The film, The End of the Line, achieved lasting change in consumer attitudes to buying fish, a study has shown.
The ground-breaking exposé of over-fishing also provoked companies to change their sourcing policies and had a significant impact on political awareness of the problem of declining catches of wild fish.
Over a million people have now seen the documentary, according to the study by the Channel 4 Britdoc Foundation, thought it was initially watched by less than 10,000 people in the cinema.
By spring last year a total of 4.7 million people in the UK, nine per cent of the British public, were aware of it, though a combination of media coverage, campaigning on social media and television screenings.
Researchers calculated that for every person who saw the film, 510 knew about it. The documentary film, based on the book by Charles Clover, had a budget of £1 million but generated at least £4 million pounds-worth of press and media coverage.
Its impact and reach extended even further over the last year and most recently it was an inspiration for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s 15-show Big Fish Fight series on Channel 4.
Politicians, multi-national companies, celebrities and millions of individuals were all influenced by the film in the way they think about fish. It persuaded several big businesses to switch to sustainable sources of fish and raised awareness within the Houses of Parliament, the European Commission and international marine protection agencies, the study found. “The End of the Line is a film which punched way above its weight in terms of press attention and awareness, above and beyond the size of the film audience,” the report concluded.
“Evidence shows The End of The Line persuades audiences of the importance of the issue of over-fishing and of the need to change their purchasing patterns.” Watching the film persuaded audiences to promise dramatic changes to the way they bought fish and it continued to exert a strong influence even a year later, the study by the Channel 4 Britdoc Foundation found.
The impact was strongest among those who went into the film oblivious to the problems of overfishing. The overall commitment to buy sustainable fish rose from 43 per cent to 84 per cent among audiences seeing the film but among those unaware of overfishing it rose from 17 per cent to 82 per cent.
Research with a focus group provided further detail and showed long-term effects. Attitudes towards sustainable purchasing “completely changed” on seeing the film and a year later people in the group reported that they were keeping to their promise to buy from sustainable sources.
Waitrose announced a 15 per cent increase in sustainable fish sales in the month after the film’s June 2009 release in the UK. It and other supermarkets enjoyed a rise in sustainable fish sales over 2009 and 2010 and the film was said to be one of the reasons, though it was impossible to quantify the impact.
Celebrities such as Stephen Fry, who tweeted his appreciation of the film, were influenced, the report found. Others included chefs such as Angela Hartnett, Joel Robuchon, Giorgio Locatelli and Tom Aikens who removed bluefin tuna from their menus as a result of the film.
In the corporate world the report identified several businesses that changes their policies because of the film’s release. Among them were Prêt A Manger, which announced “a total change in its fish buying policy”, and Whiskas cat food which switched to sustainable sources of fish.
The team behind the film set up the restaurant review website Fish2fork because while there was previously a way of assessing retailers, nobody had rated restaurants for the sustainability of what they served.