Ruth Leitman has a BFA in Film and Photography from University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Through her company Ruthless Films, Ruth Leitman has directed six feature documentaries. Her films focus on women and those whose lives have faced a lack of opportunity, but who are survivors. Her work has received funding from Rockefeller Foundation, TriBeCa Film Institute, Paul Robeson Fund, Illinois Humanities Council and Fledgling Fund. In 2020 she was awarded the 2020 City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs Esteemed Artist in Film and Media. Her Southern Gothic film Alma (1998) won the Documentary Feature Jury Prize at Hamptons Film Festival, screened at International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, SXSW, Director’s Guild of America and the Whitney Biennial. Premiering at Tribeca Film Festival and Hot Docs, her film Lipstick & Dynamite (2005) won the Documentary Storytelling Prize at Nantucket Film Festival; was released theatrically; and was broadcast on SHOWTIME. Lipstick was featured on Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and NPR’s Fresh Air and Morning Edition.
In summer 2009, Leitman’s first documentary Wildwood, NJ. (1994) became a youtube viral hit, featured on hundreds of best of year-end lists and blogs including Jezebel, Urban Outfitters, G4’s Attack of the Show, and VH-1’s Best Week Ever. The film became a symbol of ‘90’s zeitgeist girl culture, and was appropriated for pop culture media from the music videos of Lana Del Rey to the fashion runways of Milan. Wildwood was invited to screen at Hot Doc’s fifteen-year anniversary festival in 2013 and featured in British Film Institute, Sight and Sound Magazine’s- The Female Gaze: 100 Overlooked Films Directed by Women, which sparked a tour of the UK in summer 2016. Tony & Janina’s American Wedding (2010), an immigration story, premiered at The Chicago International Film Festival, winning a Jury Prize and became a clear agent for change and a NY Times International breaking news story when the family in the film was reunited in the US.
She was a director on the Kartemquin Films produced series Hard Earned for Al Jazeera America, which was nominated for an International Documentary Association Award and won the Alfred I. duPont Columbia Journalism Award in 2016. Leitman is in post-production on two documentaries: TIGERman, about iconoclast Chicago Seven Architect, the late Stanley Tigerman and No One Asked You which follows Lizz Winstead (co-creator of The Daily Show) and her renegade reproductive rights organization, Abortion Access Front.
Leitman’s freelance clients include: The Redwalls, Neko Case, Ronald McDonald House, Safe Humane Chicago, American Trial Lawyers Association, Sallie Mae Student Loans, Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health and Fair Wisconsin. Early work as a photographer includes: Rolling Stone, SPIN, Esquire, Working Mother, Newsweek, Outkast, Black Crowes, REM and Indigo Girls.
She is developing The Pin-Down Girl, a fiction feature based on her documentary Lipstick & Dynamite about the pioneers of women’s wrestling. Her early photography work is part of the 2021 exhibition, Underexposed: Women Photographers from the Collection at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Leitman has served on several documentary juries including Chicago International Film Festival, Reeling: Chicago LGBTQ International Film Festival and the IDA Awards, for which she co-chaired the feature jury in 2016. Leitman is on the faculty at Columbia College Chicago in Cinema and Television Arts where she co-designed the new Documentary Program.