Daniela Kon talks about SIMA Studios


Every month at Cinema Without Borders and CineEqual, we receive numerous emails and phone calls from independent, international filmmakers of social justice cinema, seeking help in making or distributing their projects.

Help is wanted everywhere. On September 2nd, 2019 alone, social justice cinema filmmakers from the US, UK, Iran, Bangladesh, France, Pakistan, Germany, Canada, South Africa, and Thailand contacted us looking for help. Considering today’s world political climate that beckons for awareness of social justice issues, we have decided to introduce and spotlight organizations that offer support for independent filmmakers working on social justice projects.

SIMA Studios, the organization we’re spotlighting this month, is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt arts organization registered in California and Germany. SIMA exists to advance global awareness, social justice, human rights, and education by supporting content creators, activists, educators and change makers on the front-lines of social change and amplifying the impact of their works to inspire activism, compassion and social transformation.

Bijan Tehrani: What was the idea behind founding SIMA?
Daniela Kon: In 2012 I started SIMA to celebrate the kind of global social-impact filmmaking that too often remained overlooked and to create distribution avenues for those important films outside the traditional festival circuits, to bring these stories to people and places that could utilize them to drive social change in their own communities. Prior to creating SIMA I was a documentary filmmaker working in the humanitarian and human rights space and was commissioned to make films that dominantly focused on binary oppositions: heroes vs victims, and givers vs receivers, which only presented short term solutions and asked audiences to open their check books. I witnessed how we as filmmakers often helped to perpetuate the problems with the stories we tell, instead of furthering real solutions. I saw a vast need to honor and distribute the kind of storytelling that offers unique perspectives, that champions people’s resilience, that inspires critical consciousness, celebrates the dignity of its subjects, and uses the camera boldly and strategically as a tool to advocate, educate and take viewers into the depth of our human condition.

On Her Shoulders, winner of Best Documentary & Best Director, SIMA awards’ 2019 

BT: How has SIMA grown towards its mission over the years?
DK: I’m extremely proud to see that the standards of integrity in filmmaking we have been setting at SIMA over the past 7 years, are the ones that are gradually manifesting themselves in social justice and political filmmaking at large as we’re seeing a thriving social impact filmmaking culture that challenges the status quo and pushes the boundaries of the medium. In 2012, we started as the first and only international media competition honoring achievements in the creative, human rights and humanitarian fields. Today, SIMA is the most renowned global curator in the social impact space, serving independent film, academic and global social justice industries around the world.

With an emphasis on shifting paradigms across the ecosystem of social impact storytelling, we are expanding our award categories this year to include recognition of production companies and funders, honoring the collective impact and achievements of people and organizations that form the bedrock of social impact filmmaking and its future.

Our impact has only been possible through the unwavering efforts of filmmakers, change-makers and educators, and through the power of collaboration and partnerships with international organizations ranging from World Merit, UN Women and Human Rights Watch to grassroots community organizers in Cambodia, Burundi or the Philippines, to name a few.

BT: Please tell us about the SIMA AWARDS. Do you have a jury for SIMA Awards and are there any prizes for the winning films?
DK: Our first Social Impact Media Awards (SIMA) in 2012 received almost 500 submissions. Now, in our 8th year we have grown a network of over 2000 filmmakers in 140 countries, distributing films in communities and classrooms in over 30 countries. We accept entries in the following categories: Documentary Features, Documentary Shorts, Impact videos, Virtual Reality/ 360, and recently also Production Companies and Founders who compete for recognition of their work. Our jury consists of renowned filmmakers, editors, educators, human rights and media executives who all bring their unique expertise to finding our winning film. SIMA Winners receive industry awards as well as Jury prizes that range from cash prizes, production equipment to distribution opportunities via SIMA’s impact distribution channels: SIMAx and SIMA Classroom.

LETTER FROM MASANJIA, winner of Best Editing, 2019 SIMA Awards

BT: Tell us about the SIMA Classroom program.
DK: All SIMA Awards Finalists in the Short Documentary, VR, and Impact Video categories are eligible for distribution via our international education platform: SIMA Classroom. Our “Netflix of social impact education” is reaching over 50,000 students in over 30 countries to date. In conjunction with action-based lesson plans that help young people develop key global competencies, their civic-engagement and community organizing skills, the SIMA Classroom film collection is carefully curated to advance global citizenship education and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is a subscription-based platform that allows both individual educator access, as well as school-wide access for all faculty and students, and is an invaluable current-affairs film resource and engagement platform for learners around the globe. If we would be able to take students on a trip around the world to meet people from all walks of life and understand their circumstances first-hand, we would. But, since we can’t, we bring the world to them via powerful impact films and offer skill-building tools that empower them to make the changes they want to see.

Lifeboat, winner of Best Documentary & Best Director in Documentary Shorts, 2019 SIMA AWARDS

BT: What do you think audiences take away from seeing a SIMA selected film?
DK: I witness people walking away from having experienced a SIMA film both moved and inspired to act. It is somewhat impossible to not see the world, or the issues we read about in the paper or see on the news in a different light after watching a SIMA film. We choose our films (among other things) because of their unique perspectives and contributions to the conversations of their topic. So at the very least audiences find themselves more aware, more equipped to discern prominent agendas and more cognizant of the feelings and circumstances of those on the front-lines of the issues we spotlight, which changes the way we relate to others, the media outlets we choose to trust in, the buying choices we make and the causes we then choose to support.
Films don’t change the world, the people who watch them do. From a group of students in the US who started an advocacy campaign in their neighborhood about industrial farming and GMO’s, to a community screening in Pakistan that inspired efforts to fight corruption in the education system – the stories about what happens after the credits roll are a testament to the power of SIMA films to inspire audiences to create change.

One leg in, One leg out, winner of Best Sound in Documentary Shorts category at 2019 SIMA AWARDS

BT: What role do social justice filmmakers play to bring the attention to vital issues of our world today. Why are the films and the storytelling you select at SIMA so important?
DK: We have a saying at SIMA: “Documentary is fatal to prejudice” – via Mark Twain’s “Travel is fatal to prejudice”. We sometimes call it Medicine for Humanity. Powerful social justice documentaries, just like travel – make us immune to doctrine. Especially in the age of fake news and the fact that this and future generations are building their entire worldviews around the information they consume via media and the echo chambers of social media platforms – in these times social impact storytelling is vital. It allows audiences to think critically, to celebrate the beauty of diversity, to brake with stereotypes, learn from new perspectives, and to be inspired to participate in this global movement called humanity. This kind of storytelling, the kind we celebrate at SIMA, opens channels of understanding through authenticity, transparency and integrity, which is a vital antidote to the exposure to mainstream media and information that remains one-dimensional and hegemonic. By then sharing SIMA selected films with communities and classrooms around the world we get to inspire people, students, audiences to perceive themselves not merely as passive viewers, but as witnesses who then move on to become agents of change.

BT: How can social justice and international cinema film fans watch the films participated in SIMA Awards? How has the recent political and social climate in US and other parts of the world effected SIMA activities?
DK: Our SIMAx program allows for anyone to host a community screening of SIMA selected films. In addition, every month via our Staff Pick we feature one free SIMA-impact film on our website at: https://simastudios.org/simarama. Through the Staff Pick we are often able to respond to recent socio-political circumstances in the US and the world. For example, this month we are featuring Through The Wall, a documentary capturing the story of a family divided by the Mexican and US border. Along with the film we are highlighting the work of Freedom For Immigrants, an organization working tirelessly to end immigration detention, which has reached a shocking and tyrannical level of inhumanity in the US right now.
Daniela Kon is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, producer and consultant working at the intersection of human rights, global development and impact media for over a decade. Born in Frankfurt, Germany, she completed her BA in Media and Cultural Studies and MA in Documentary Production at The London College of Communications and Royal Holloway, University of London. She moved to New York in 2003 working for Emmy award-winning director Marc Levin at Blowback Productions and was the researcher and assistant editor for HBO and THINK Film’s “Protocols of Zion,” an Official Sundance Selection. She founded impact agency, DEEDA, in 2005 and has since worked with filmmakers, NGOs and aid organizations in Cambodia, Thailand, India, Bangladesh, Israel, Liberia, Senegal, and the US, creating documentaries and impact campaigns on a plethora of social justice issues. Her film credits range from the award-winning documentary TALIBE, the United Nations FAO Ending Hunger Campaign and the UN Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD), to collaborations with grassroots initiatives in Education, Voluntourism, Youth Leadership, Girls and Women’s Empowerment, LGBT Rights, Water Management, Children’s Rights, and Modern-day Slavery. Daniela is a board member of the HRW Film Committee and the Women’s Rights Committee of Human Rights Watch in Los Angeles, a producer and strategist for social issue media productions and international advocacy campaigns. Driven by the premise of maximizing responsible impact through creativity, she founded SIMA and the Social Impact Media Awards in 2012, dedicated to advancing the culture of impact filmmaking and to supporting filmmakers and change-makers in their work. Living and working in Los Angeles, Daniela has expanded SIMA’s operations into fiscal sponsorship and global impact distribution via SIMA Studios, bringing social impact films to over 50,000 students and 5 million viewers in over 40 countries per year. Today, SIMA is the largest network of social impact creatives with the broadest global footprint, leveraging the power of impact film to advance education and empower engagement for social change from the grassroots level and up.


About Author

Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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