Bringing change through visual media : Article

This article is an attempt to examine how film festivals in psychological terms impact “attitude” of the audience especially students, towards environment.

Having positive attitude towards environment is one of the keys to conservation of nature. It helps in connecting us with nature and makes us feel that we are a part of it. It reminds us of the fact that we have to live in harmony with her, and not utilize her for short term gains of modern day development. The same message was emphasized by the chief guest of our recently organized film festival “Quotes from the Earth”, Padmshree and Katahak Guru – Smt. Shovana Narayan. She said if you are positive towards something, that thing will be positive towards you; and she also cautioned the audience by metaphorically linking the current state of environment with that of Mahabharata’s “chir haran” of the earth.  Mr. Ravi Agarwal, Director of Toxics Link also said – the films connect to our inner selves with the nature, and that is why we have been persistently organizing the film festival “Quotes from the Earth”.  

In fact, numerous research studies have shown that visual media has a strong impact on audience attitude (which comprises of how we think and feel) and behavior, especially among children and the youth.  It sometimes evokes and enhances violent behavior and negative attitude, while at other times it has a very positive influence on growing children, students, youth and the adults. It all depends upon the kinds of visual and the messages that are provided to the audience.

The film festival “Quotes from the Earth” which is a bouquet of well directed films has a strong impact in effusing a positive feel and thought, on environment. The 6th edition of “Quotes from the Earth” held on the 5th and the 6th of December, 2014 drew an enthusiastic audience over 300; about 60 of them were over and above the seating capacity. The students’ enthusiasm got clearly reflected in their requests to their teachers to let them watch more films, and ask the school bus-drivers to stay on for more time. The representatives of the civil society organizations and other institutions wanted such films to be screened in their own cities, which was another testimony of the impact such film festivals can have. The audience glued to the screen, and the eagerness in interacting with the film directors are other indications of enthusiasm carried by the audience.

Undoubtedly, the film festival “Quotes from the Earth” had a strong influence on the attitude of the audience. But in technical terms how exactly do film festivals impact attitude of the audience, especially the students?

Link of behavior, attitude and awareness

Behaviour is technically defined as the “way someone functions or operates” and is guided by the attitude that we carry. The term attitude can be defined as the “way one thinks and feels about someone or something”. It is a perception of a person about an issue/object as being favourable or unfavourable. Attitude can be rated/graded on the basis of how strongly he/she feels about an issue. For instance a person may feel very strongly about environment, another person may take it moderately, while the third person may take it very lightly, and the fourth person may take it carelessly.

Here it should be noted that attitude is an important key to processing of any information inside the mind. Simply increasing knowledge or awareness level does not necessarily mean that the person will start thinking positively about an issue. Perhaps many awareness programs in the non-profit become a little less successful as most of the efforts are devoted in increasing the level of awareness; less effort is given on how the information is provided which can change the attitude of the person, or in common terms how the message can enhance positivity towards a particular issue.

 “Attitude” has been studied exhaustively and they are very frequently applied in many campaigns in India and abroad, to infuse positive influence among the audience. One such example is the recent anti-smoking drive in India. The video uses strong images and metaphors to create a very negative attitude toward the product, so that the addicts leave it or the relatives force them to leave it. The strong caption written on the cigarette cover “smoking kills” is another very strongly worded message that impacts the attitude. Here it should be mentioned that most the smokers very well know that smoking is injurious to health, it is the way messages are produced and delivered, which makes an impact on attitude.

Film festival’s influence on attitude

Technically “attitude” is explained in more than one ways however, one of the popular explanations is done through a very old model called “ELM” or Elaboration Likelihood Model (Petty and Cacioppo , 1986*). According to the model attitude of a person depends upon how a person receives and processes information. The model states that he/she does that in two ways—through “central route” which is based on his logical elaborate thinking that interacts with the messages/issues; and through the “peripheral cues” such as facial expressions of a speaker, his/her dress, the kind of voice, impactful visuals and music in a documentary, etc.

The films shown during the festival “Quotes from the Earth” and the interactions with the film directors (there may be other elements during the festival for instance the inauguration ceremony, the speeches, etc, that may have positively impacted the attitude of the audience; over here however only the films and the audience interactions with the film makers have been taken up) can be distinctly categorized in these two categories – the central route and the peripheral cues.

For instance one of the films on biodiversity was on flora and fauna that thrive in the Western Ghats of India. The visuals of the animals and the plants on how they live and thrive, the historical perspective, and the script narration are more likely to initiate the central route of persuasion. The peripheral cues on the other hand add to the positivity of the messages that are entering the mind through the central route. The music, the quality of voice-over and the graphics are some of the peripheral cues that add to the positivity towards the subject in the film. Similarly, the film on Yamuna, which was a poetic expression of the dilapidated state of the river, is another case that can be taken up. Here the meaning/message of the poem and the visuals may be considered as the elements of central route, while the music may provide the peripheral cues. Since festivals provide a platform for screening a lot of films, it gives a wide scope for influencing the attitude of a variety of audience—depending upon how the audience relate and react to the films on environment.

The additional attitudinal reinforcements come from audience interaction with the film-director. These interactions help in quelling the queries of the audience, and may fall into the central route category of processing information. Both the messages and the peripheral cues are strong elements in building positive attitude towards the subject, in this case environment. The film festival “Quotes from the Earth” endeavours to spread far and wide across India to strengthen positive attitude towards environment. It intends to reach out to remote areas with collaborations with schools and local civil society organization, and tries to engage the audience with other related communication activities, to enhance positivity and influence, on a long term basis.


Samir Prasad

* Petty E.R. & Cacioppo J.T. (1986). The Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology.