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Using film to create change

Sarah Mosses is optimistic

The End of the Line is a feature documentary charting the potentially catastrophic effects of over-fishing on the world’s oceans.  The film is based on the book by journalist Charles Clover, who features in the film alongside the world’s leading fishery scientists.

From the outset, the makers of the End of the Line were ambitious about what they hoped the film would achieve. They wanted to create an effective, mass-media campaign around it, mobilising public opinion, changing consumer behaviour, and creating positive changes in government and corporate policy.

We conducted an in-depth analysis of the film’s UK campaign, gathering data over 18 months from the film’s release to find out how much impact The End of The Line really had in the UK, on citizens, their politicians, customers and businesses.1

Awareness and concern

First we looked at levels of public awareness to get an idea of the film’s overall footprint. Only 2 per cent of the adult public in the UKwatched the entire film, but 9 per cent or 5.5 million people had heard about it. Viewers of the trailer or extracts of the film screened online, in educational materials or through other sources were estimated at over 20 million people. So The End of the Line punched above its weight in terms of press attention and awareness, way beyond the size of the film audience.

But how would people react having learned about the issues of over-fishing? Would it go on to affect consumer behaviour?

Awareness and concern

A series of qualitative focus groups revealed that levels of concern about the issue of over-fishing doubled after watching the film and even twelve months later was still significantly higher in the group than before the screening. The group reported little to no engagement with sustainability as a purchasing criterion before watching the film; however, this completely changed on seeing it. 

As the press campaign mounted, corporate household names from Prêt à Manger to Whiskers switched to sustainable sources of fish. This gave companies an opportunity to announce positive changes to their fish procurement policies or to celebrate good practice, which was not previously considered a positive marketing attribute.

Mixed political impact

What of political change? It was the primary campaign goal of the End of the Line team to see a ban on the international trade of Bluefin tuna. The film screened on multiple occasions toUK members of parliament, at party political conferences and was cited in parliament six times during the reading of the Marine Bill. But the enormous amount of effort that produced this exposure amounted to very little political change. Bluefin is still being traded today.

However, there was one extraordinary outcome. After a private screening of the film for the Bertarelli Foundation, Ernesto Bertarelli agreed to provide £3.5 million in funding to cover the policing of a new Marine Protected Area in theBritish Indian Ocean Territory. The UK Foreign Secretary and the Bertarelli Foundation approved the deal at the end of 2010, which means commercial fishing around the Chagos Archipelago in theIndian Oceanhas ended, making it the largest ‘no-take’ marine reserve in the world.

Documentary films can be catalysts for change. The film allowed offered clear, pragmatic solutions to save our oceans. Many battles were won, especially in the commercial sector, even if the treasured ban on the sale of Bluefin tuna has not yet been achieved. The film was a positive, progressive step in the conversation about Ocean sustainability and will remain at the heart of this campaign as it develops in the future.

1 The full impact review will be available to download from later in the year.

2 A wide range of partners came together to support this film, including Marviva, Oak Foundation, World Wild Life Fund, Clore Foundation, The Marine Conservation Society, Oceana in addition to the Channel 4 BRITDOC Foundation. This was extended with additional distribution partners such as Greenpeace, Surfers Against Sewage and Waitrose.

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Sarah Mosses
Sarah Mosses is Good Screenings Producer, Channel 4 BRITDOC Foundation. For further information about the film, see
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