Choir Practice & The Power Of Filmmaking
  • Friday, Nov. 11, 2022
AFM session panelists Elizabeth Haggard of Participant Media (l) and Jonathan Prince of PhilmCo Media (Dan Steinberg Photography/courtesy of AFM)

Is it better to avoid preaching to the choir or to listen to its members sing? That’s one of the figurative queries to emerge from a session--titled “When Films Change the World”--at the American Film Market (AFM), which wrapped earlier this week.

“When Films Change the World” panelist Danny Gabai, chief content officer, VICE Studios U.S., noted the importance of telling entertaining character-driven stories that have a better chance to reach a broader base. He affirmed you don’t want to just be preaching to the choir. VICE, he said, tries to reach out to as many people as possible to affect social change. Gabai cited Flee as an example, bringing a unique entertainment value to a major issue that many people often tune out--immigration and the plight of migrants seeking a better life.

Flee director Jonas Poher Rasmussen deploys layers of animation as a young man talks about his family fleeing war-torn Kabul, Afghanistan, in the 1980s. This marks the first time that the man--a childhood friend of Rasmussen who is speaking anonymously under the name Amin--has ever shared this story with others.  Flee went on to win over a broader audience and earned assorted honors, including three Oscar nominations earlier this year--for Best Documentary Feature, Best Animated Feature Film and Best International Feature Film.

Among the companies behind Flee were VICE, Participant and Neon. AFM session panelist Elizabeth Haggard, SVP of narrative film at Participant, said that Flee underscores Participant’s “entertainment first” and “filmmaker forward” approach which prioritizes the entertainment value of a project. She said there’s little to gain from being didactic and “preaching to the choir.”

Panelist Jonathan Prince, co-founder and president of PhilmCo Media, agreed about the entertainment and engagement factors being essential. But at the same time he noted that there are times when it makes sense to preach to the choir. Sometimes those in the proverbial choir are more inclined to take tangible action to address an injustice. Prince observed that while it’s great to raise awareness of a problem and generate empathy, more needs to be done. “Empathy is not enough,” he affirmed, adding, “We want the choir to watch our film and then take action.” Prince concluded, “I want the choir to stand up and sing.”

Robert Goldrich is an editor at

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