Short films can be useful to spark conversation at the office or around the dinner table. In business, they can provide an educational moment about sustainability in a meeting, technical or leadership conference. In particular, some businesses have limited knowledge of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their relevance to business. The Sustainable Development Goals Knowledge Platform and their top short films of 2019 are useful resources.

Most of the six films selected provided insight to both challenges and solutions. Broadly, they could have been more powerful if the linkage to specific SDGs was explicit beyond the heading and if the universality of the challenge and/or solution were more fully elaborated. These could even be included in an introductory text paragraph to make it easier to create relevancy for various audiences. As is, to use these films in a business or classroom setting, it will be important to “translate” or describe the film in the context of the SDGs and connect to relevance for the organization and local/global community. Collectively, these short films span several SDGs, countries and circumstances. But overall, the solutions aspects in these films are limited in scope and only one is systems oriented.

#6 Ensure sustainable management of water.

“Aqua Story” is six minutes long. It shows quite clearly and in a humorous, animated way the difference between responsible water usage and wasteful water usage. It includes both small family impact and implications regionally. This film is educational and widely applicable to both adults and children.

#7 Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

In “1 Million Lights Zambales”, a nonprofit provides solar powered lanterns to small villages in the Philippines to gradually address the problem of 7 million people without access to electricity. Although the hundred lanterns that they distributed in the film are a very small number compared to the size of the problem, the positive impact to the people is well described. A brief mention of scale up plans would make this 10 min film more systems-oriented.

#4, #8: Ensure quality education and promote full productive employment:

“Turning a Page” is set in Trinidad and Tobago, and is about the national school for persons with disabilities. Although the solutions shown are common for persons with disabilities, the film includes some unique elements. One speaker talks about the value of creating recycled paper in terms of environmental learning, for example. This film is almost 10 minutes, and could have been shorter. But the varied student, parent, and other stakeholder interviews are quite poignant and uplifting. The comprehensiveness of the interviews makes this film Interesting.

#5, #16: Empower women and build peace:

“Kumekucha: It’s A New Dawn” addresses healing from trauma. The organization helps people to heal from their past trauma, engage with their neighbors, and have better tools to recover and move on from traumatic experiences in the future. It specifically addresses solutions related to violence, education and empowerment for women. Scale up training is included, but no systems context other than a sense of possibly prevalence of trauma in this society.

#1, #9: End Poverty and build resilient infrastructure.

In the special category “virtual reality/360 degrees” film “River of Mud”, we hear from residents that were affected by a breach of a tailings dam. But we are left without possible solutions either near term for the residents or longer term for improved dam design, policy and other mechanisms of prevention or response. The film uses virtual reality and wide angle photography which perhaps shows how the people are dwarfed and overwhelmed by the magnitude of destruction. This film feels long at 9 minutes although each personal story is devastatingly powerful.

#10: Reducing Inequalities (and others):

“Sadok (honest)“ is incredibly short (~40 seconds) and provokes us with the fact that ”some observe but only a few can see”. A painter observes things happening in the village and how people are impacted by “ordinary” life experiences. There were no English subtitles for this Italian film. Although harder to use as a result, it could prompt great discussion of poverty, work, domestic violence and our individual opportunities to take action. The film itself, though, provides no solutions.

Watch the films here:

Find out more about SDG’s:


Sabrina Watkins

Sabrina Watkins serves on the boards of Future 500,  Presidio Graduate School, and Balsam Mountain Trust and works directly with companies to constructively bridge between business and activism...

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