Most of us know from personal experience that films can be transformative.

The impact of a film like “Blackfish” shows just how powerful documentaries can be. And the growing realization of the influence that films can have on our behavior and beliefs is why companies like Participant Media are formally assessing the impact of different kinds of films.

As humane educators and changemakers, it’s vital that the strategies we choose are carefully selected to be effective and meaningful. Hosting a film screening is one consequential approach to inspiring and empowering others.

Hayley Ingman, a changemaker from British Columbia, Canada, director of EarthSave Whistler, and alum of our online courses hosts several movie screenings a year in her community to help educate people about global ethical issues and to inspire them to take positive action. She says, “In everything I’ve done so far I feel that this has the greatest reach. It may sound overwhelming at first, but it is really a case of bringing a few simple ideas together.”

Hayley kindly shared her tips for hosting a successful film screening:

1.    Find a documentary about your chosen topic. I find it is most effective to find one that ends with an inspiring message focused on solutions, rather than being all doom and gloom.

2.    Contact the documentary makers and find out how much screening rights are (some are free; some have a fee). If you cannot afford screening rights ask them if you can screen the film for free to bring the message to people. If not, look for a nonprofit in your area who shares common ground with your topic, and ask if they would be willing to sponsor a screening of the film (perhaps in return for having their literature and/or an information table at the movie). You can also get donations at the screening to help cover costs.

3.    Contact your local library or community centre to ask them about doing a movie screening. They may be willing to partner with you and help with the promotion. If you are doing it on behalf of a nonprofit they may let you use their space for free. Churches can be another free/cheap venue.

4.    Include a speaker for the movie if you know someone who would be a good fit (knowledgeable about the topic, an effective communicator, etc.). Having a speaker helps generate more interest in the event and also helps support you so that you aren’t the only one answering questions after the screening. This is especially helpful if you prefer not to do public speaking, as all you need to do is introduce the movie and the speaker. You can also ask the speaker to focus on a particular piece of the topic, such as positive solutions for making a difference.

5.    Promote the event. Here are a few examples from a recent Cowspiracy screening that I did. (I do the screenings through the nonprofit chapter I run, but you can definitely do it independently too.) You can …

Set up a Facebook event so that you can spread the word via social media and invite people to come. Ask those you invite to share the event page with their own circles.

If you have a blog or website, post a note about the movie there

If you look on the website of the documentary you’re showing (or contact them and ask), they will have tools and tips you can use to promote their film, such as a synopsis, images, posters, etc. (so you don’t even have to write much yourself if that isn’t your thing).

Create a press release or write a letter to your local paper so that they can promote the event. You can even publish a press release for free using a website like If you don’t have experience writing press releases there are a lot of useful resources on the web; you can also look at other press releases and get template ideas from them. Also, the library or community centre might be able to help you with this part.

6.    Submit details to the event listings of your local paper and any other relevant places (community calendars for like-minded organizations and websites, etc.).

7.    Create a poster, print copies, and put them up around town. Again, the library might be able to help you with these.

8.    On the night of your movie, set up a table with relevant books and leaflets. You can also put out leaflets on each of the chairs. I like to print out a small handout with further reading or relevant movies and put them on the chairs, too. A big sign out front to direct people to the screening room is also useful.

9.    Then all you need to do is welcome everyone, introduce the speaker, and show the movie. After the movie be sure to thank everyone for coming and try to leave them with a positive takeaway, such as some steps they can take to make a positive difference. You could even organise a small follow-up event if you have time. For our “Cowspiracy” screening I had organised a vegan potluck a week later, so that people who came to the movie could then come to the potluck and experience vegan food and learn more.

10.    After the movie you can write to the newspaper to thank everyone for coming, which reaches even more people with your message, sparks curiosity in those who didn’t come, and lets them know where they can view the movie themselves.

11.    Lastly you can donate the DVD to the library so that other people can borrow it.

These simple steps combined reach people in several different ways: the people who come to the movie screening; the people who read the paper or see your blog post or other promotion; and the people who talk about it to other people. The “Cowspiracy” screening went very well and had a packed house. There was a lot of positive feedback after the movie, and one person who came told me she raved about the film to at least 30 other people.

Film screenings are something that just one person can do. But there are often plenty of local people and organizations who would be happy to help. There are also national organizations like VegFund that are willing to support you in putting on a film screening and can even help subsidize you in offering free food samples at the event, as an added bonus.


Image via Benevolent Media/Flickr.