2019 Sundance Docs in Focus: ASK DR RUTH

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by David Paul Jacobson

Ryan White profiles the world-famous sex therapist and Holocaust survivor, Dr Ruth Westheimer.

Festival Section:
Documentary Premieres

Sundance Program Description:

Don’t let her small stature fool you. Standing at under five feet tall, Dr Ruth Westheimer is a force. A pioneer in the field of sex therapy, she became a household name in the ’80s and ’90s. At 90 years old, she hasn’t stopped working – and still promises the best sex you’ve ever had if you listen to her.

Filmmaker Ryan White captures Dr Ruth’s exuberant and snappy personality as she hopscotches from speaking engagements to TV and radio appearances. Her infectious energy is colored with an almost arresting openness that is joyous and nonjudgmental, and the affable rapport between filmmaker and subject is a welcome source of laughter. Alongside her optimism, however, are storybook-like animations that bring Dr Ruth’s childhood as an orphan of the Holocaust to life. The tragic loss of being separated from her parents and never seeing them again shaped how she would embrace the world. The film is an inspiring and entertaining portrait of a trailblazer that reveals the darkness Dr Ruth emerged from to bring light to so many people.

Some Background:

  • Ryan White
    Past Sundance docs:
    THE CASE AGAINST 8 (2014)White picked up the Sundance US Documentary Competition Directing Award for THE CASE AGAINST 8, which went on to be shortlisted for the Academy Award and nominated for an Emmy. He most recently completed the Emmy-nominated Netflix docuseries THE KEEPERS.


  • Rafael Marmor
    Past Sundance docs:
    THE GREEN PRINCE (2014)Marmor is the founder of Delirio Films, where he produced SXSW audience award winners BECOMING BOND and THE SHORT GAME and Tribeca jury winner BOMBAY BEACH. He also associate produced Sundance narrative feature alumni DEATH IN LOVE. Marmor produced fellow 2019 Sundance title MIKE WALLACE IS HERE, in the US Documentary Competition, and executive produced US Dramatic Competition title HONEY BOY.


  • Jessica Hargrave
    Past Sundance docs:
    THE CASE AGAINST 8Hargrave is White’s producing partner at Tripod Media. She has worked on four of his features as well as THE KEEPERS. Hargrave also served as a past advisor to Sundance’s Women’s Financing Intensive.


  • Christopher LeggettLeggett is a partner in Delirio Films. He also produced MIKE WALLACE IS HERE and HONEY BOY.


  • Zoë MorrisonDelirio Films’ Morrison is also a co-producer of MIKE WALLACE IS HERE.

Associate Producer:

  • Grace OathoutThis is the first Sundance credit for Tripod Media’s Oathout, who previously worked on THE KEEPERS.

Executive Producer:

  • Peggy DrexlerPeggy Drexler PhD is a research psychologist and author focusing on sex and gender. As an investor in Impact Partners, she contributed to the funding of Sundance alums WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? and OF FATHERS AND SONS. Drexler also executive produced MIKE WALLACE IS HERE.


  • Helen Kearns
    Past Sundance docs:
    THE CASE AGAINST 8Kearns also cut THE KEEPERS.


Associate Editor:

  • Soham MehtaThis is Mehta’s first Sundance project.

Why You Should Watch:
At once everyone’s straight-talking grandmother and a trailblazing pop cultural figure, Dr Ruth is a documentary director’s dream subject. White followed the always-on-the-go Westheimer over two years, and it’s clear that they developed a bond that lends a warmth and refreshing familiarity to this sweet and often moving portrait. Audiences outside of the festival will have a chance to watch the film in theatres via Magnolia Pictures or online via Hulu.

More Info:

For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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