Big stories, big stakes, on the big screen: Submission are OPEN

Kelly A Adkins
January 31, 2023

High stakes, seldom reward: the life of a whistleblower after the act. Marcel Reid, festival director of the Whistleblower Summit & Film Festival (WSFF), discusses the importance of continuing the conversations of the real trials and tribulations faced by these individuals through the acceptable medium of film. 

As festival director based in D.C., Reid is tasked with securing the venues for the summit, speaking to members on Capitol Hill and keeping up with the legislation to increase the timeliness of WSFF’s discussions.

While some topics are always evergreene, such as police reform or budget, Reid said that addressing “pop-up” issues is a necessity that requires sensitivity and emotion. In a world where all demographics are reading increasingly less and consuming visual content more, film is the turning point. 

According to Reid, with attention spans decreasing even something as short as a trailer can begin to pique the interest for a whistleblower story.

“As we move more and more into film and further away from text, you find that people have shorter attention spans, they may watch a two and a half hour film but they will not read a 700 page book,” said Reid.

This concept of a quick bite is not novel, as Reid said it used to be the headline of a story and now it is up to the first five to ten seconds for the story to unfold.

Yet telling the story at all is oftentimes the most difficult, let alone boiling it down. Reid said that many people within the whistleblower community struggle with a form of post traumatic stress from the societal aftermath of the act: when everything starts to go wrong for them attempting to do right.

“Many of us are shattered by that experience because we have been brought up in this simplistic way of looking at the world,” said Reid. “There’s good, there's bad, there’s truth, there's lies, and if you just go forward armed with the truth it's sufficient. . . Well sometimes that just isn't true. Film is a way to acknowledge that, tell their stories, and that truth-telling changes your life forever.”

Film may not be the only medium to share stories, but it is a new form. Beginning in 2019, WSFF has worked closely with the Society of Professional Journalists to bridge the gap between the stories–whistleblowers–and the storytellers–journalists. The schism between the communities, according to Reid, came from the whistleblowers’ distrust in the media to tell their stories with pure intentions. Specifically, to handle them with care despite the rewards of a Pulitzer or a paycheck. It was a matter of connecting both parties to the purpose of their relationship. 

In addition to involvement within the whistleblower community, Reid has been on the National Board of Directors of Pacifica Radio and became the first Whistleblower Liaison in Major Media. She said the purpose of journalism is to tell the truth unflinchingly, while the purpose of whistleblowing is to try to tell the truth without fear and without any possibility of receiving something in return.

Reid also acknowledged the hard work and care of late SPJ D.C. president, Dee Ann Divis, who dedicated two years of her stewardship to working with whistleblowers, in assisting in the mending of the relationship.

Many success stories have emerged from the summit, including those within avenues of veteran affairs and national medical malpractice, and the development of films and books.

For those with stories they would like to share, Reid invites and encourages submissions to the Whistleblower Film Festival via Filmfreeway. Last date of entry is May 31, 2023.

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