Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School Psychology


Sociologists have long recognized the important intersection of media coverage and social movements, but few have studied the unique role documentary films play in inspiring activism and disseminating the agendas of new social movements. With this in mind, I studied how political strategies and artistic expressions intersect within the documentary filmmaking industry. Drawing from preexisting contacts and using a grounded theoretical approach that blended extensive qualitative and supporting quantita-tive methodologies, I spent two years in the field with New Day Films, a cooperative film distribution company that also represents a unique type of social movement organization. Using interviews (N=44), fieldwork, media analyses, and online survey data, I uncovered a vibrant, diverse, and broad documentary film-based social movement industry operating throughout the United States (the focus of the present study) and the world. In their films activist documentarians I interviewed addressed multiple social movement goals through socially and artistically crafted political messages both enabled and constrained by the material, ethical circumstances of the documentary filmmaking process. Their social and political messages depended heavily on artistic strategies that emphasized compelling narrative structures not necessarily dependent on literal truths and realities. Collective identity formations among activist filmmakers, ethical dilemmas, queer filmmaking, questions of impact, the dialectical relationship between researchers and subjects, and future directions for research, of which there are many, are also discussed.

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