Leah Mahan, producer/director and cinematographer, recently completed COME HELL OR HIGH WATER: The Battle for Turkey Creek, a documentary about a coastal Mississippi community settled by emancipated slaves that is threatened by urban sprawl and environmental contamination. In 2011 she attended the Sundance Institute Documentary Editing and Story Lab as a Fellow working on a rough cut of the film.
In 2010 Leah worked with Derrick Evans and the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health to develop a new media project related to the film called BRIDGE THE GULF, which was workshopped at the Producers Institute for New Media Technologies and presented at the 2011 Media That Matters conference.
Mahan began working on documentary films in 1988 as a research assistant for filmmaker Henry Hampton on the acclaimed PBS series EYES ON THE PRIZE.
Her first independent film, HOLDING GROUND: THE REBIRTH OF DUDLEY STREET, aired on public television in 1997. The documentary chronicles the 12-year struggle of residents to transform Boston’s most devastated neighborhood into a vibrant community. The Ford Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation funded a national education and outreach initiative for the film, including the distribution of the video and companion materials to more than 1,000 nonprofits struggling with sustainable development and community control.
HOLDING GROUND is used widely in the community-development field. The Ford Foundation included the film in an evaluation of its most effective documentary funding in the past 25 years. After Hurricane Katrina, a short version of the film was commissioned by the Annie E. Casey Foundation for use by community-building organizations on the Gulf Coast. Leah served as Co-Executive Producer of a sequel to the film, GAINING GROUND, released in 2013.
Leah’s film SWEET OLD SONG is a documentary about Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong, an African American fiddler in his 90s who undertakes a bittersweet journey with the woman he loves. The film, which was funded by the Independent Television Service, premiered on the PBS series “P.O.V.” in 2002, had an encore broadcast in 2003 and was part of the “True Lives” series, which highlights classic films from the series archive. It was nominated by the Directors Guild of America for Outstanding Directorial Achievement and was selected by film critic Roger Ebert for his 2004 Overlooked Film Festival. The documentary was part of the ITVS television series “True Stories,” which broadcasts independent American films to foreign audiences.
In 2009, in celebration of Howard Armstrong’s centennial, “P.O.V.” streamed “Sweet Old Song” on its Web site, and cultural organizations, including the Country Music Hall of Fame and the First International Film Festival on Aging, screened the film.
In recent years Mahan has taught seminars and made presentations on using documentary skills to advance social change. She’s made presentations on the subject to grantees of the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation and graduate urban studies students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Her work has been supported by the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund, Independent Television Service, Ford Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Mahan holds a BA in anthropology from Cornell University and a MFA in cinema from San Francisco State University.
PHOTOS ON THIS SITE: Courtesy the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, the Evans family, Elisa Haber, John McMurtrie, Lolita Parker Jr. and London Parker-McWhorter.