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Jul 23, 2019

Visualising Compelling and Powerful Messages on Refugees and Displacement through Short Impact Documentaries

by Patrick Hazard

Norwegian Refugee Council/London International Documentary Festival and SOAS jointly host a one day workshop on:

Visualising Compelling and Powerful Messages on Refugees and Displacement through Short Impact Documentaries


Based on figures released in June 2018 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), by the end of 2017, an unprecedented 68.5 million have forcibly left their homes with at least 25.4 million having left their country of birth and therefore considered refugees. Over recent years, the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe has, in particular, generated attention among the public and in general, sources of information are predominantly derived from local and national media and campaigns. There are many displacement situations around the world that receive more coverage and awareness than others. In addition, protracted displacement which involves those who have sought refuge in host countries for decades can slip off the list of attention and become neglected.

NGOs and other international organisations involved in providing response and services to refugees and displaced populations are increasingly turning to visual products to bring the issues to the forefront, promote their work and share powerful and compelling messages across to various target audiences on a wide scale.  However, the direct voices of refugees themselves are not always easily or readily accessible often enough.

This challenge is recognised by organisations involved, particularly those on the ground who are in regular contact with displaced populations.  They witness first-hand the hardships refugees endure as well as the heartwarming, success stories encountered.  Such content needs to be developed into engaging visual products for widespread awareness raising among the general public, influencers, decision and policy makers.  Acknowledgment of this fact has therefore further raised demand for video and film production within the humanitarian and development sector.

At the same time, it is crucial to consider that film production can be highly costly and time intensive. Therefore engagement with and commissioning documentary producers and film makers requires well-thought through planning with a clear pathway from A to Z of the processes.  Sharp and key messages need to be adequately – and powerfully – translated onto the screen and into the hearts and minds of their audiences. New technology and democratised access to digital media have also impacted strategies that seek to heighten global awareness of refugee related issues. Such tools are integral to efforts seeking to inspire empathy, political engagement, social activism, donor funding and charitable giving.

Documentary film production for humanitarian and development actors therefore consists of two main objectives:

It can educate and raise awareness like few other forms of media, also serving as an evidence-based resource.

Through targeted content creation and messaging – in both feature and short films – and through the high viewership  it seeks to reach, it significantly contributes towards mobilising engagement, empathy and understanding as well as grassroots influence towards inspiring changes in perception and action.

The one day workshop will address the following issues:

  • Refugees in host countries; with a focus on Afghan refugees in Iran
  • Working with children – ethics, protection risks and security
  • Social impact documentary films
  • The working relationship between NGOs and filmmakers
  • Strategic planning and outreach for audience engagement
  • Impact measurement and empirical analysis


1. Raising awareness of key stakeholders – policy makers; donors and other actors from the humanitarian and development sector and the general public in the UK about:

  • The critical importance of providing essential services such as access to education for displaced children and best practice examples;
  • Voices from the displaced.

2. Enabling exchanges and discussions on the role of visualisation tools – such as video production that organisations can use to share information on the plight of refugees (how it can enable organisations to bring displaced/refugees’ voices to the forefront).

3. Examine experiences and best practice for ‘impact documentaries’ with particular attention to strategic planning, social media strategy, and impact assessment.

Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is an independent humanitarian organisation helping people forced to flee.  With headquarters in Oslo, Norway they work in 32 countries where they help save lives and rebuild futures.  NRC has been present in Iran since 2012 and implements projects in nine provinces.  Through their solid technical expertise and specific sectorial knowledge in education, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene, information, counselling and legal assistance, livelihoods and food security, they provide assistance to an increasing number of displaced Afghans in Iran and their host communities.  In 2018, their projects reached 74,834 individuals.


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