BREAKING SILENCE is a verité family portrait that follows father and daughter Walker and Leslie Estes as they build new bonds through their experiences in the criminal justice system. Walker, a deaf activist, shares how his daughter’s incarceration and his past regrets inspired him to begin advocacy work within the prison system, and Leslie, a formerly incarcerated CODA, shares how imprisonment and re-entry have reshaped her relationship with her family and her own advocacy journey.  

During Leslie’s imprisonment, Walker found it so difficult to communicate with his daughter during his visits—he communicates through ASL and the guards required Walker to pick up the  phone and speak through the glass—that he began volunteering at Angola State Prison, as well as teaching sign language at men’s and women’s prisons in Louisiana. In the film, we visit with some of the current and formerly incarcerated men Walker assists, and we see Leslie and her father’s bond strengthen as she finds her way back home and they become more comfortable talking about the traumas and regrets that led to her incarceration.

Through personal interviews, we explore their memories of Leslie’s childhood, the experience of being a hearing-abled child with deaf parents, and the traumas that Leslie experienced in adolescence triggering her cycle of incarceration. The film is narrated by Walker and Leslie in both spoken voice-over and sign language, and we center the film around Leslie’s enduring relationship with her father—throughout the film we see the supportive and steadfast role that Leslie’s father plays in her re-entry.  

The film’s style, approach, and tone take cues from the recent short films ALONE by Garrett Bradley, LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA by Sophia Naihla Allison, and NO CRYING AT THE DINNER TABLE by Carol Nguyen. BREAKING SILENCE is an intimate story of one family healing wounds and helping others through the lens of incarceration and deafness.

BREAKING SILENCE is a fiscally sponsored project of the Austin Film Society. You can make a donation to this project here. You will receive a letter acknowledging your gift to the Austin Film Society on behalf of the project. Since AFS is a non-profit organization, your donation may be deducted from your taxes as a charitable contribution under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service code.


Amy Bench (Co-Director, Producer) is a filmmaker and visual artist who is drawn to the immediacy of film and photography to tell stories of community and resilience. Trained as a cinematographer, her observational style highlights small details of the human experience that transcend formal explanation. Amy’s animated documentary A LINE BIRDS CANNOT SEE (2019) won Special Jury Recognition at SXSW, Best Animated Short at Bend Film Festival, Best Doc Short at Oak Cliff Film Festival, and is now available on The New Yorker, where it was nominated for the 2020 Ellie Award (video) for excellence in digital magazine journalism. Her next film in the series, MORE THAN I WANT TO REMEMBER (2022) has won 4 Oscar-qualifying awards in 2022 (Tribeca, Hot Docs, Cleveland, and deadCENTER) and is being distributed by MTV Documentary Films for release on Paramount Plus in Fall 2022. 

Annie Silverstein (Co-Director) is a filmmaker and educator based in Austin. Her short film, SKUNK, won the Cinéfondation jury award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014. Silverstein’s feature debut, BULL, was selected for the Sundance Screenwriter and Director’s Labs in 2016, and premiered in Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2019. BULL went on to receive awards internationally, including 3 Independent Spirit Award nominations in 2021. Silverstein’s documentary work has screened on PBS Independent Lens and at festivals internationally, including SXSW and Silverdocs. Silverstein earned her MFA at University of Texas at Austin in 2010, and currently is a professor at Texas State University.

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