Skip to main content

Q&A with Award Winning Director and Producer Dawn Porter '88

Dawn Porter '88

In 2013, Dawn Porter '88 returned to campus to discuss documentary filmmaking and how Swarthmore shaped her career during the McCabe Lecture.

Indiewire: Sundance 2016 Women Directors: Meet Dawn Porter - "Trapped"

Dawn Porter '88 is an award-winning filmmaker whose 2013 documentary, Gideon's Army, won the Sundance Film Festival Editing Award, the Tribeca All Access Creative Promise Award, and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and an Emmy. Porter's other films include Spies of Mississippi and Rise: The Promise of My Brother's Keeper, a documentary film chronicling President Obama’s program to help young men and boys of color succeed. 

Trapped premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Social Impact Award.

Please give us your description of the film playing.

Trapped is a feature documentary about abortion laws that seem harmless but are actually an end run around the Constitution and an effort to close abortion clinics across America.

What drew you to this story?

Like many people, I believed that Roe v. Wade would protect access to safe and legal abortion. I had no idea what havoc these laws are causing across the country.

What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

Everything was a challenge. Convincing many people to appear on camera was hard -- it is dangerous to be an abortion provider, and providers are very careful, as they should be. Following active litigation is hard -- lawyers don't always like pesky filmmakers! And then there were many moving parts to the story, so figuring out the narrative threat to a story that is unfolding around you is challenging.

What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?

That they cannot be complacent. I love the line from one of the clinic owners, who says something to the effect of, "No one ever thinks they are going to need an abortion." I want people to think about what they would do if the clinics around them were closed.

What advice do you have for other female directors?

The same advice for any director -- figure out what you want to say and keep asking yourself if you are saying it. Be decisive but also respectful of the people you are collaborating with, and pick people you enjoy working with. It's always a long and involved process making a film.

Read the full interview at Indiewire.

After graduating from Swarthmore with a degree in political science, Porter earned a J.D. from Georgetown Law Center. She was a practicing attorney at Baker & Hostetler and ABC Television Networks before beginning her documentary career. Porter is the co-founder of Trilogy Films, a film and television production company based in New York that specializes in social justice documentaries and independent feature films. Her numerous awards include the 2011 Creative Promise Award by the Tribeca All Access program. Realscreen named her one of their 2012 "Doc Hot Shots 15" emerging directors to watch. In 2013, Porter delivered the McCabe Lecture during Garnet Homecoming and Family Weekend.

Submissions Welcome

The Communications Office invites all members of the Swarthmore community to share videos, photos, and story ideas for the College's website. Have you seen an alum in the news? Please let us know by writing