During the last half of January, Park City, Utah transforms into the “it” destination for film lovers, celebrities, and other affiliates of the motion picture industry. Sundance shows over 200 films across all genres. This year’s documentary category was particularly strong due to many of the films’ topical subject matter. Combining her passions for philanthropy and art, Susan Swartz has been actively involved with the emergence of documentary films at Sundance over the past 15 years, hosting the first documentary parties at her home and founding Impact Partners in 2007.
Six of the eight films Susan was involved with were produced with Impact Partners, an organization that brings together filmmakers and film investors / philanthropists to create cinema that engages pressing social issues.
The films Susan worked on with Impact Partners cover a broad range of topics including film, environmental, and international history; prostitution; and sexual assault. Censored Voices reveals, for the first time, interviews with Israeli soldiers returning from the battlefield of the 6-Day War in 1967. Chuck Norris vs Communism looks at the impact Western films had on Romania during the Cold War. Dreamcatcher, a British film, tackles the world of prostitution through the eyes of a former prostitute turned powerful advocate for the community. In How to Change the World viewers learn about the 1971 nuclear test zone protest that led to the founding of Greenpeace, now a leading environmental advocacy group. Sembene! celebrates the “father of African cinema,” a man who gave Africans a voice.
One of the most important films at the Festival was The Hunting Ground. Using verite footage and first-person testimony, The Hunting Ground follows survivors of rape and related crimes on college campuses as they deal with the aftermath of sexual assault. A timely film, The Hunting Ground shows the larger effects of sexual assault by looking at various organizations including politicians and support groups.
Susan was directly involved with two other films. Taking a different approach to gender differences and issues, The Mask You Live In looks at the effects a narrow definition of masculinity has on boys and men. Racing Extinction, directed by Louie Psihoyos (Academy Award-winner for The Cove), reveals the issues surrounding endangered species and mass extinction. Susan and Louie worked together on The Cove, so Racing Extinction allowed for them to further develop their relationship as well as discuss additional opportunities for environmental films.
Susan’s involvement with Sundance’s documentary films has allowed her to explore other art forms and connect with a larger and varied audience. Her work extends beyond the filming process – she supports both the filmmakers and subjects by providing a space in which creativity can thrive. Susan has created a network that gives voice to the voiceless and exposes the oft-unseen realities of the world at large.