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More than just a good film: The documentaries changing our national conversation

30 September 2019 at 8:31 am
Maggie Coggan
Malinda Wink has had a lot of experience across a lot of different sectors. But it’s her work in social impact documentaries that is changing lives, policy and community behaviour. She’s this week’s Changemaker.

Maggie Coggan | 30 September 2019 at 8:31 am


More than just a good film: The documentaries changing our national conversation
30 September 2019 at 8:31 am

Malinda Wink has had a lot of experience across a lot of different sectors. But it’s her work in social impact documentaries that is changing lives, policy and community behaviour. She’s this week’s Changemaker.    

Film is a medium that brings people of all walks of life together.  

As one of the founding directors of Good Pitch Australia and the Shark Island Institute, Wink has used film, specifically documentaries, as a means to amplify some of society’s most pressing issues, to change attitudes, and even to redirect government policy. 

Since 2014, over $14 million in philanthropic grants has been raised by Good Pitch for 19 social impact documentaries and their social impact campaigns, with films such as Gayby Baby, That Sugar Film, and 2040, being some of the more well known productions. 

With Wink’s career spanning across the banking, political and philanthropy sectors, it has equipped her with the skills to unite NGO and business sectors, education and policy leaders and the media through the social impact campaigns that accompany the documentaries.      

She is now looking to create impact through film on a global scale, moving into a new leadership role at Doc Society working on the global Good Pitch project, with a focus on the Asia Pacific and Latin America. 

Wink has also been recognised in the Australian Financial Review’s 100 Women of Influence and has most recently been awarded the B&T Women In Media – Social Changemaker Award.

In this week’s Changemaker, Wink discusses how a career in finance led to film, why documentaries are a tool for social change and her hope for the future. 

What drew you to social change documentaries? 

In 2008 I met Ian Darling, who at the time was releasing the film The Oasis, a documentary about youth homelessness that he co-directed alongside Sascha Ettinger Epstein. 

I had started working with The Caledonia Foundation, which had invested a considerable amount of money both in a national survey of homelessness and in The Oasis documentary. At the time, very little had been done at a strategic national level on youth homelessness since the Burdekin report was released in the 1980s. When The Oasis documentary film was broadcast on the ABC it reached over 1 million people. It sparked a national conversation and had a massive impact on elevating the issue and drawing the attention of politicians and other key decision makers to do something about it. 

What struck me, though, was the impact at a community level. The Oasis youth shelter is based in the gentrifying neighbourhood of Surry Hills. After the film broadcast on ABC, the community in Surry Hills started to realise the importance of the youth shelter. Whereas before we had seen some parts of that community fighting against it, after the film broadcast we saw a totally different response. They started investing in it and giving opportunities to the young people who were taking refuge at the shelter.

The documentary was an opportunity for people to really see the story behind the kids who were on the streets. It generated massive public empathy – we received an avalanche of letters of support from all over the country. The stories of those young people in the film shifted people’s opinion about what actually needed to be done for the issue to be fixed. That energy and groundswell reached Canberra, and the newly elected Labor government, led by Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tanya Plibersek and others, responded and made a massive government commitment towards homelessness. So while the report was an important piece of work, it was the documentary that moved hearts and minds and stirred people to action.

Did The Oasis documentary inspire you to start Good Pitch? 

Fast forward to 2013 and I was home after finishing my masters in public policy in Europe where I specialised in governance and democracy. I’d spent a couple of years thinking, studying and researching about institutional models and theories of change across a range of social justice issues. I caught up with Ian Darling who had always been a friend and mentor to me, and we started chatting about The Oasis and all that had been achieved. The Caledonia Foundation had supported the establishment of the Documentary Australia Foundation, but what was missing was the big strategic investment to support outstanding documentaries and the impact campaigns to shift the dial on a whole range of social justice issues that we cared about.

Ian told me to have a look at this Good Pitch model, and I was really excited about the idea. He was generous enough to back me as the founding executive director, and so began a pretty incredible chapter of my career.

Why do you think documentaries have become such an important way to elevate different social issues? 

The power of a Good Pitch project was to connect documentary filmmakers with a diversity of partnerships that could really elevate and project those documentaries to the world. Sometimes it was finding partners who could help us to reach the right audiences decision-makers or community members that could gain new insight into an issue, be persuaded to think or behave differently or respond to a problem in a different way as a result of seeing the films. No one thought about so-called “healthy food” and sugar in quite the same way after seeing That Sugar Film, for example.

Research has also shown that people are looking to documentaries as a way to provide in-depth insight and information on a range of issues. When the debate is so polarising, I think some of the best documentaries navigate the grey and discover a more profound truth somewhere in between.

Good Pitch Australia has found great success since it started in 2014, what would you put that down to? 

We’re ambitious and highly strategic. Our philanthropic partners responded to that ambition, supported us and gave us the tools and resources to really deliver. It wasn’t just the philanthropic partners it was the fusion of those documentaries with a diversity of partners NGOs, educators, corporates, policymakers, broadcasters… everybody has something entirely different to bring to the table. An NGO might have incredible expertise generated over 30 years of working on an issue. Their insight might help hone and craft the film and campaign, whereas someone else might have a network of 100,000 people who can then share and promote the documentary, while others might be able to contribute financial resources.

What would you say you want to achieve in your career?

Throughout my career I’ve had the privilege of working in a range of different arenas from international development to corporate, politics to philanthropy, and I’ve always searched for where I can have the greatest impact. What I learned was that in each one of those arenas you have very different tools at your disposal in terms of power or leverage or resources. 

What I love about the Good Pitch model is that it actually brings all those parties together and puts powerful documentary stories at the centre. The stories are the glue between them. The campaigns have proved time and time again what we all know to be true, that together we are actually more powerful. For me, working with documentaries and storytelling for social impact is exactly my sweet spot.

How would you say working in this space has changed your outlook on the world? 

It’s made me really hopeful for the future. Part of the joy in my job is that I meet the most incredible people in Australia, and then I get to connect them to each other. I believe that coordinating and building networks and a community of practice between storytellers, advocates and people who are actually working with great intention on improving things or changing them is enormously powerful.

You can definitely have dark days, especially when you start pondering the fragility of our democracy, and the existential crisis that is climate change, and the multitude of injustice that sits in our society. The hope for me is in knowing the great people who really have their shoulder to the wheel, working to change society, and being able to link arms with them.

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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