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23 Powerful Films for Social Workers

Happy Social Work Month everyone! In honor of this special time, our team at A Small Good Thing has compiled an exciting list of films that shed light on social work, social workers, and the important themes and issues that social workers devote themselves to every day.


While we have not seen all of these films, they have screened at various social work schools and film series and many have won awards for their focuses on social justice and social welfare. Many of them, moreover, have also been written about on Social Workers Speak, an interactive website developed by the NASW that aims to improve the way social workers and social issues are portrayed in the media.

Film and media can serve as powerful platforms for the dispersion of ideas and can spark conversations about social and political change. We hope you enjoy a few of these powerful stories and that they spark meaningful conversations about social welfare and justice.

In honor of Social Work Month, our supporters have also been organizing screenings of A Small Good Thing to honor community organizers and social workers, whose innovation, dedication and compassion are changing lives and shaping communities across the globe. Find an event near you or organize a screening to celebrate social workers this March!

  • Tough Love is a documentary that follows Patrick Brown, a single white father in Seattle and Hasna “Hannah” Siddique, a pregnant Bangladeshi immigrant in New York City, as they work with the courts, social workers and Child Protection Services to bring their children home after they have been taken into custody. The film exposes the complex bureaucracy that is America’s child welfare system. Screened by the Dalton State Department of Social Work and written about in Social Workers Speak.
  • Hidden Pictures is a groundbreaking documentary that traces deeply personal stories in India, China, South Africa, France, and the US in order to closely examine mental health-- and the stigmas against it -- on a global scale. Screened by the Dalton State Department of Social Work.
  • The Waiting Room is a documentary film that follows the lives and experiences of patients, doctors, and staff at Highland Hospital in Oakland, California. “The Waiting Room” takes a close look at a public hospital struggling to care for a community of largely uninsured patients. Screened by the Dalton State Department of Social Work.


  • The Power Broker is a documentary film that follows Whitney M. Young, Jr. — one of the most celebrated and controversial leaders of the civil rights era— and his journey from segregated Kentucky to head of the National Urban League. The film won the 2014 NASW Media Award and was screened at the Mesa Community College & NASW-AZ Social Work Cinema Series.
  • Inequality for All examines the widening economic gap in the U.S. The documentary follows former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who reveals how rapidly income inequality is increasing in America. Screened as part of the Mesa Community College & NASW-AZ Social Work Cinema Series.
  • One Cut, One Life follows the life seminal documentarian Ed Pincus, considered the father of first person non-fiction film, after he is diagnosed with a terminal illness. The documentary is an intense, raw, and sometimes humorous exploration of the human condition and what is important, not only at the end of life, but also throughout it. Screened as part of the NASW MA Fall Film Festival.
  • The short documentary film Families Are Forever tells the story of Mormon couple who found out their 13-year-old son Jordan was is gay. The film reveals how the couple’s support of Proposition 8 hurt their son, but also traces their growing acceptance of Jordan’s sexuality. Produced by The Family Acceptance Project and written about in Social Workers Speak.
  • Time Out of Mind is a narrative feature film that follows George, a homeless man who struggles to navigate the streets of NYC while also working to reconnect with his estranged daughter. The film was written and directed by Oren Moverman, who sat on NASW’s Communications Network Advisory Committee. The NASW NYC chapter also helped Moverman arrange visits with local shelters so that he could make the film as accurate as possible. Written about in Social Workers Speak.
  • In Voices: A Story about the Human and Untold Stories of Psychosis, psychiatrist and filmmaker Gary Tsai teamed up with other filmmakers to make the documentary “Voices: A Story about the Human and Untold Stories of Psychosis,” which features the stark and intimate portraits of three very different individuals and their struggle with severe mental illness in America. Written about in Social Workers Speak.
  • Walking in Oak Creek tells the story of the Oak Creek, Wisconsin Sikh community.In 2012, white supremacist Wade Michael Page opened fire in a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, killing six people. In the face of tragedy, members of the Temple held peace rallies to foster connection and end violence, while the Oak Creek Police Department sought to improve their relationship with the Sikh community. The documentary examines themes of violence, racial discrimination, community and healing. Written about in Social Workers Speak.


  • Alive Inside is a documentary that looks at a social worker’s program that uses music to help people suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. On a hunch, New York social worker Dan Cohen, MSW, brought iPods to a nursery home to play for patients who suffered memory loss. To his suprise, unresponsive patients became more engaged and communicative when they listened to the music of their youth. Written about in Social Workers Speak.
  • American Denial is a documentary that follow the story of Swedish researcher Gunnar Myrdal whose landmark 1944 study, An American Dilemma, probed deep into the United States' racial psyche. The film exposes potential underlying causes of racial bias still rooted in America’s systems and institutions today. Screened at the William James College Center for Multicultural and Global Mental Health.


  • The Overnighters is an intimate portrait of job-seekers desperately chasing the broken American Dream in the tiny oil town of Williston, North Dakota. When a local pastor starts to offer down-and-out workers a place to sleep at the church, he quickly meets resistance from community, which lacks the infrastructure to house the overflow of migrants. Screened by The Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy as part of its Buddhist Psychology Film Series.
  • Here One Day is a visually arresting, emotionally candid documentary about a woman coping with mental illness, her relationships with her family, and the ripple effects of her suicide on those she loved. When filmmaker Kathy Leichter moved back into her childhood home after her mother’s suicide, she discovered a hidden box of audiotapes. Sixteen years passed before she had the courage to delve into this trove, unearthing details that her mother had recorded about every aspect of her life from the challenges of her marriage, to her son’s estrangement, to her struggles with bipolar disorder. Screened as part of the NASW MA Fall Film Festival.


  • With Finding Jenn’s Voice, social worker and filmmaker, Tracy Schott, MSW, brings together the story of Jennifer Snyder, the voices of survivors of Intimate Partner Violence, and the research of talented experts to draw much-needed attention to the dangerous issue of domestic violence and intimate partner homicide. Written about in Social Workers Speak and will screen at the 2016 NASW National Conference.
  • Who Cares About Kelsey? tells the story of a school social work program in New Hampshire that reaches out to students with emotional/behavioral challenges and uses innovative educational approaches to help these students to succeed. The film follows the daily life of high school senior Kelsey Carroll, enrolled in the program, who has faced substance abuse, homelessness, and sexual abuse in her past. Screened at the NASW National Conference in 2014 and written about in Social Workers Speak.
  • American Winter follows eight families in Portland, Oregon that are struggling to meet their basic needs of housing, food and funds in the aftermath of the 2009 Recession. American Winter puts a face on the country's economic challenges and serves as a vivid illustration of what has been happening to families across America. Screened at the NASW National Conference in 2014 and written about in Social Workers Speak.
  • Justice Denied was co-directed and co-produced by NASW member Geri Lynn Weinstein-Matthews, MSW, LICSW, and looks at the sexual abuse of males in the military. Weinstein-Matthews is closely involved with this issue. When her husband, Michael Matthews, was serving in the Air Force, he was raped by other servicemen. Matthews kept the assault a secret but suffered from depression and PTSD. The couple are using the film to educate others and to enact new military regulations and legislation to prevent similar incidents. Screened at the NASW National Conference in 2014 and written about in Social Workers Speak.
  • Including Samuel examines the educational and social inclusion of youth with disabilities. The film is built on the efforts of Director Dan Habib’s family to include his son Samuel in all facets of their lives, a journey that transforms each of them. The film examines barriers as well as the transformative power of inclusion in school and society alike. Director Dan Habib’s work has been written about on Social Workers Speak.
  • The narrative feature film Short Term 12 is told through the eyes of Grace, a supervisor at a foster-care facility for at-risk teenagers. Passionate and tough, Grace is a formidable caretaker of the kids in her charge. But Grace’s own difficult past throws her into unforeseen confusion, made all the sharper with the arrival of a gifted but troubled teenage girl with whom Grace has a charged connection. Written about on Social Workers Speak.


  • The Dhamma Brothers is a documentary film that tells the incredible story of the Donaldson Correctional Facility in Birmingham, AL where 1,500 men live behind high security towers and barbed and electrical wire fences. Within this dark environment, a growing network of men began gathering to meditate on a regular basis. Director Jenny Phillips, a cultural anthropologist and psychotherapist, visited Donaldson Correctional Facility in the fall of 1999. As she met with the men, she was drawn in by their openness. High levels of apprehension, distraction and danger characterize their lives as prisoners. Even though many of these men will never be released from prison, they were thirsty for meaningful social and emotional change
  • Buffalo Nation: The Children Are Crying is a documentary film that depicts the tragic way of life for the rural, isolated Lakota people living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Will screen at the 2016 NASW National Conference.
  • Sweet Dreams follows a remarkable group of Rwandan women as they emerge from the devastation of the 1994 genocide to create a new future for themselves. When members of Rwanda's only women's drumming troupe form a partnership with two American entrepreneurs, they work together to open Rwanda's first ice cream shop. Written about on Social Workers Speak.




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