The 2016 U.S. presidential race represents a new age of politics. The surprising successes of Senator Bernie Sanders and business mogul Donald Trump are due to anti-establishment fervor. Traditional political parties have lost their appeal. More and more voters, especially the young, are rejecting the status quo.
We should not be surprised. Technological changes have revolutionized many aspects of our lives. Politics should not be any different. Social media, for example, is now part of the political landscape, often replacing the intensive house-to-house, face-to-face campaigning of previous elections.
Movies have also become a political tool. Militants are using the screen to get across their message. Civil society advocacy has moved from street protests to the silver screen.
At the recent International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights in Geneva, many films were shown on social-justice issues. Beyond mere documentaries or just transmitting information, they were made to appeal to emotions. The producers of these films made no pretense of objectivity. From ethical considerations of funding to the involvement of those being filmed, film-making has become an instrument of political activism.
Indeed, during the festival, short presentations by the producers of several films revealed a high level of sensitivity towards follow-up impact activities. The making of the movie was seen as part of a commitment to a cause. The film itself was seen as a part in a larger campaign.
Sanders and Trump appeal to voters’ emotions. They touch the raw nerves of disgruntled Americans. Similarly, advocacy films appeal to the viewers’ emotions. They are produced to inspire, to move the audience into action. While written words may contain a message, words do not affect us in the same way as the visual. In Marshall McLuhan’s terms, the printed page is cold, while the audio-visual is hot.
Several movies at the Geneva festival were affective and effective. Sophisticated producers made movies that were instrumental in overcoming political hurdles. A good example would be a marvelous presentation of the conflict between an oil company and nature advocates over Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The film was part of a larger campaign to stop the company from drilling in an area inhabited by mountain gorillas. While it is impossible to measure the direct impact of the movie on the political process, there is no question that there was a correlation between the movie’s success and the preservation of natural resources.
A new age of politics is here. Sanders and Trump have defied traditional politics. A new form of populism is also here with cinema playing an important part. Advocates are using technology to get their message across. Just as grass-root movements, civil society and armed non-state actors have become significant in international relations, militants have begun to use the cinema as a tool of communication to achieve political changes.