Controversial Docs Hit Road to Get to You

Another issue where "a community screening with smiles" would have been inappropriate, said West, was one that began with the "horrendous hate crime" documented in "Two Towns of Jasper."

Early one Sunday morning in the sleepy Texas town of Jasper, a black man was beaten by three white men, chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged three miles until his body was literally torn apart. Filmmakers Whitney Dow and Marco Williams dispatched two crews -- one black, one white -- to Jasper to follow the trials.

With the help of Working Films, Dow and Williams linked up with a variety of organizations, including the National Council of Community and Justice and the National Coalition Building Institute for screenings.

"You had to be careful about the setting, who's invited, who's facilitating the conversation," West said.

Working Films is now working with Lisa Jackson to form effective partnerships around her film, which documents the stories of women who were raped and tortured by the Congolese army and foreign militias as part of the ongoing war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo" has already aired on HBO and it has been screened at the United Nations and The Hague; Jackson has testified before a congressional subcommittee and had an audience with U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, whose wife reportedly urged him to see it.

Will These Docs Make a Difference?

"Some of this is ineffable," Jackson told ABCNews.com. Screening "Greatest Silence" at the United Nations was instrumental in the passage of U.N. Resolution 1820, which elevated "rape and other forms of sexual violence" to the level of "war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide."

"It's all about implementation, of course," said Jackson, addressing the issue of how effective the resolution would ultimately prove.

Sexual violence, education ("2 Million Minutes"), inspiring Americans to take their chances on a bold humanitarianism ("Beyond the Call"), taking on the deficit ("I.O.U.S.A.") -- all are big topics for one documentary to take on.

But Jackson, Belic, Creadon and Compton can look to past documentaries that have made a difference.

Keith Beauchamp's "The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till," for instance, examined the case of the 14-year-old black teen from Chicago who, while visiting relatives in the Mississippi Delta in summer 1955, was beaten and murdered for whistling at a white woman in public.

Beauchamp's journey began long before he ever planned to become a filmmaker: As a 10-year-old growing up in Baton Rouge, La., Beauchamp saw a photograph in Jet magazine of Till's mutilated body in a casket; Till's mother had purposely left it open so that the world could see what had happened to her son. As a young adult, Beauchamp spent years pursuing leads and tracking down potential witnesses to a crime that was famous but whose details remained sketchy.

In May 2004, as a result of Beauchamp's dogged investigations -- and the attention the case received from Stanley Nelson's film "The Murder of Emmett Till" -- the Department of Justice reopened the case. While the prosecution failed to get an indictment, more facts about the case came to the surface, and, Beauchamp told ABCNews.com, "This film had a profound impact with the families, in terms of receiving closure and learning the truth."

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