Meet Debbie Wright

January 28, 2019

The roads that lead people to becoming documentary filmmakers are as varied as the topics of the films they produce. We recently chatted with filmmaker and FC member Debbie Wright about the winding road that lead her to direct her first documentary feature, “From Liberty to Captivity”.

Growing up, Debbie was immensely influenced by her mother, a former model with a passion for social justice. Debbie recalled how after reading an article about the hardships faced by the elderly in the Chicago-area in the 1970s, her mom felt compelled to bring their stories and their plight to the masses. She teamed up with a producing partner and pulled together a documentary called “Because Somebody Cares.” Debbie shared with us that as a teenager, she worked at the premiere of the film and was amazed at how film could be employed as a form of advocacy.  

Setting out to study journalism in college—where she served for a time as features editor for the university paper—Debbie decided to devote her studies to business management, earning an undergraduate degree from NYU’s Stern School of Business.

Eventually, Debbie had successfully established herself as a business consultant, helping to manage multi-million dollar projects for leading healthcare and pharmaceutical companies. Through these years, however, she continued to believe in the power of journalism and media to inform and inspire. She successfully submitted a freelance article that was published in a magazine with distribution to over one million households.

Being able to reach so many readers reignited her belief in the power of purpose-driven communication as a tool for real social change. And it was around this time that her love for children inspired her to complete a Master’s Degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Education. She then taught elementary school for a few years until she returned to the business world, this time working for a pharmaceutical company in the areas of clinical research and compliance.

Though it was not immediately apparent to her at the time, the skills she developed while working in a demanding job within the for-profit, private sector, would serve her quite well when she set out on the path to produce her first documentary. Debbie firmly believes that the art and craft of film making is well served when coupled with a business person’s appreciation for disciplined budgeting and resource management. (Along those lines, Debbie says that working with Filmmakers Collaborative as a fiscal sponsor was “one of the smartest decisions I’ve made.”) 

At this time in her life Debbie was only vaguely aware of the presence of slavery around the world, but her exposure to the reality of modern-day slavery in America came when the FBI descended upon and raided her neighbor’s house, unearthing thousands of pornographic images, many of which were of children being brutalized and raped. If the tentacles of the global sex trade and slave trafficking could reach into her quiet, rural community its ability to exploit and destroy must be exposed and denounced, Debbie thought.

Her first step was to work as a volunteer with International Justice Mission, where she became more fully educated about the topic and its legions of victims. She cites a viewing of “Born Into Brothels” as being a strong catalyst in confirming her belief that a documentary film on the subject of the modern international slave trade could inform viewers and inspire action. 

After five years of painstaking fundraising and collaborating with experienced pros in all facets of film making, “From Liberty to Captivity” saw the light of day. Along the way there were points of grave disappointment—as when a long-planned fundraising gala had to be scrapped at the last minute—but Debbie’s belief in the urgency of the project was consistently buoyed her friends and collaborators.

This past summer saw the completion of the film and it being received by receptive and concerned crowds. The film also garnered the Best Documentary Feature prize at the 2018 Top Indie Film Awards. As of now, Debbie and her team are being strategic in how the film is being rolled out. Screenings have been paired with the inclusion of representatives from groups working globally to combat human traffic and slavery and have presented opportunities for grassroots involvement and advocacy.

Earlier this month the film and its mission were recognized by a Congressional Proclamation thanks to the efforts of Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania’s 8th District. And hundreds of hours of footage that didn’t make its way into the film is now being used as a training resource and to serve as an historical archive.

We’re proud to have Debbie as a FC member and are excited to discover where the road will lead her to next.