The documentarian

Photo courtesy of Ryan Suffern

Many moviegoers were touched deeply by “American Beauty,” the 1999 Academy Award-winning drama about the midlife crisis of a frustrated 40-something dad named Lester Burnham. For Ryan Suffern (BA, ’99, English), now head of the documentary division at The Kennedy/Marshall Company in Santa Monica, California, the film was life-changing.

As the end credits rolled, Suffern, then living in Chicago and fresh out of college, turned to his girlfriend, Kim Garr (BA, ’98, English)—now his wife—and uttered, “I wish I could have done anything on that movie. I wish I could have carried coffee on that movie.”

It was no small impulse. Soon thereafter, Suffern quit his job to take an unpaid position on the set of a small, independent film. One thing kept leading to the next: The unpaid position led to a paid set position, which led him to working on major films in Los Angeles, which eventually led to a position working directly with Steven Spielberg.

Now, in a few days, Suffern will see the national release of “Finding Oscar,” a documentary he directed and produced with Frank Marshall (with Spielberg as executive producer) which Suffern calls the high point of his career. Last fall, the documentary, which tells the story of an epic search for a Guatemalan genocide survivor, premiered at the prestigious Telluride Film Festival.

Read the full story by Dave Evensen here.