity for exposure. And it’s free. Missing out on free exposure plus a chance to recognize underpaid passionate workers is not something most nonprofits can afford to do in this economy.”

Films selected for the festival will be shown at the festival and featured on the Lights. Camera. Help. website. The jury prize winning film – the “Best Picture” – will also receive all net proceeds from the festival.

So, here’s the 411:

WHO: Any 501 (c)(3) nonprofit is welcome to submit a film of any length about their organization.

WHAT: Categories of film entries that will be accepted are PSAs, short documentary, long documentary, short narrative and long narrative. A Film Selection Jury will pre-screen all entries for eligibility.

WHEN: Submissions
 must be at the Lights. Camera. Help office by JUNE 30, 2009. The festival itself will kick-off on July 31, 2009. Stay tuned to the Lights. Camera. Help. website for more details.

HOW: Submission to the film festival is free and only requires that you submit your work on DVD along with the submission form you can find on the Lights. Camera. Help. website here.

And to all the aspiring Spielbergs with a cause, good luck!

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