The Shorty Awards honor the best of social media and digital. View this season's finalists!

Special Project

Special Project

Every Day After

Entered in Documentary Short, Feature Film, Storytelling


Around the world, an estimated 1 in 700 babies are born with a cleft lip or palate. Yet, our 2020 US brand health survey found that a sizable majority of Americans had little to no knowledge of what a cleft was. Even among the initiated, fewer than 10% knew that clefts cause severe issues with eating, breathing, speaking, and hearing, in addition to their more obvious cosmetic impact. To us, the takeaway was clear: More cleft awareness would mean more lives saved.

Years of testing have taught us that few things raise awareness of our cause better than images of our patients before and after their cleft surgery. Yet these images don’t tell the whole story: while surgery produces dramatic results, it is just one step in a multi-disciplinary journey that can last for decades.

Documentary film stood out to us as the medium best suited for showing the dramatic results of cleft surgery while reaching a mass audience with a powerful story about one of our nearly 2 million patients. 

Specifically, we wanted our film to: 


We hired One Production Place (OPP) to shoot, direct, and edit a short documentary for us because of their track record for making award-winning documentaries and their commitment to the same storytelling ethics that we uphold at Smile Train. 

OPP arrived in Manila in August 2022 to find our original plan had fallen through. Luckily, we soon met a patient with an even more compelling story: Jary.

Abandoned by his parents when he was born with a cleft, Jary was taken in by his then-teenaged sister, Jessa, who has been the only mother figure he has ever known. Over a decade later, he still lives with her, plus her partner and children. After Jary turned 13, they discovered that free cleft care was available, thanks to Smile Train, through one of Jessa’s cleft-affected friends. 

Over the course of filming, OPP took pains to earn this family’s trust and respectfully chronicle their journey to care. Jessa’s unwavering commitment to her brother’s wellbeing shines throughout the film. And while Jary’s surgery was an unequivocal success, it was apparent that his treatment journey ahead was far from over. That truth inspired the film’s title, “Every Day After.” 

Once filming wrapped in the Philippines, OPP began post-production while our team got to work giving it a stand-alone website and a brand distinctive from Smile Train’s. 

We also hired documentary filmmaker Aubrey Aden-Buie to develop both a plan for submitting the film to festivals and a social and email presence that would appeal to three distinct audiences: documentary film aficionados, people with an interest in global healthcare, and the cleft community. The messaging, likewise, focused on introducing the heroes of the film as well as spreading information about the cleft care journey and calling out movies featuring villains with facial scars.  

By early 2023, the film was final and ready for the festival circuit. We struck gold early, winning Best Documentary at the first major festival we were accepted into: Hollyshorts, an Oscar qualifier. 

An Oscar qualification meant we needed to accelerate our communications strategy to reach Academy voters in time. We knew that, without the backing of a large studio or steaming service, our odds of becoming an Oscar finalist were small, so we brought on some of the most respected PR experts in the documentary space to get our film in front of as many Academy voters as possible. 

All the while, we were still entering this special film into other festivals—and winning them. And everywhere “Every Day After” played, the film’s director, Elisa Gambino, and executive producer, cleft-affected philanthropist and film producer Dave Liu, followed to speak in festival Q&As and media interviews about the importance of holistic cleft care and treating all faces with dignity. 


Despite setting ambitious KPIs from the outset, we consider this project a success because we met or exceeded all of them. Specifically, we: 


Entrant Company / Organization Name

Smile Train


Entry Credits