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Diane Weyermann, the passionate Participant executive and driving force behind such resonant documentaries as the Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth, Citizenfour and American Factory, has died. She was 66.
Weyermann died Thursday in New York after a battle with cancer, Participant announced.
Weyermann exited the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program to join Participant in 2005, soon after entrepreneur Jeff Skoll founded the socially conscious company, and had been serving as chief content officer since September 2019.
“From day 1, Diane brought a passion to her work and cared deeply about the battles we helped fight over the issues portrayed in each film,” Skoll said in a statement. “Over 17 years together, she was a champion in every way, through strategic, industry and emerging global challenges. Diane was the heart and soul of Participant.”
Known for her integrity and unflagging support of filmmakers, Weyermann was an executive producer on Al Gore’s climate-change doc An Inconvenient Truth (2006), directed by Davis Guggenheim, on Laura Poitras’ Edward Snowden doc Citizenfour (2014) and on Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s American Factory (2019), from Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions.
She also was an exec producer on the Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning Food, Inc. (2008), a scathing exposé on the modern food industry directed by Robert Kenner.
The admired Weyermann received Emmy noms for producing 2008’s Pressure Cooker, about a woman who teaches a culinary course in hardscrabble Philadelphia, and David Byrne’s American Utopia (2020), directed by Spike Lee last year.
She also collaborated with director Jonathan Demme on Jimmy Carter Man From Plains (2007); with Errol Morris on Standard Operating Procedure (2008) and The Unknown Known (2013); with Guggenheim again on Waiting for Superman (2010); with Alex Gibney on Casino Jack and the United States of Money (2010), Zero Days (2016) and Totally Under Control (2020); with Jessica Yu on Last Call at the Oasis (2011) and Misconception (2014); with Kenner again on Merchants of Doubt (2014); with Morgan Neville on The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble (2015); with Ai Weiwei on Human Flow (2017); and with Dawn Porter on John Lewis: Good Trouble (2020).
In a 2016 interview with IndieWire’s Anne Thompson, Porter described Weyermann as someone who is “empathetic [and] has impeccable taste, and she’s fun. She has the heart of a teacher. The ego of a documentary person can be fragile. You stay in your cave and don’t come out for months and months, facing glaring scrutiny. She’s thoughtful and kind and encouraging.”
“I would describe what we do, whether it’s on the documentary side or on the narrative side, as foremost, really great stories,” she said in a 2019 interview about her work at Participant.
“They’re films about something that matters, and there’s a social relevance to everything that we do.… [The films are] about the world that we live in, and it allows the audience that connects to it to consider that world, or consider something that is brought up in the film, hopefully in a way that maybe they haven’t considered it before watching it.”
Born and raised in St. Louis, Weyermann attended college at George Washington University and law school at St. Louis University. She represented indigent clients as a public interest lawyer, then earned her master’s degree from Columbia College Chicago film school in 1992.
“I was interested in justice, equality and human rights,” she told Thompson. “I was always focused on documentary from day one. What interested me was stories about people and the human condition.”
In 1996, Weyermann developed and directed the Soros Documentary Fund for the New York-based Open Society Institute, which supported international docs that dealt with human rights issues, social justice, civil liberties and freedom of expression.
She became director in 2001 of the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program, where she launched annual labs for edit/storytelling and composers and helped build a community of filmmakers.
When Guggenheim moved from handling documentaries at Participant to directing An Inconvenient Truth, Weyermann replaced him and supervised his Oscar-winning work with Gore.
“It is not hyperbole to say that Diane Weyermann changed the world for the better in a remarkable way,” the former vice president said. “She shone a powerful spotlight on stories that provoked thoughtful action to promote justice and ignited progress toward a better, safer and more equitable future. With her skill and passion, she spurred millions to become changemakers. Her deep and heartfelt empathy, creative vision and unwavering commitment to supporting each and every person she encountered made her the most cherished of colleagues, mentors and friends.”
In his own statement, Guggenheim recalled meeting Weyermann while working on An Inconvenient Truth and being instantly “struck by her creative brilliance.”
“She loved nonfiction and fiercely defended those who made it,” Guggenheim added. “She had a massive influence on my films and my evolution as a director. Her work over the last two decades shepherded in a new era for documentaries. Nonfiction will never be the same.”
Participant CEO David Linde will take on Weyermann’s role until a new executive is named.
With Larry Karaszewski, she co-chaired the Academy’s foreign language Oscar executive committee from 2018 until she stepped aside in October 2020 because Participant had the Romanian film Collective in contention.
Weyermann is survived by her sister, Andrea, brother-in-law Tim and her nephews, Will, Dylan and Harris. In partnership with the Camden International Film Festival, her family, friends and colleagues established the Diane Weyermann Memorial Fund that the Points North Institute (the parent organization of CIFF) will use to develop an ongoing program to support documentary filmmakers. The fund is launching with a grant from the Skoll Foundation, and donations may be made here.
When she was promoted from president of documentary film and television at Participant to CCO, Skoll said: “The only thing that surpasses Diane’s unassailable integrity is her extraordinary judgment on stories that matter. Her creative partnership, her unparalleled work ethic, her mentorship of others, her deep relationships with the filmmaking community — the list of talents goes on and on.”
Oct. 15, 6:06 a.m.: This story has been updated with a statement from Davis Guggenheim.
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