Communicating complexity and empathy in international politics


Communicating complexity and empathy in international politics: a documentary film project on Hong Kong

Small Group Project 2022-23

International politics is stressful and increasingly personal to individual citizens. We rely on visual elements to view and approach complicated phenomena such as wars and protests. The ‘CNN effect’ makes local events instantaneously global. Yet, visuals rarely offer an ‘authentic’ depiction of the ‘objective’ reality and tend to feed a black-and-white understanding of international relations. Meanwhile, the (over)exposure of crises produces ‘compassion fatigue’ (Moeller, 1999) as viewers feel disempowered and withdraw emotional energy from global politics.

A pressing question for the discipline of international relations (IR) is how to communicate the sophistication of international politics in a way that cultivates our empathy. A growing body of work on the ‘aesthetic and visual turn’ in IR (e.g. Bleiker 2012) appreciates how visuals shape global politics. Films are highlighted as possessing powerful appeals to viewers’ emotions as ‘they are based on individual characters and the moral choices they make’ (Bleiker 2018, 10). Cinematic storytelling creates opportunity for the viewer to identify with those individuals, which makes complex political topics accessible and relatable. Although the importance of films is recognised, few IR scholars participate in the process of filmmaking. 

This project aims to explore how filmmaking helps us cultivate the viewers’ empathy as we communicate the complexity of global politics. We have produced an award-winning feature-length documentary Black Bauhinia (explained below). We would like to establish an online platform to invite our audience to participate in the making of a shorter documentary film based on Black Bauhinia. There are two main outputs of this project: an interactive bilingual website which serves as a site of co-production, and a short documentary film (15-20 minutes).

Contacting Fellows

If you would like to contact any of our Fellows to discuss their ISRF-funded work, please contact Dr Lars Cornelissen (Academic Editor) in the first instance, at [email protected].