Dogwoof Film Distribution
Clearly someone has been doing their research. This is the second year in a row that London-based film distribution company Dogwoof has had cause to celebrate multiple nominations in the Best Documentary category at the annual Academy Awards.
This year’s accolades were earned by Burma VJ, directed by Anders Ostergaard, and Gasland by Josh Fox, two films that typify the Dogwoof recipe for success: international documentary films featuring visceral experiences of deeply personal, yet universally affecting, themes. This is the common thread that winds its way through all of the films they have chosen to promote and distribute, providing them with an impressive collection of works to their credit.
Dogwoof, founded in 2004 by Andy Whittaker, distributes films that aim to raise the public’s awareness of political, environmental, economic or societal problems. They cast a wide net, which has included films about the mass killing of dolphins in Taiji, Japan (The Cove) and the effects of overwork and underpay in Ethiopia’s coffee growing communities (Black Gold). It was the critical and commercial success of the latter of these documentaries that served as a shot in the arm for a company that was struggling to establish itself as an arthouse distributor.
Black Gold, a film by British brothers Marc and Nick Francis, is widely regarded as one of the major catalysts of the boom in fair-trade coffee. The documentary’s protagonist, Tadessse M, struggles to find a fair price for Ethiopian coffees in the international markets, which are driven by mercilessly low prices. The film was released in the UK in 2007, and it continues to have a direct impact on the price of Ethiopian coffee and the lives of its growers.
According to Anna Godas, CEO of Dogwoof, their experience with Black Gold was so rewarding that it made them reconsider how they wanted Dogwoof to move forward. ‘The whole team agreed that the experience had been great, it felt right and made sense, and that we wanted to do more of this. This is our niche, we love it.’ With no shortage of captivating stories to tell, and passionate filmmakers to work with, Dogwoof is evolving into the UK’s cinematic hub for progressive ideas and public awareness of global issues.
As if it weren’t enough to distribute some of the most successful social issue films of recent years, the company is looking at innovative ways to get their films onto screens and money in their till. They have introduced a programme called Goodwithfilm, which works with community ambassadors who organise local screenings while benefiting from Dogwoof’s national release campaign, publicity and marketing. Interestingly, the ambassadors get to keep a portion of ticket sales, providing an initiative to organise a large local audience.
Ms Godas describes Goodwithfilm as ‘a scheme for entrepreneurial-minded people who care about the issues in our films, can put up a good event, know how to promote it locally and are capable [of finding] the right partners and resources to do so. Our best ambassadors not only have a massive influence on spreading social impact, but also do very well out of these screenings’. She has hopes that the programme will expand into an international project, exposing new and diverse audiences to their films. The publicity campaigns of almost all the films that Dogwoof distributes are based around pulling individuals into the discourse of the film. These films are not created to serve as simple entertainment, but as a firm tap on the shoulder to direct your attention toward the crisis, disaster, or looming danger once the screening is over. Because at the core of all this is the fundamental belief that these films can be used as a tool for social change.
With the noble ambition of helping to chip away at social injustices far and wide, Dogwoof manages to be a profitable business as well, dispelling the myth that one must choose between one or the other. ‘We don’t share the view that being honest and transparent is at odds with being profitable. This is a rather old fashioned, black-or-white view that perpetuates the absurd notion that to make profit you have to be bad and to be good you can’t make profit’, Ms Godas asserts. The company has partnered various organisations such as the communications technology giant Cisco, multi-faceted consumer company The Co-operative, and human rights group Amnesty International. Dogwoof uses their help to strengthen their campaigns, whilst remaining within the boundaries of their ethical framework.
With an eye to the future, Dogwoof is building upon its successes and working with filmmakers to exploit the full benefits of the sinking ship that is traditional film distribution. They rely heavily on the combination of digital media and personal relationships they develop with those who create films, and those who watch them. By bringing these two sides of the equation together, they are able to better understand their audiences and put forth efficient and innovative campaigns that maximize the film experience for both groups.
Next up for Dogwoof is a film that explores conflict minerals used in mobile phones. It’s another issue that flies under the radar of the mainstream media but is having a devastating effect on the lives of people in the Congo. Minerals such as tantalum, tin and tungsten are being mined and sold to huge multi-national companies, and the profits are funding corruption, murder and rape in war-torn countries. This is the next important issue Dogwoof will be promoting as they raise awareness of both the film and the problems it scrutinises. And if their past is any indication of their future, this time next year Dogwoof will be celebrating another well-earned round of accolades for their success.