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The news of artist, environmental activist, documentary film producer and philanthropist Susan Swartz.

Beyond the canvas - 15 years of supporting documentaries

Susan Swartz with Amy Ziering, Producer of  The Hunting Ground 

Susan Swartz with Amy Ziering, Producer of The Hunting Ground 

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. 

Susan with Regina Scully, Executive Producer of  The Hunting Ground 

Susan with Regina Scully, Executive Producer of The Hunting Ground 

 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 with Louie Psihoyos, Director of  Racing Extinction  

Susan with Louie Psihoyos, Director of Racing Extinction 

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.

Reel Stories: Susan Swartz Applauds Sundance Film Festival

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One of the joys of living in Susan’s hometown of Park City, Utah is experiencing the energy of the annual Sundance Film Festival here each January. “For me, watching these films is like going to graduate school, ” explains Susan, “learning about important subjects that I often never even knew existed before.”

Sundance is especially meaningful to Susan, because of her intimate involvement as a producer in several films about pressing social issues. Both Susan and her husband Jim are founding members of Impact Partners, an organization that pairs independent filmmakers and investors. Over the past years, Impact Partners has produced many Sundance premieres. And 2013 was no exception.

Susan and Jim were thrilled to support a total of six films in the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, which concluded earlier this week. This year’s films included the compelling sports documentary The Crash Reel, and the boundary-pushing Afternoon Delight, who’s director Jill Soloway nabbed the Sundance Directing Award. What’s more, American Promise, about what it means to be a minority at an exclusive school, won a Special Jury Prize, and the immigration murder mystery, Who Is Dayani Cristal? received the Cinematography Award.

But perhaps the film Susan is most proud of is Pandora’s Promise, which Jim produced. The feature-length documentary explores how and why mankind’s most feared and controversial technological discovery — nuclear power — is now passionately embraced by many of those who once led the charge against it. “It is so powerful to see a documentary that fundamentally changes the way you think about an issue,” marvels Susan.

Impact Partners Film DETROPIA at the Hamptons Film Festival

For those of you who might be on Long Island, Susan suggests attending the special screening of the Impact Partners film DETROPIA, hosted by Alec Baldwin, Saturday, July 21. This is part of a series of special screenings over the summer sponsored by the Hamptons Film Festival at East Hampton's Guild Hall. DETROPIA won the Editing Award at Sundance this year. It will have a limited theatrical release this Fall, and will premier on PBS in 2013.

If you're interested in attending this screening, tickets can be purchased online.

Hell and Back Again Academy Award Nomination

In the midst of Sundance 2012, Susan is delighted to report that the Impact Partners film and Sundance 2011 award winner Hell and Back Again has been nominated for the 2012 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Embedded in Afghanistan, photojournalist and filmmaker Danfung Dennis reveals the devastating impact a Taliban machine-gun bullet has on the life of a 25-year-old US Marine Sergeant. The film seamlessly transitions from stunning war reportage to an intimate, visceral portrait of one man’s personal struggle at home in North Carolina, where he confronts the physical and emotional difficulties of re-adjusting to civilian life. Contrasting the intensity of the frontline with the unsettling normalcy of home, the film lays bare the true cost of war.

Susan is proud to part of this extraordinary group of filmmakers and supporters with impact.

Sundance Film Festival...Susan Swartz and a Greater Impact

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Susan and her husband, Jim, are co-founders of Impact Partners, a philanthropic venture organization that supports independent films that address pressing social issues. Over the years, films they have supported have gone onto screen at major festivals all over the planet and to win significant accolades, including Academy Awards.

Now, Impact Partners is thrilled to announce that three of its newest films will premiere this month at the Sundance Film Festival in Susan’s hometown of Park City, Utah. One of the films, called The Queen of Versailles, is being further honored as the opening night film that sets the tone for the entire festival. Directed by Lauren Greenfield, the documentary follows a couple building the biggest house in America—a 90,000 sf. palace inspired by Versailles — when their timeshare empire falters due to the economic crisis. Their rags-to-riches-to-rags story reveals the innate virtues and flaws of the American Dream.

Also showing for the first time at Sundance is David France’s documentary, How to Survive a Plague. This is the untold story of the intensive efforts that turned AIDS into a manageable condition, and the improbable group of (mostly HIV-positive) young men and women whose resilience broke through a time of rampant death and political indifference.

Veteran Sundancers, co-directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady return this year with Detropia (formerly titled Detroit Hustles Harder). Their latest documentary explores the idea that the woes of Detroit are emblematic of the collapse of the U.S. manufacturing base. This is the dramatic story of a city and its people who refuse to leave the building, even as the flames are rising.

Now in its 34th year, the Sundance Film Festival has evolved to become what is arguably the most meaningful celebration of independent cinema on the planet. “I feel incredibly blessed to have this wellspring of insight, creativity and important conversation in my own backyard,” says Susan. “Jim and I are honored to have supported these three tremendous films and look forward to the world’s response to them.”

Films Supported by Susan Reach Wider Audiences

Two films supported by Susan and Jim Swartz and the Impact Partners film fund have leapt beyond the festival circuit and into public audience this season:

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Miss Representation, which premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, had its broadcast debut in October on OWN: the Oprah Winfrey Network. Directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the film explores how the media’s misrepresentations of women have led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence. To learn more about the film’s concurrent education and engagement efforts, visit
missrepresentation.org.

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Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death & Technology also premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and had began its global theatrical run in September. Directed by veteran documentary-maker and social media icon, Tiffany Shlain, Connected is an exhilarating rollercoaster ride that explores what it means to be connected in the 21st century. For more information, visit
connected.moxieinstitutedev.com.

On December 1, both Shlain and Newsom are speaking at the TEDxWomen conference, a bicoastal conversation broadcast across the planet about how women and girls are re-shaping the future. Watch live or join the conversation at tedxwomen.org.

Susan Takes Florida By Storm

Bruce Beal and Susan Swartz

Bruce Beal and Susan Swartz

What an incredible start to the New Year! First, three films that Susan helped produce  premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival to great reviews.  Before the credits finished rolling, Susan’s first solo shows in Florida opened at Art Palm Beach and Art Sarasota. 

Didn’t get to Palm Beach or Sarasota? Not to worry, Susan’s solo exhibition is traveling south to the Naples International Art & Antique Fair on Florida’s Gulf Coast from February 24 – March 6.

Rounding out January was an exciting invitation for Susan that made everyone on her team grin from ear to ear. Stay tuned next week for the big announcement.