Award-Winning Documentary Filmmaker
Award-winning, acclaimed filmmaker Dawn Porter has emerged in the entertainment industry as a leader in the art of storytelling; directing and producing critically acclaimed projects that have impacted generations of people from all walks of life. As a two-time Sundance Film Festival director, Porter’s work has been featured on HBO, Netflix, CNN, PBS, MSNBC, MTV Films, and other platforms. She has been recognized with career achievement awards from the Hamptons and Mill Valley Film Festivals, is the recipient of the 2022 Critics Choice Documentary Awards “Impact Award,” and was an honoree at the 2022 Gracies Leadership Awards.
Porter’s latest film, The Lady Bird Diaries, is a groundbreaking all-archival documentary film about the former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, who is one of the most influential and least understood First Ladies. The film is based in part on the ABC News podcast, In Plain Sight: Lady Bird Johnson, hosted by author and historian Julia Sweig. The feature film looks at the 123 hours of personal and revealing audio diaries that Lady Bird recorded during her husband’s administration. These audio diaries showcase how Lady Bird was an astute observer of character and culture, as well as a savvy political strategist. It recasts her crucial role in Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency and brings viewers behind the scenes of one of the most tumultuous and consequential periods in modern American history. The Lady Bird Diaries premiered at 2023 South by Southwest in their Documentary Spotlight section and received the Louis Black “Lone Star Award.”
In 2022 Porter’s work was highlighted in ESPN’s monumental initiative entitled Fifty/50 which follows the civil rights journey of women across the sports and cultural landscape. The initiative commemorates the 50th anniversary of the passing of Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any educational institution that receives federal funding and gives women the equal opportunity to play. Porter co-directed 37 Words with Oscar® nominee Nicole Newnham. 37 Words is a four-part documentary series charting the spectacular transformation that 37 words have inspired in American culture and the lives of women. 37 Words received two 2023 Gracie Awards including Best Directing for Porter and Best Non-Fiction Entertainment. Porter is also director and executive producer of a 6-part series on the continuation of the historic civil rights documentary series Eyes on the Prize for HBO.
Porter has also been at work directing Deadlocked: How America Shaped the Supreme Court, a series that examines some of the most important decisions in modern American history including Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade. As the Court’s role in American society becomes increasingly prominent and bitterly contested, Deadlocked: How America Shaped the Supreme Court will reveal how much of the country’s story is wrapped up in the Supreme Court’s deliberations and consider what this means for America’s future.
Porter teamed up with MGM to highlight the return of Cirque du Soleil after the COVID-19 pandemic closed their productions down, in the new documentary Cirque du Soleil: Without a Net. For the first time in its 37-year history, Cirque du Soleil granted exclusive access to the circus, from the ringmasters in the boardroom to the world-class acrobats and divers that grace the water stage of Cirque’s most popular show O. Porter captures the dramatic personal highs and lows of the world’s most famous circus act on its journey back from the existential brink.
Porter executive produced the Emmy® Award-winning interactive multimedia project Un(re)solved for Frontline PBS. The project consists of a multimedia website, an interactive series of panels currently touring the country, and a five-episode podcast led by Reporter James Edwards and his search for answers while he reflects on his own family’s experiences along the way. Un(re)solved continues to receive recognition including a 2023 Peabody Award nomination for Interactive & Immersive. She also co-directed and executive produced the Apple TV+ mental health documentary series The Me You Can’t See alongside Oprah and Prince Harry. The 6-part series featured a variety of high-profile guests including Lady Gaga and Glenn Close, while illuminating stories from across the globe and giving viewers the opportunity to seek truth, understanding, and newfound hope for the future. On the short film front Porter’s Bree Wayy: Promise Witness Remembrance (MTV Documentary Films) was released and examined how the art world responded to the death of Breonna Taylor in 2020. Porter’s 2022 NAACP Image Award-nominated documentary Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer (National Geographic) was also released in 2021 and shed light on a century-old period of intense racial conflict — being released one hundred years after the two-day Tulsa Massacre in 1921 that led to the murder of hundreds of Black people and left thousands homeless and displaced. Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer was a critical success, achieving 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. The two-hour special broadcast globally in 72 countries and 43 languages on Hulu.
In 2020 Porter directed two Emmy® Award-nominated documentaries: The Way I See It (Focus Features) which is a look into two American presidencies, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, from the lens of official White House photographer Pete Souza, and John Lewis: Good Trouble (CNN, Magnolia Pictures), the story of the congressman and civil rights icon. Porter received Mill Valley Film Festival’s prestigious 2020 Mind the Gap Award for Documentarian of the Year and was awarded the 2020 Marlon Riggs Award at The San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle Awards. In addition, both documentaries received a slew of Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards nominations, with wins for Best Political Documentary (John Lewis: Good Trouble) & Best Score (The Way I See It), along with a Best Documentary (The Way I See It) win at the New York Film Critics Online Awards. John Lewis: Good Trouble won the 2021 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Documentary (Film).
Porter discovered her passion for filmmaking following her time as an attorney. She made her feature directorial debut in 2013 with Gideon’s Army, which premiered on HBO, was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and an Emmy, won Best Editing at Sundance, and is now part of the U.S. Department of State’s American Film Showcase. Her 2016 film Trapped, which explores laws regulating abortion clinics in the South, won the Special Jury Social-Impact Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, and a Peabody Award. Additional directing credits for Porter include Netflix’s 2018 four-part series Bobby Kennedy for President, PBS’ Spies of Mississippi, and The Discovery Channel’s Rise: The Promise of My Brother’s Keeper.
Porter is a graduate of Swarthmore College with a major in political science and has a law degree from Georgetown University Law School. When she isn’t working behind the camera, Porter frequently lectures at universities across the nation, a passion she honed during her time as professor and Head of the Documentary Program at the prestigious UC Berkeley School of Journalism. She holds honorary degrees from Swarthmore College and Simmons University.
Porter currently resides in New York City with her family.