Obie Benz began his film career in 1981 by directing and producing
AMERICAS IN TRANSITION, a 30-minute documentary, narrated by Ed Asner,
that traced U.S. involvement in Latin America in the 20th century. The
film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short, won
numerous prizes, and is still in active distribution over 25 years later.
Benz next worked on ATOMIC CAFE as a production consultant with directors
Pierce Rafferty, Kevin Rafferty, and Jane Loader. ATOMIC CAFE is a
darkly comedic documentary which examines the American public's
introduction to the atomic bomb by government and industry. It was one
of the first features using obscure archival footage to become commercial
and critical success.
HEAVY PETTING was started in 1982 by Benz and Pierce Rafferty with money
from Norman Lear's Embassy Pictures. After a year of exhaustive research
and a 20 minute sample reel, Embassy's executives didn't see how the film
could be completed, and the production was halted. Benz revived the
project several years later with independent investors. HEAVY PETTING
enjoyed the broad support from the independent filmmaking community
through creative input, footage, production services, and equipment
In 1986 Benz produced and directed CELEBRATION, a video of the benefit
performance staged with Kathleen Turner, Christopher Reeve, Martin Sheen,
Rob Reiner and Norman Lear in support of People for the American Way, a
group which challenges ultra-right TV preachers.
In 1994, Benz produced and directed, MY GENERATION, one of the hours of
the Warner Bros / Time-Life series, The History of Rock and Roll. MY
GENERATION covers the music scene in the late 60's as it evolved from the
Beatniks in San Francisco to become a central element of the new
revolutionary culture. MY GENERATION is the best seller of that series.
In the late 1990's Benz worked for Amnesty International making numerous
short films which celebrated human rights work and the accomplishments of
individuals including Harrison Ford, Danny Glover, Eve Ensler, Paul
McCartney, Sebastiao Salgado, and Ted Koppel.
In 2003, he produced ASHTANGA, NY, a film on yoga, along with directors
Mary Wigmore and Caroline Laskow. The film followed the noted yoga
master Sri Pattabi Jois on a visit the New York which coincided with the
September 11 attack on the World Trade Towers.
Benz was born in 1949 in New Jersey. After graduating from Middlebury
College in 1971, he founded the Vanguard Foundation, a San
Francisco-based philanthropic group which granted over $400,000 a year to
social change organizations.
Benz served on the boards of progressive organizations: TVTV, one of the
first groups producing PBS programming with videotape; The Film Fund, a
foundation supporting documentary films; and the Funding Exchange, a
national network of community foundations supporting social activism. He
was a founder of Pacific Alliance, the country's first benefit concert
production company, and the MUSE Foundation, which produced the feature
NO NUKES, a concert film supporting various anti-nuclear causes. He
served on the boards of the Council on Foundations and KQED, San
Francisco's PBS station.