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Foster Care Doesn't End at Age 18

I’ve seen the magic that happens when a teen in foster care knows someone believes in her or him.

Each year about 30,000 young people who have been in foster care age out of the system, usually at age 18. While the number of children in foster care overall has declined in the past decade, the number leaving the system without a single safe and caring adult in their lives has skyrocketed. More than half leave foster care without their high school diplomas or GED. More than half experience homelessness in the first year of aging out. Less than 3 percent go on to higher education and of that number only 3 percent graduate with a four-year degree. More than 70 percent of the people in our prisons report having been in either foster care or homeless shelters. Young people who have formerly been in foster care have the highest rate of unemployment in the nation other than people with disabilities. This cycle of despair must be stopped now. We cannot afford to turn our backs on teens who have been through more than most people can imagine and expect them to create a productive, joyful life.

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A New Approach to Making Films That Matter

As documentaries are becoming more popular, filmmakers and funders alike must use data and resources to make films that tackle important social issues

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The number of documentary films being produced has exploded over the last 20 years. The Internet Movie Database shows an exponential increase, listing 1,860 documentary titles for 1991 and 16,886 for 2011. But while the audience for documentary film has dramatically expanded, competition within the marketplace of ideas has kept pace. Funding for documentaries has grown at less than half the rate of production, while funders, concerned with the issues, want to understand their investment’s social impact in more concrete terms.
A few social science researchers have stepped up to the plate and are analyzing the influence and social impact of film with varying success. The best of these have developed new methods for untangling direct connections between media consumption and audience response. They supplement traditional research tools, like surveys and focus groups, with an approach that includes applying sophisticated math, statistics, and machine learning to Big Data. By mining press coverage and social media activity surrounding a film’s release, researchers can gain insight into the manner in which a particular framing of a social issue spreads within, and even shifts, public discourse. In one example, researchers have shown that the use of gambling metaphors in the context of education in the 2010 documentary Waiting for “Superman” entered into the national consciousness through repeated use in mainstream media.
While this field is in its infancy, promising insights about audiences and the underlying relationships between media events and social issue outcomes are starting to emerge. This is good news for funders and filmmakers alike. Like digital video and low-cost editing software before it, this industry-shifting research provides valuable tools to help filmmakers hone their craft of creating impactful, moving stories.
Filmmakers who ignore analysis in a misguided fealty to some conception of artistic integrity are, consciously or unconsciously, placing their aesthetics above the issues they care about. They are also ignoring the first rule of a public speaking, “Know your audience.” Happily, many filmmakers are embracing and learning what they can from these emerging insights. They will be the leaders in a new age of filmmaking that is more influential than ever before.
Our wish for the future: For filmmakers and funders to have the data they need to create influential stories that educate and engage audiences on decisive social issues.

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Looking Under the Hood: Where Stories Meet Code

This idea of “looking under the hood” has become something I think about a great deal now when I’m thinking about who gets to tell stories.

When I first began my career in documentaries, I was excited because I felt like this was a job that meant never having to choose. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to be a scientist or a politician or a game ranger. Being in documentaries meant that I could spend time in all these worlds, and many others.

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