Diane Weyermann, executive who defended "An inconvenient truth", dies at 66

Diane Weyermann, who has overseen the making of powerful documentaries such as “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Citizenfour” and “Food Inc.” -...


Diane Weyermann, who has overseen the making of powerful documentaries such as “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Citizenfour” and “Food Inc.” -see category, died October 14 in a Manhattan hospice. She was 66 years old.

His sister Andrea Weyermann said the cause was lung cancer.

“Diane was one of the most remarkable human beings I have ever known,” said Al Gore, the former vice president and presidential candidate whose seemingly pipe-dreaming mission to educate the world about climate change through a traveling slideshow of several decades has become an unlikely success. film with a strange title, “An Inconvenient Truth”. “She was extremely talented in her profession and full of empathy,” he added in a telephone interview. “It’s no exaggeration to say that she really changed the world.”

His film too. “An inconvenient truth” won an Oscar in 2007, and Mr. Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize the same year, by sharing it with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The film, which went on to become one of the highest-paying documentaries ever made, was the second documentary made by activist film company Participant, where Ms. Weyermann was a longtime executive, and hardly anyone in Hollywood thought it was. was a good idea. It was a movie on a slide show, after all.

When the filmmakers screened it for a large studio in the hope of being distributed, some of the executives fell asleep. “There was audible snoring,” recalls director Davis Guggenheim, “and when it was over one of them said,“ Nobody’s going to pay a babysitter so they can go to the movies and see this. film, but we “I will help you create 10,000 CDs for free that you can give to science teachers. ‘”

Discouraged, Mr Guggenheim, Mr Gore, Ms Weyermann and others went to a steakhouse in Burbank, Calif., To mull over, but Ms Weyermann refused to be intimidated.

“Just wait until Sundance,” she said.

“An Inconvenient Truth” received four standing ovations at the Sundance Film Festival, and Paramount purchased the distribution rights.

Participant was started in 2004 by Jeff Skoll, a social entrepreneur and eBay’s first president, with his own mission: to make films about pressing social issues. A former public interest lawyer, Ms Weyermann was running the Sundance Institute’s documentary program when Mr Skoll hired her in 2005, though he feared Robert Redford, a friend and founder of the institute, was upset. (He was not, and blessed the movement).

“From the start, Diane brought knowledge, connections, context and industry insight to our team,” Skoll said in an email. “The participant was a small, growing business at the time, the direct film industry expertise was limited, and we had very little documentary experience.”

The participant went on to make more than 100 films, including the feature films “Spotlight”, “Contagion” and “Roma” and the documentaries “My Name Is Pauli Murray” and “The Great Invisible”.

“Diane has built an incredible list of films that have made a difference in everything from nuclear weapons to environmental education and more,” added Mr. Skoll. “She was the heart and soul of the participant.”

It was Ms. Weyermann’s job to find, fund, train, and promote documentaries from around the world, and she constantly traveled to do it.

In 2013, Laura Poitras, the director of “Citizenfour” – the Oscar-winning story of Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who spoke out against widespread government surveillance programs – was hidden in Berlin when Ms Weyermann came to see her.

“Diane knew I couldn’t travel to the United States,” Ms. Poitras said, because she feared she would be detained or arrested; in the course of his reporting, Mr. Snowden had become a fugitive and a famous cause. “She wanted to make sure I was okay and I wanted her to see the cuts. I had hundreds of hours of film and I said to her right away, “I can’t provide any documentation” – movie studios usually require detailed written proposals – “and she immediately said,” We’re going to do it. that and I support you. ‘”

“She loved being in the editing room,” added Ms. Poitras. “She had an incredible ability to see a movie when it was really raw and to be in tune with it and what the filmmaker needed. You wanted his notes; she always improved the job.

“A director’s whisperer,” that’s how Mr. Guggenheim described her.

It wasn’t just the big box office movies she was backing, said Ally Derks, founder of the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival. “These are also the fragile little films that she has nurtured. She was in India with Rahul jain, whose film on pollution in New Delhi had just been screened in Cannes. She was in Siberia with Victor Kossakovsky ”, the Russian filmmaker whose 2018 film, “Aquarela”, has virtually no dialogue or human beings and takes an immersive look at the water, from a waterfall in Venezuela to collapsing glaciers in Greenland.

In a review in The New York Times, Jeannette Catsoulis called “Aquarela” a “breathtaking, sometimes numbing sensory symphony”, and took note of the film’s ending: a rainbow over the world’s tallest waterfall. “It sounds like,” she wrote, “a bit like hope”.

Diane Hope Weyermann was born on September 22, 1955 in Saint-Louis. Her father, Andrew, was a Lutheran minister; her mother, Wilma (Tietjen) Weyermann, was a housewife and later worked for a glassmaking company.

Diane studied public affairs at George Washington University in Washington, where she graduated in 1977, and four years later received a law degree from Saint Louis University School of Law. She worked as a legal aid lawyer before attending film school at Columbia College in Chicago, where in 1992 she obtained a master’s degree in film and video.

In the same year, “Moscow Women – Echoes of Yaroslavna”, her short documentary about seven Russian women, filmed by a Russian and Estonian crew, was screened at the Ms. Derks festival in Amsterdam. Ms. Weyermann also made a short film about the hands of her father.

She went from making films herself to helping others in 1996, when she became director of the Arts and Culture program at the Open Society Institute, one of the philanthropies of billionaire investor George Soros. , now known as the Open Society Foundation. She launched the Soros Documentary Fund, which supported international documentaries focused on social justice issues.

When Ms. Weyermann was hired by the Sundance Institute to set up its documentary film program in 2002, she brought with her the Soros Fund. There, she set up annual labs for documentary makers, where they could work on their films with others, creating the kind of community documentary makers dreamed of.

In addition to her sister Andrea, Ms. Weyermann is survived by a brother, James. Another sister, Debra Weyermann, an investigative journalist, died in 2013.

In 2018, Ms. Weyermann became co-chair, along with screenwriter and producer Larry Karaszewski, of the Foreign Language Film category for the Oscars. They quickly changed the name of the category to “International feature film”, stressing that the word “foreign” was not exactly inclusive. “Diane had a way to cut through everyday nonsense,” Mr. Karaszewski said.

In a 2008 interview, Ms Weyermann was asked if she thought it was too much to ask of a movie to change society.

“When films are made just for this purpose, they drop like a lead balloon,” she replied. “What I like about cinema is that it’s a creative medium. It’s not just “Let’s focus on a problem and educate”, but: “Let’s tell a story, let’s tell it beautifully, let’s tell it poetically. Let’s put it in a way that is not so obvious.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Diane Weyermann, executive who defended "An inconvenient truth", dies at 66
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