For years, Teri Barila had tried to coax newspaper reporters in Walla Walla, Washington, to write about brain science, ACEs, and resilience. They didn’t bite.
Then, on a crisp December evening, 1600 people—many of them inspired by years of community organizing—crammed the town’s largest venue for a screening of Paper Tigers, James Redford’s documentary about the dramatic reboot of a local alternative school after its principal became an advocate of trauma-informed care. Suddenly, reporters and editors “were not only interested, but almost ecstatic over the story of the film,” Barila says. “There was such a diverse audience—not just education or law enforcement, but the entire community. That was a strong message.”
Paper Tigers is one of a handful of films that MARC communities and others have used to raise awareness, engage new partners, and help drive their efforts toward trauma-informed change. In Philadelphia, the ACE Task Force hosted a marathon double-feature of Paper Tigers and Professional Caregivers: Their Passion, Their Pain that included Skype interviews with the film-makers. In Kansas City, a community organizing campaign focused on health equity used The Raising of America: Early Childhood and the Future of our Nation to generate questions and energy.
MARC advisor Kathryn Evans Madden, who helped lead the Raising of America Kansas City Coalition, says that such films, when used effectively, should only be part of a community’s plan. “The goal is good organizing; the movie is just a tool,” she says. “You need to think about what you’re asking people to do: what is the key message, and how will you rope all that energy into a powerful next step?”