In the lovely, harmonic, searching 1971 pop hit from the English blues band Ten Years After, resigned lead singer Alvin Lee laments “I’d love to change the world / But I don’t know what to do.” It captured the Sixties counterculture’s saga of ambition and frustration in a couplet. Then he sang: “So I’ll leave it up to you.” Which has been a tall order ever since. Rock music was the soundtrack for cultural revolutions from Alabama to the Czech Republic, but it finally proved a meager weapon against the status quo it routinely banged heads with. Yet by the time Alvin Lee died last year, ever more millions were busy taking him up on his 40-year-old invitation–using a different medium. It’s still early in the Internet’s evolution, but as far as giving voice to the voiceless and disseminating actionable information, the burgeoning digital world is making Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and the Beatles look like child’s play. Lee may not have known what to do, but a lot of people now think they do.
Enter Films for Action, where a group of those newly empowered people are determined to change their world with cameras and microphones. The site is a platform for message-oriented media, aimed at social and environmental change. (It’s not art for art’s sake.) It strives “to provide citizens with the information and perspectives essential to creating a more just, sustainable, and democratic society.” Co-founded and directed by Tim Hjersted, the site’s staff and its members (who achieve “reputation” points that give them status) curate films that encourage action and education. The result is left leaning, you might say, though with that goodly respect for conspiracy theories that is bipartisan. Along with providing previously unthinkable distribution channels, the Internet has coincided with a massive boom in inexpensive tools for filmmakers. (A quick look around YouTube and you may come away convinced it’s been made too easy.) Films for Action has about 1500 films up that you can watch for free. They all pretty much deliver a message about the future that goes something like this: let’s not muck it up (give or take a consonant) any further. They have city chapters in Austin, TX, Santiago, Chile and Ubud, Indonesia, among more than 50 cities. If you go to Films for Action, you won’t be bored.