LOS ANGELES (October 14, 2021) - Diane Weyermann, Chief Content Officer at Participant, passed away today in New York. The cause of death was cancer.
Weyermann had long been the engine behind the company’s documentary film and television slate. Her work at Participant has defined the company since it was founded in 2004 by Jeff Skoll. She championed and shaped Participant’s history and breathed life into Jeff’s vision that a good story, well told, can change the world.
“In the very earliest days of Participant, I was incredibly lucky to have Diane agree to run our newfound documentary department, including our first documentary, ‘An Inconvenient Truth,’” said Jeff Skoll, founder of Participant. “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. 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. I will miss her spirit, her collegiality, and the effervescence she brought to everything she touched. I am deeply grateful for Diane’s dedication to helping me build Participant. Our team, the film industry, and the world have suffered a great loss. Diane was one of a kind.”
“It is not hyperbole to say that Diane Weyermann changed the world for the better in a remarkable way,” said former Vice President Al Gore. “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. I am devastated by her loss. It is beyond heartbreaking. And I am forever grateful for her friendship and for the incredible legacy that she leaves to the world.”
“Diane was my most cherished partner for over 12 years at Participant,” said Jonathan King, former President of Narrative Film and Television at Participant. “She was as enthusiastically supportive of the filmmakers creating narrative work as she was of her own projects. That meant the world to them, and to me. Her wisdom and shining example always inspired us to try harder, aim higher, treat everyone with more kindness and generosity. Even more, I was lucky to have Diane include me in her close circle of love and friendship since the day we met. Her joy and sense of adventure inspired everyone who knew her. Losing Diane is a terrible blow, not just to the world of film, but to the world at large. I will never stop missing her.”
“The impact of Diane’s work and devotion to cinema will be felt for generations – not just through the films that exist because of her, but exponentially through the relationships and organizations she built,” said Laura Poitras, director of CITIZENFOUR. “As a friend and collaborator, she was the best. Brilliant, fierce, funny, and honest.”
Robert Redford, President and Founder of the Sundance Institute said, "Diane was a visionary who believed that independent documentary voices and filmmakers could affect real and lasting social change, and through her work she sparked immensely influential conversations. Diane’s dedication to the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program resulted in the support of thousands of nonfiction storytellers and hundreds of films. She was a warm, supportive and steadfast champion for filmmakers around the world. Diane gave life to an entire community and we will always be grateful for her vision."
“Diane has been such a wise colleague, sounding board, supporter, and most preciously of all, friend,” said Steve James director of “America to Me,” and “City So Real.” “There was never ego with her and she constantly deflected praise. Diane was brilliant at seeing what my work was trying to be and helping me make it better, more impactful, and insightful. I will treasure the memories of our long talks about the work, about documentaries we loved and didn’t love, about the state of docs and the world - both of which she worked tirelessly to make better. Yet, she had a radiant smile and a wonderful sense of humor to go along with that amazing sense of purpose. She has been a true beacon in our community.”
“Diane brought people together,” said Elise Pearlstein who produced “Food, Inc.” and “American Factory” and worked with Weyermann at Participant. “She curated people as skillfully as she curated film slates, with impeccable taste, the highest of standards and an unwavering moral compass. Diane had a keen gift to see around the corner and support films that would arrive in the culture at just the right moment for the greatest impact. She was a fierce advocate for filmmakers, fighting tirelessly and fearlessly for their creative freedom and vision. She was a citizen of the world, a seeker and an explorer, and her loss will reverberate throughout the global documentary community. Diane leaves a profound legacy of films, as well as people who grew and thrived under her influence. I will deeply miss my friend, mentor, colleague, and partner in crime.”
“We are heartbroken and devastated over the passing of our leader and friend, Diane Weyermann,” said Participant CEO David Linde. “As the steward of Participant films for the past 17 years, she showed how fierce determination to authentic storytelling can drive civic participation and create a more empathetic world. There was no story worth telling that Diane shied away from. From the landmark documentary ‘An Inconvenient Truth,’ which helped awaken millions of global citizens to the ravages of climate change to “American Factory” and its brilliant examination of what it means to work in America today to the upcoming “The First Wave,’ which bravely captures the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic in New York, Diane’s ability to partner with world class filmmakers in telling the most important stories of our time leaves an indelible legacy that cannot be matched. She brought integrity, passion, and unwavering commitment to every project she undertook. Her very presence transformed everyone at Participant and words cannot express how much we will miss her.”
Collectively, Weyermann’s projects have earned 10 Academy Award nominations and four wins, eight Emmy nominations and three wins, three BAFTA nominations and one win, five Spirit Award nominations and three wins, highlighting issues spanning climate change to government surveillance, the plight of refugees to the dignity of work. But the care she took to bring the most urgent social issues to life extended beyond what was shown on the big screen.
Weyermann was a champion for female-led projects at Participant, including, “CITIZENFOUR,” which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and was directed by Laura Poitras; “The Great Invisible,” directed by Margaret Brown; “My Name Is Pauli Murray” directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West; “Far From The Tree” by Rachel Dretzin and “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” from director Dawn Porter.
She also led the company to co-acquire distribution rights to films, including the upcoming “Flee” directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen; Academy Award-nominated “RBG,” from directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West, and Academy Award-nominated “Collective,” directed by Alexander Nanau. In addition to Executive Producing 48 documentary features at Participant, she Executive Produced 7 TV series including Steve James’ acclaimed “America To Me” and “City So Real.”
Weyermann was personally and professionally guided by her deeply felt commitment to justice and a desire to protect the vulnerable. Weyermann was born and grew up in St. Louis. She attended college at George Washington University, law school at St. Louis University and started her career in legal aid. Diane realized early in her law career advocating for those with few resources that millions of citizens lacked voice and that film could provide a huge platform to tell stories that would elevate issues and people that were unknown, ignored, or misunderstood. She then received her MFA at the film school at Columbia College in Chicago.
Prior to joining Participant in 2005, Weyermann was the director of the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program. During her tenure at Sundance, she was responsible for the Sundance Documentary Fund and launched two annual documentary film labs, the Edit & Story Lab and the Documentary Composers Lab which she co-created with Peter Golub, both focused on the creative process. Before her time at Sundance, she served as the director of the Open Society Institute New York’s Arts and Culture Program where she launched the Soros Documentary Fund (which later became the Sundance Documentary Fund). Weyermann was a member of the Documentary Branch Executive Committee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 2012-2018. She served on the Foreign Language Film Award and International Feature Film Award Executive Committees from 2016-2020 and co-chaired the committees from 2018-2020. She was also a member of the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the European Film Academy.
Weyermann is survived by her sister Andrea Weyermann, her brother in law Tim Goodwin and her three beloved nephews Dylan, Will and Harris. She will be mourned and celebrated by the hundreds of documentary filmmakers, teammates, and the broader film community that she has inspired and mentored.
“Diane leaves behind millions of ‘Participants’ who believe in a world that can be more sustainable, peaceful, and prosperous for all,” said Linde. “We will carry her work forward together.” Linde will temporarily take on Weyermann’s role until a new executive is named.
Weyermann loved Maine and the film community that has grown around the Camden International Film Festival (CIFF). In partnership with CIFF, Diane’s family, friends, and colleagues have established the Diane Weyermann Memorial Fund that the parent organization of CIFF, the Points North Institute, will use to develop an ongoing program that nurtures and supports emerging documentary filmmakers. The fund is launching with a grant from the Skoll Foundation, who join their colleagues across the Jeff Skoll Group in mourning Diane’s loss. Additional donations in Diane’s honor can be made here: https://pointsnorthinstitute.org/donations/weyermann-fund/
Memorial services will be announced at a later date.