“Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts.”
– Roger Ebert

Lisa Leeman believes that strong narrative and character-driven films can change the world, one story at a time.  She has produced, directed, written & edited award-winning feature & short documentaries for the last thirty years.  Her work mainly focuses on two areas – faith and spirituality, and what she calls ‘sideways social-issue films – intimate character-driven stories that illuminate contemporary social issues by how they directly affect people’s lives. 

Leeman is currently in post-production on a follow-up to her groundbreaking first film, METAMORPHOSIS, which won Sundance’s  Filmmaker’s Trophy in 1990 and garnered top broadcast ratings on POV/PBS.  In the new film, WALK BY ME, Lisa and animation artist Gabi P. reconnect twenty-five years after Leeman profiled the evangelical transgender artist’s transition in METAMORPHOSIS.  Now middle-aged, the two artists rekindle a lapsed friendship as they reckon with the past and face uncertain futures.  Filmed over eight years as they navigate a series of crossroads in their sixties, WALK BY ME  weaves past and present to explore aging, art and resiliency, faith, filmmaking, friendship, and the blurred boundaries in documentary filmmaking.

Roger Ebert named Leeman’s ONE LUCKY ELEPHANT as one of the best documentaries of 2011.  Other producing & directing credits include AWAKE; CRAZY WISDOM; OUT OF FAITH; and WHO NEEDS SLEEP (with Haskell Wexler). 

Lisa believes biography is a powerful way to cinematically explore spirituality.  She co-wrote/co-directed/co-produced the award-winning feature documentary AWAKE which screened in U.S. theaters for 48 weeks, and in 17 countries.  AWAKE is one of only 17 films directed by women in the 250 top-grossing films of 2014.  Leeman produced CRAZY WISDOM, a portrait of the renowned Tibetan meditation master, Chogyam Trungpa, and is currently developing a narrative non-fiction series on the history of yoga and Vedanta in the United States, inspired by the books American Veda and The Subtle Body.  

Lisa produced and directed a series of #MeToo PSAs with an all-women crew of faculty and students at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, where she is a full professor.  Interview with Lisa here.   Lisa has edited award-winning documentaries for the acclaimed filmmakers Stanley Nelson; Renee Tajima-Pena; Michele Ohayon; Micha Peled; Lourdes Portillo.

Leeman is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, WGA West, Alliance of Women Directors, and co-chairs the Documentary Producers Alliance Ethics subcommittee.  She has served as a judge at the Sundance Film Festival and as the president of the International Documentary Association.  Her work has been supported by Sundance, ITVS, Catapult Film Fund, California Humanities Council, the Producers Guild, the American Film Institute, and has screened in theaters, festivals, and broadcasts around the world, including IDFA, PBS, HBO, ARTE, Channel 4.   Lisa has taught master classes on documentary filmmaking in Azerbaijan, China, Jordan, Malawi, Portugal, the Republic of Georgia and the West Bank.