• March 5, 2010
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  • in Case Studies

Documentary Objective

The core objective of a social justice documentary is not a distribution deal, money, or notoriety. The objective is your audience. Does the audience engage, learn and grow with your characters so that they are ready to make a difference when the lights come up? As a filmmaker, how can you ensure that your story makes a difference in the life of an audience member, who will then influence their own community?


Even before crafting the fundraising strategy for the documentary Sin By Silence, the Quiet Little Place team developed one crucial objective - we must inspire our audience to DO Something! The completion of the film, and the structure of an ongoing campaign, was continually influenced by this core objective. Every time we discussed campaign possibilities, or the film's outreach, we were able to simplify the process by asking ourselves - does this help inspire our audience to do something? Future decisions then became simple.

In order to engage the audience throughout the film, and inspire them to make a difference after viewing, we had to be aware of our audience's first perceptions. Where were they coming from? What would be the stereotypes that we would have to break down in order to inspire the need for change? To begin to articulate this cultural environment, we created a bullet point list to analyze the world we were trying to change. What exactly did a world filled with the tragedies of domestic violence look like?


  • Every nine seconds a woman is abused.
  • One in three women experience some type of personal violence such as rape, domestic violence, or stalking.
  • Intimate partners have assaulted approximately 1.5 million women each year in the USA.
  • Shelters are at capacity throughout the country.
  • Thinking that domestic violence is a private family matter is an outdated belief.
  • Women are frequently embarrassed or ashamed to speak about violence experienced in their homes.
  • Women lack resources and support systems for escaping domestic violence situations safely.
  • Law enforcement, social service personnel and clergy generally lack in-depth training regarding the dynamics and trajectory of violent relationships.
  • The public needs to be educated about the far-reaching effects of domestic violence.
  • Occurrence rates will decrease as more people are educated and become advocates against domestic violence.


It is impossible to engage an audience with cold hard facts. The biggest challenge became informing the audience, while universally connecting them to the issue - feed their heads, as well as their hearts. The QLP team knew that the best way to connect our audience to the subject was through transference. The powerful stories of the women that had experienced horrific violence, the women of Convicted Women Against Abuse, could be any one of us. These women, who are the true experts on the topic of domestic violence, provide the reality of abusive relationships. They are everyday women that did not experience something that only happens to certain people. The statistics show that domestic violence happens more than we care to admit or realize. This became our key element and focus...this could happen to you! When watching the film, audience members put themselves in the shoes of women with whom they would never normally relate - women in prison for 15 years to life.


As audience members begin to connect to the women's journeys, they become overwhelmed with the need to do something. So, the QLP team created actionable ways for an audience to engage so that no one left the film empty-handed. Creating these action steps to engage can be difficult, especially when dealing with a difficult topic like domestic violence. Domestic violence is a massive cultural problem fraught with state and federal legality issues. Just inspiring our audience to just do something about the issue of domestic violence was too broad. We decided that we needed to develop our audience into "stewards of change" by starting simple.


In the editing room of Sin By Silence, as we crafted the story, we also developed the idea of working with our audience to become stewards of change. Once you become aware of the problem by watching the film, we wanted to inspire our audience to take on domestic violence as "their issue." As a part of this strategy session, we developed three points to develop these stewards -- connect, engage, influence.

First, audience members needed to take the first step, something simple, like just watching the film. This initial connection helps them understand that they need to do more to help the very prevalent issue of domestic violence. Secondly, it was important to create opportunities to engage with local organizations to volunteer and help with local initiatives in the audience member's own community. Thirdly, we wanted our stewards of change to influence others to join them, to do something to help change the tragedy of domestic violence.