Oprah Effect a 'game-changer' for Vancouver filmmaker
A warm Winfrey endorsement has opened doors for local entrepreneurs
This April 16, 2012 file photo shows Oprah Winfrey in Toronto. Winfrey will be at Rogers Arena in Vancouver Jan. 24.
Photograph by: Frank Gunn, The Canadian Press
Filmmaker Nimisha Mukerji is one of the lucky few who have not only had their work endorsed by Oprah Winfrey, but have been in her presence.
She met the former talk show host, publisher and all-around lifestyle mogul - who will be appearing in Vancouver Jan. 24, 2013 at Rogers Arena - at a party during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, where Mukerji and co-producer Philip Lyall were shopping around their documentary 65_RedRoses, about a young Vancouver woman battling cystic fibrosis.
The film had been selected as one of the first five to premiere on Documentary Club on the Oprah Winfrey Network, where it aired this May.
"For us it was a game-changer," said Mukerji, a recent University of B.C. film school graduate. "If you have the name Oprah attached to your film it ensured we would get this enormous audience we wouldn't normally have access to. It's like a stamp of approval. It means you've arrived."
Mukerji has since gone on to win two awards for her second movie, Blood Relative, at the Vancouver International Film Festival: Best Documentary and the audience award for Best Canadian Film.
As for the so-called Oprah Effect on her career, "It's definitely helped. As soon as you say Oprah Documentary Club, everyone knows her name," she said. "It's opened so many doors for me in terms of international exposure. As a Canadian filmmaker, it's a big deal."
Mukerji is one of several B.C. residents who have experienced the Oprah Effect, where a warm Winfrey endorsement can lead to a boost in sales and notoriety. For instance, it's estimated her book club helped propel sales of its 65-plus selections - from authors such as Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy and Toni Morrison - to 55 million copies.
As a consumer oracle, Winfrey spurred enormous interest in formerly obscure products in her "favourite things" magazine features and TV episodes, which typically aired during the holidays.
For Ethical Bean, an east Vancouver-based organic coffee distributor, the appearance of Exotic Medium Roast in the 2010 gift guide of Winfrey's magazine O meant a 10-per-cent boost in sales that has kept up ever since.
How Winfrey noticed the coffee company remains a mystery, said CEO Lloyd Bernhardt.
"At first, of course, we thought it was a joke," he said. But it helped the company, which now supplies coffee to 100 coffee shops, enter new markets across the U.S. and Canada.
"Her stamp of approval on products and services gives you a credibility that people remember," Bernhardt said. "There's a lot of coffee in the world. If you can say Oprah likes ours, it opens the door for you."
The clearest effect has been on sales, but Winfrey's influence extends to health and medicine, pop psychology, politics and music. She's also hand-picked local doctor Christiane Northrup, percussionist Shauna Sedola, Tina Turner impersonator Luisa Marshall, financial advisers the "Smart Cookies," and philanthropist Beverlee Kamerling to appear on her show.
"If she put her blessing on something, especially if it was something you could order or consume, it was pretty significant," said Robert Thompson, a Syracuse University professor who studies popular culture.
Vancouver television hosts Kristina Matisic and Anna Wallner saw their stars rise after their show Anna and Kristina's Grocery Bag was picked up by OWN, now running in 55 countries worldwide.
"Being on OWN was definitely a big boost and a big feather in our cap," Matisic said.
"We were the first Canadian show to be picked up on the network. We got a lot of publicity about that. Everyone wanted to know whether we'd met Oprah. No, we still have not," she said.
With the end of her 25-year run as a daytime talk show host, Winfrey's influence has waned, Thompson said, adding Oprah was considered one of the most powerful people in the world during the 1990s and early 2000s in terms of public opinion. Even today she's ranked No. 2 in Forbes' list of the world's most powerful celebrities. (Jennifer Lopez is No. 1.)
"She used her daytime talk show as mission control to launch other sorties into the culture: the magazine she did, the radio and the publishing," he said. "When she self-eliminated that home base, that had a much bigger effect on the total equation than maybe she thought."
But the Oprah Effect is undeniable. Free the Children co-founder Craig Kielburger even credits Winfrey with helping launch the now-worldwide charity by inviting him to appear on the show when he was still a teenager.
"2000 was a monumental year for us. My brother (Marc) and I were on The Oprah Winfrey Show and Oprah surprised us by donating enough money to build 100 Free The Children school rooms. Oprah's generous action fundamentally changed Free The Children and helped to elevate our organization to the next level," Kielburger wrote in an email. "We can't thank Oprah enough for believing in us at such a young age."
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