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In Focus

From legislation to inspiration, film can be a powerful catalyst for change. Journalist Kevin Allman interviewed the filmmakers and subjects behind three Independent Lens documentaries that have had an impact on individuals and society as a whole.

Film as Change: Docs That Make a Difference
by Kevin Allman

Like other genres of film, documentaries can both entertain and inspire. A few, though, are invested with a special power: the power to create change. Those differences can be societal, legal, personal, or—in the case of the best documentaries—some combination of all three.

Inside Indies spoke to three independent filmmakers and two of their subjects about how their films changed audiences, changed the world around them, and—most importantly—changed themselves.

Hip-hop is a man’s game. But does it have to be? Filmmaker and college football star Byron Hurt’s HIP-HOP: Beyond Beats and Rhymes takes an in-depth look at manhood in rap music and hip-hop culture—where creative genius, poetic beauty and mad beats collide with misogyny, violence and homophobia.

Read a Q&A with filmmaker Byron Hurt >>

At age 19, Joanna Katz was brutally tortured and gang-raped. As a survivor, she saw her perpetrators convicted and began speaking out publicly. In SENTENCING THE VICTIM, she questioned laws in her state that unduly burdened victims and challenged the parole system in order to heal herself and to give courage to others.

Read a Q&A with filmmaker Liz Oakley and her subject Joanna Katz >>

THE REAL DIRT ON FARMER JOHN tells the epic tale of Farmer John Peterson, a maverick Midwestern farmer who—in spite of the condemnation from his community—bravely transforms his farm amidst a failing economy, vicious rumors and arson. In doing so, he creates a bastion of free expression and a revolutionary form of agriculture in rural America.

Read a Q&A with filmmaker Taggart Siegel and farmer John Peterson >>

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Film as Change

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“The law would never have changed if I hadn’t made the film, because when the media decides to take interest in something that makes people uncomfortable, especially lawmakers, that’s when things start to change…”
—Joanna Katz,

Four young men, three African Americans and one
Caucasian, wearing baseball caps, oversized T-shirts
and chains, actively listening to the off-camera
HIP-HOP: Beyond Beats and Rhymes

Speaking into a microphone, a young Joanna Katz addresses a group rally against sexual assault

Long shot of Farmer John in an onion field, the farmhouse behind him, wearing glasses and a straw hat, he smells a just-picked onion, with gusto
Film as Change

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