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 contributions.
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.