Insights from a Master Storyteller

Feb 24, 2011 10:15 AM ET
New Year Baby.jpg

What Do You Stand For?

Cone launched its new agency speaker series last week with a presentation by filmmaker and activist Socheata Poeuv whose award-winning documentary, “New Year Baby,” resonated deeply with many of our staff.  New Year Baby, a film about the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia, begins with a stunning revelation about Poeuv’s family, survivors of the genocide, and takes us through a highly personal and poignant story as she visits Cambodia to learn more about her parents’ past. 

When Poeuv spoke to us after the screening, she focused less on the plot of the movie and her animated family and more on the storytelling techniques she employed, which made for a riveting film that both educated and inspired its viewers.  A few of the lessons she shared struck me as universal truths for any cause-related video, whether a 30-second spot or a full-length documentary:

  1. Showcase the “at stake.” This is the heavy, consequential implication of the issue you are facing.  It may innately be personal – in Poeuv’s case, the role of the Khmer Rouge in redrawing her family tree – but it should be told in a way that’s universal, to ensure it resonates with every viewer.

  2. Ensure an ebb and flow of tension and relief. A moment of humor or a change in perspective is a courtesy to viewers to make sure they don’t drown in the heavy moments of your video. The issues at stake are grave, but the seriousness of the message won’t necessarily be lost with a moment of levity.  In fact, audiences need, and often respond to, lighthearted moments, too.  Releasing built-up tension can help your audience better absorb the gravity of the situation without being overwhelmed.

  3. Provide a resolution. In “New Year Baby,” the resolution was Poeuv and her family’s return to their home in the United States. It signaled they learned something deeply unsettling about the past, but still have hope for the future. No matter the issue, what a critical, uplifting and persuasive message to leave with an audience:  there is hope for the future, and by the way, here’s how you can get involved.

Has your organization told a compelling story about your cause using video? Consider entering it into the DoGooder Nonprofit Video Awards taking place now on YouTube.

- Sarah Kerkian, Insights Supervisor, @sarahkerkian