This study contributes to the field of films for social change by exploring the production process of participatory film-making for social change, whereby explicit claims of community empowerment, participation and social change are the very justification of the production. To do so, it investigates the definitions and production processes of community art, participatory video and mediated participation. Using ‘practice as research’ as a key method of enquiry, we examine three film practices to explore aspects of professionalism. The objective of this examination is to elucidate the process of community member participation in collaboration with film-makers, facilitators and action researchers. People participate in film production processes by contributing to the script, acting, location scouting or any other activity at any stage of the film production. In examining this collaborative process, we focus on dilemmas encountered in relation to integrating participatory qualities and artistic qualities in a work of overall interdisciplinary and professional quality. The material used for the enquiry consists of participatory observations, scripts, films, course materials, audience observations, evaluation forms and in-depth interviews collected over the years in different projects. The analysis of the material indicates that the film-makers deal with dilemmas regarding the balance of the film’s participatory and artistic qualities and the production process. The expectations of the film-making community regarding the process, the resulting film and the related audience influence the balance between the participatory quality of the process and the artistic quality of the film. Finding a balance between participatory quality and artistic quality is a challenge, and in practice the stakeholders involved experience tensions in a continuous process of negotiation. This article demonstrates the tensions and illustrates the continuous process of negotiation between the (roles of) film-makers, facilitators, action researchers and community members.