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Commercial cinema: a medium for development communication.

  • Riber, J
  • Smith, S
Published Article
Development communication report
Publication Date
Jan 01, 1985
PMID: 12313873


Worldview International Foundation, an international voluntary organization whose activities focus on practical participation in the information process, established a media center in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 1982 in an effort to use the film media to disseminate development messages. Initially, WIF worked with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to promote literacy. Using the social marketing approach to promote a development theme, the producers were able to plug into a commercially successful network that assured them of reaching a large, attentive audience for a very low cost. An estimated 8 million Bangladeshis have seen this literacy film in cinema halls, mobile film projection vans, and on television. Project evaluation showed that 95% of the surveyed audience enjoyed the film and understood the intended message. The film was so popular that it was submitted as the Bangladesh entry at an international film festival in Moscow. WIF's next project was the production of another film, this time for the Social Marketing Project -- an Agency for International Development (AID) funded family planning cimmunication project. This time a family planning theme was the social development message. The script was developed from research conducted by Manoff International, Inc., an American social marketing agency who worked closely with MRCB, a Bangladeshi market research agency. They identified the target audiences and the constraints against using contraceptive methods in Bangladesh. Then messages were designed to address these issues. A love story entitled "Together" was developed. The social message revolves around a newlywed couple; both are hesitant to immediately start a family, but neither feels comfortable discussing his/her feelings on the subject with the other because of strong cultural taboos against such a delay. As the story develops, the barriers are surmounted, and this "model couple" begins to discuss the issue -- using singing and dancing to express their concerns about family planning. Understanding audience expectations in a commercial cinema context is the key to successfully adapting this medium for social development messages. Although some foreign technical assistance was provided, the success of the 2 films described depended on how their themes were adapted to the traditional feature film format. To date, commercial cinema has been an underutilized medium for development messages. WIF's experiences demonstrate how effective, well-conceived social messages can be presented in a commercial cinema context. It is hoped this will encourage other to use this widely available channel of mass communication.

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