Five women who are outraged over Louisiana's high rate of domestic violence homicide set out to change laws to grant women better protections.
Interview with Director/Producer Donna Dees
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
Thank you. Long answer. In 2004, I wrote a book about the power of women activists in the gun violence prevention movement called "Looking for a Few Good Moms." The book got a bunch of positive reviews. Vanity Fair. Atlantic Monthly. Cookie Magazine. Many felt at the time the book should be made into a feature film. As much as I tried, I realized I have no talent as a screenwriter. So I decided to do a documentary on women activists instead. In 2013, I convinced Susan Willis who I had met right after the Newtown massacre (now my co-producer/co-director) to work on this documentary with me. Specifically, a film about women activists who have successfully navigated gun violence and domestic violence prevention laws through their state houses and the U.S. Congress. Not easy!!! But women know how to get it done.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
The mission of the film is to inspire women to take action on social justice and public health issues that impact them and their families. However, I've been humbled by how many audience members have felt empowered after the film to share their own horror stories of domestic violence.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
Women who take on tough causes tend to succeed when men fail because women, in my opinion, are far better at compromise. They also know how to delegate. And, most importantly, they know how to share credit. Hence the title "Five Awake." Not "One Awake." Even Susan Willis and I in making the film had some differences of opinion. And we worked through them. That's what women do.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
The first 30 interviews we conducted were mostly about tough legislative victories that happened 10-20 years ago in Congress and in state houses across the country. I think their stories will make for another powerful film someday. But when we stumbled onto the women of Five Awake, our film really took off. Their story takes place during the 2014 Session of the Louisiana Legislature. After a quick turnaround from interviews to post-production, we entered the film into the 2016 New Orleans Film Fest. And much to our surprise, the film won "Best Louisiana Feature."
What type of feedback have you received so far?
All positive. I think at 36 minutes, our audience left eager to know more about the issue of domestic violence homicide and wanting to know more info about the women heroes featured in the film.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
Initially, I worried that 36 minutes was not enough time to tackle a complicated issue. However, our exceptionally talented editor, Chuck Willis, worked miracles with the film's flow and storytelling. Still, I think there is so much more story to be told about these five plucky and passionate Louisiana women. It needs to be a feature!
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
Maybe a talented female screenwriter will read this and want to discuss (over beignets, perhaps?) the potential of a feature based on the documentary.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
In addition to that talented screenwriter, we could use a talented female producer to make the feature film a realty. Let's discuss. (Over beignets, perhaps?)
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
The high rate of domestic violence homicide is a uniquely American tragedy. Like the women of Five Awake, we women have the power to save the lives of our mothers, our sisters, our daughters and of our best friends. We really do.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
Do guns in the home make us safer? (Spoiler alert: two of the worst mass shootings in the last several weeks were domestic violence related homicides.)
Would you like to add anything else?
Yes, the topic of Five Awake is serious. However, anyone interested in writing the screenplay and producing the feature will have a lot of fun working on it in Louisiana. (Some weight gain might be involved.)
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
In addition to fantasizing about the Five Awake feature, I am also intrigued by another little known story of a Louisiana trailblazing woman. Stay tuned.
Interview: September 2017
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
Length: 36 min
Director: Donna Dees/Susan Willis
Producer: Donna Dees/Susan Willis
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists):
Social media handles: @RealDonnaDees
Twitter: @RealDonnaDees (trolls should follow me @FakeDonnaDees)
Funders: A grant from the Shana Alexander Charitable Foundation has funded my travel expenses associated with Five Awake.
Made in association with: Cutting Room Films and Light of Day.
Where can I see it in the next month? The Chagrin Falls Film Fest in Ohio.