The Power of Documentary: Shifting Narratives and Supporting Social Justice Movements

The International Documentary Association

The documentary film genre stimulates public discourse, reflects on social, political, cultural and current events, explores history and commemorates heritage. It also uncovers the unknown and unseen.

Sonya has positioned documentaries to shift narratives and support social justice movements for over 20 years. She leads institutional partnerships and coalitions at Working Films, where she is one of five executive directors.


The International Documentary Association (IDA) is a non-profit organisation that fosters and protects documentary filmmaking. It promotes a unified voice for documentary filmmakers, addresses specific needs and networks with related industry bodies to advocate on behalf of the documentary community. It also supports and celebrates documentary films, recognizing the work of outstanding documentary directors and producers through the annual IDA Documentary Awards Gala.

IDA also supports documentary projects through its Doc U On The Road program, which brings the organisation’s educational seminars and workshops to aspiring and experienced documentary filmmakers in cities around the world. The seminars and workshops are taught by artists and industry experts, who provide participants with vital training and insight into topics such as fundraising; distribution; marketing; business tactics and more. Past panelists include Ondi Timoner, Fenton Bailey, Kirby Dick and Roger Ross Williams.

Other programmes include IDA’s Creative Labs, which support directors, producers and editors with documentary features that are in development. These intensive residential workshops have been held in locations such as Sundance, Boston and New York. They have been credited with helping many documentary projects achieve theatrical releases, including documentaries such as Fahrenheit 9/11, Super Size Me, Food, Inc. and An Inconvenient Truth.

In addition, IDA provides financial resources to documentary filmmakers through its Enterprise Documentary Fund. This funding helps documentary makers who employ investigative practices in their filmmaking to complete documentaries on critical and underreported issues. IDA also helps to foster discussion of documentary issues through its annual Getting Real conference, which brings together the field of documentary makers and others in the industry for a two-day event that explores the current state of nonfiction cinema.

The IDA also provides education and training to documentary filmmakers through its Documentary Media Studies graduate certificate programme. Its textbook, Directing the Documentary, by Michael Rabiger (6th edition, Routledge, 2014) has become a leading text on documentary theory and practice.


Documentary filmmakers often work outside of established media outlets, a challenge that can make their films difficult to find and even harder to see. IDA’s flagship programs — DocuDay, the IDA Documentary Awards and Fiscal Sponsorship – help to cultivate a documentary community and expand its reach.

Founded in 1982, IDA’s mission was to bring nonfiction film into the spotlight and connect audiences with documentary works that enrich and deepen culture. IDA is now a leader in the international documentary community, supporting independent filmmakers with a full suite of programs to support them throughout their careers.

The Documentary magazine, the organization’s award-winning quarterly publication, covers all aspects of documentary filmmaking and the impact they have on our world. It reaches an audience of more than 20,000 and includes profiles of leading documentary filmmakers, updates on major documentary festivals, production and distribution news, and trends in the field.

In addition to its magazine and film festival, IDA’s education arm is a vital resource for both teachers and documentary filmmakers. The IDA’s Educational Resources include POV, a free streaming service that offers curated film clips, standard-aligned lesson plans and discussion guides, and a library of documentaries to support classroom learning. POV also provides filmmakers with a range of resources to empower them in their filmmaking process, including an online community for documentaries, a filmmaker mentorship program and a funding toolkit for documentary films.

IDA’s global initiatives are rooted in the belief that documentary is more than entertainment and a form of social justice — it is the future of storytelling. They include the annual Good Pitch conference, a global forum for documentaries on social change, which brings together activists, foundations, corporations and individuals to explore how docs can create real-world positive change. Additionally, IDA has built up a slate of filmmaker workshops and other resources, such as the Impact Field Guide and DocuClub work-in-progress screening series.

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