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Ruth and Margaret is a hybrid film (combining narrative and documentary elements) about groundbreaking anthropologists Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead. The two were lovers, soul mates and close intellectual companions in the 1920s and 30s, pioneering ideas about sexuality, gender, and race that transformed their field. Theirs is a complex story of intellectual and romantic companionship, friendship, betrayal, achievement and disappointment. It was a lifetime bond, outlasting Mead’s three marriages, other relationships and affairs, professional rivalries, vast geographical distances, sexism, homophobia and the political upheavals of their times. The connection between their relationship and their writings has never been explored in film.
Nancy D. Kates produced and directed the feature-length documentary Regarding Susan Sontag, which premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, where it received a Special Jury Mention. It has since screened at over 100 film festivals in 35 countries, and received several additional honors, including a FOCAL International award for innovative use of archival footage. Regarding Susan Sontag received major funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Foundation for Jewish Culture, Chicken & Egg Pictures, the Women in Film Finishing Fund, and the Sundance Documentary Fund. The film had its broadcast premiere in December 2014 on HBO, to significant critical acclaim. Ms. Magazine named it one of 2014’s top ten feminist films, while critics called it “compelling” and “perceptive” (Stephen Holden, New York Times); “a stunning portrait” (Ally Derks, director of the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam); and “mesmerizing, thoughtful, provocative” (Times Herald Record). The San Francisco Chronicle praised its “boldly evocative impressionist strokes that mirror the complexity of Sontag’s life and career.”
Previously, Kates produced and directed Brother Outsider: the Life of Bayard Rustin, with filmmaker Bennett Singer. Rustin, an openly gay man, is best remembered as the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, and his role as a civil rights pioneer and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The film premiered in competition at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and as a special of the PBS series “POV.” It has been screened at the Kennedy Center, the United Nations, the US Department of Justice and other federal agencies, and throughout the world, including countries with nascent or nonexistent LGBT rights movements, such as Kazakhstan, Botswana and Guyana. It went on to win more than 25 awards worldwide, including the 2004 GLAAD Media Award. Brother Outsider received significant attention in the national press: critics described it as “a potent piece of historical rediscovery” (LA Times); “beautifully crafted” (Boston Globe); “powerful and startling” (The Advocate); “poignant” (TIME); and “alive with ideas and rich in humanity” (africana.com). The film seems to have influenced President Obama’s decision to award Rustin a posthumous Medal of Freedom in 2013.
Kates received her M.A. from Stanford’s documentary film program. Her master’s thesis, Their Own Vietnam, received the 1995 Student Academy Award in documentary, and was exhibited, among other festivals, at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival. Kates has worked on a number of documentary projects as a writer, producer, and story consultant, and writes occasionally for the San Francisco Chronicle. She is a MacDowell Fellow, and also has had two residencies at the Blue Mountain Center. She has participated in invitation-only workshops such as the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Screenwriting Program, the Sundance Institute Music and Documentary Lab, the AFI Summer Television Workshop, and the Sundance Creative Producing Summit. In 2014, Kates was honored to be included in the OUT 100, the magazine’s annual list of intriguing LGBT Americans.