Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmaker Jeff L Lieberman of Re-Emerging Films Is…

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Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmaker Jeff L Lieberman of Re-Emerging Films Is Helping To Change Our World

I don’t think it’s a matter of choice to not give back to society, or not use one’s energy to better the world. It’s a privilege to enjoy the fruits of the earth, and it’s a moral responsibility to help others. The environment is quickly becoming unstable in many obvious examples, so it’s now a matter of life and death for us all to play a part in reversing things. For the unhoused, that environmental impact is going to be even more severe, so just helping someone in your neighborhood find a way to a safer existence is a small step in saving a life now.

As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff L. Lieberman

Jeff L. Lieberman is an award-winning Journalist, Producer and Filmmaker and the founder of Re-Emerging Films. Lieberman’s upcoming documentary, “Bella!” profiles the trailblazing congresswoman, Bella Abzug and is the winner of the 2022 Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film. His recent films include the documentaries: “The Amazing Nina Simone” and “Re-Emerging: The Jews of Nigeria” which have been seen in more than 100 theatres in 21 countries and can be found on a number of streaming services. Lieberman previously held roles as a Senior Producer at CNN, a CBS News National Producer and a Video Reporter for The New York Post.

Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?

My background has always been in film, television and radio. I shot a lot of video as a kid, and studied radio and television in college. I pursued journalism as I was always interested in the news, and felt it was a cornerstone of any democracy. I was a Video Reporter for many years at The New York Post and then became a news producer at CBS News. My entryway into documentary filmmaking came from one of my first jobs out of college, working for a LA-based production company that made docs on the behind-the-scenes, making of Hollywood films. That training made me realize I can produce docs through my own company, and I set out to make my first film.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The funniest mistake I made was also one of the scariest. I shot my first documentary film in Nigeria. I was 28 and perhaps felt more comfortable there than I should have been. I was with my local hosts on a long road trip and we stopped for a break. I was perhaps frustrated that I hadn’t shot much that day, so I had been filming from the car. At the rest stop, I was filming toward a cafe in the distance. Within moments, I had an angry man at the car window shouting in the local language, and moments later, an angry mob surrounding the car. They suspected I was with an American news outlet and thought I was intending to make them look foolish on film. They demanded the tape (we still shot on tape then) but the tape had a really important interview I had conducted earlier. The part that is funny is that eventually one of my hosts calmed everybody down — speaking in the local Igbo language — and explaining that I was here independently filming their religious life. However ,when the original man then asked me in English if I was there to film their churches, I said, no, thinking it was a trick question. I was there to film their synagogues. The crowd erupted in anger again, banging on the car and shouting further. I didn’t know how it would end, but eventually the group got tired and it shockingly stopped as quickly as it began. The lessons here are many, including to be humble, respect people’s privacy, and to always trust your local hosts for guidance on the particular norms and culture of where you’re visiting.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

I have been fortunate to meet a few of my heroes. Through my new film, “Bella!”, I got to spend a bit of time with Barbra Streisand, Secretary Hillary Clinton and Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi. I have long admired their contributions, their ambition, and the path they have carved for themselves and for others.

One thing always stands out from interviewing Secretary Clinton. Upon arrival, she was introduced to me and we briefly spoke. We then reconvened about an hour later once all the cameras and lights were set and ready to go. As we sat down and I gave her a bit of an overview, she said: “anything you want, Jeff. That’s great.” It wasn’t her flexibility that was so impressive. It was that she made the effort to remember and use my name. For someone who meets large numbers of people each day, I thought this was an extremely impressive trait and reinforced to me that she is both brilliant and caring.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

I’m most inspired by artists and activists — people who risk their lives for the betterment of the world. I have a list hanging in my office of the people I admire most and look to it often for inspiration. A few of the names on the list are Bella Abzug, Nina Simone, Larry Kramer, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Allen Ginsburg, Gloria Steinem, Norman Lear, Albert Maysles, James Baldwin and Stephen Sondheim.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

My new film, “Bella!” is about the trailblazing congresswoman, Bella Abzug. One of Bella’s lifelong goals was to see 50/50 gender equality in all walks of life — especially in leadership. When Bella was first elected to US Congress in 1970, she was one of 12 women out of 435 House members. She knew her presence there was a beginning, but that would take incredible effort to reach 50%. More than 50 years later, Congress is still far from that goal, and while strides have been made, it will take even more effort and more attention to level the playing field. That’s one of the key takeaways from the film and the change that I hope the film begins to inspire.

I also hope the film impacts viewers in a way that shows them they can do small things to impact change. Like Bella’s inspiring example, one can do much less and still make a difference. That includes voting, recycling, advocating, protesting, teaching and maybe even running for office. As Bella shows in the film, running for office is something we’re all capable of doing, and if Bella did it against much stronger odds, we all can do it.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

I was motivated to make this film after seeing the success of my previous film, “The Amazing Nina Simone.” By success, I don’t mean accolades or financial success, but the success of seeing the story I desired to tell reach and move audiences. Being in a theatre and heading an audience react in ways you hoped and also didn’t expect is a really heartwarming experience. Further, having people tell me that they felt enlightened or touched or inspired was motivation enough to try to emulate the experience once again, with different ingredients.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

In telling the story of Bella Abzug’s trailblazing journey, there are a long list of women who have benefited from her important work.

The first that come to mind are the women that immediately followed Bella in leadership roles in the 1990s. That would be Secretary Hillary Clinton, who fulfilled Bella’s dream 24 years earlier of becoming the first female senator from New York in 2000. That also includes Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi who became the first woman to become Speaker of the House of Representatives. And there’s no doubt in my mind that Congresswoman Maxine Waters embodies much of the fighting spirit of Bella Abzug today. We are very fortunate to have all three of these incredible women in this film.

There is also a direct lineage from Bella and the congresswomen of the 1970s to this new generation of women fighting for equity in the House. That is undoubtedly Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush, and Katie Porter.

As Nancy Pelosi says in “Bella!”: All of us stand on their shoulders.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Yes, there are three things people can do to support the film:

You can support the film by purchasing a ticket to one our many theatres where the film is screening and join us to see the film on the big screen. You’ll also be supporting independent art house cinemas who need our support after several difficult pandemic years. The full schedule of screenings is at If you don’t see your city listed, email your local independent cinema and ask them to bring “Bella!” to your city.

You can pre-order the film on DVD or Blu-Ray for yourself or someone else. This not only supports the film but ensures you or a loved one can watch the film multiple times. You can also ask your local library, university, school, church, synagogue, mosque or community center to order the film for their library or to host a screening. You can direct them to

You can re-share our film trailer on social media so more people can become aware of the film and Bella Abzug’s amazing story. We’re on Instagram and Twitter at @belladocfilm and Facebook at @BellaDocumentary. Our favorite hashtags are #bellaabzug and #abzuglutley

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

I wish someone had told me that nothing will ever be perfect. With my first film, I delayed releasing it for many wasteful years because I was not confident that this was the absolute best work possible. In the end, the only thing I lost was time and momentum. That was made more evident as I saw my sister write and release three books in the same amount of time. The lesson learned was nothing will ever be pristine, and self-doubt can be crippling. If someone had mentored me at that moment and said this film is great and done, I would have ensured my message reached audiences earlier, and only been more productive in that subsequent time.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I don’t think it’s a matter of choice to not give back to society, or not use one’s energy to better the world. It’s a privilege to enjoy the fruits of the earth, and it’s a moral responsibility to help others. The environment is quickly becoming unstable in many obvious examples, so it’s now a matter of life and death for us all to play a part in reversing things. For the unhoused, that environmental impact is going to be even more severe, so just helping someone in your neighborhood find a way to a safer existence is a small step in saving a life now.

We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

There are many people I’d be honored to collaborate with.

We should all be as brave and committed as Greta Thunberg. She embodies much of the courage and determination of Bella Abzug and she is 100% right that the adult population has failed and continues to fail the youth of today. That needs to change.

DeRay McKesson, Tarana Burke, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi are all tremendously inspiring to me and have really pushed the fight for equity into a whole new realm — focused on overlapping but uniquely different sectors of societal change. Anything I can do to help raise their voice further would be an honor.

I also stand in awe of bold journalists who use their platform to uncover stories that need to be told. That includes Brian Lehrer, Ronan Farrow, Kara Swisher, Rachel Maddow, David Remnick, Jeffrey Goldberg, Audie Cornish, Mary Louise Kelly, Christiane Amanpour, Maria Hinojosa, and the entire CBS 60 Minutes producing and reporting team.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The quote that comes to mind is one I’ve been hearing regularly for the last few years as I was living and breathing the film edit of “Bella!”. Bella Abzug’s father, Emmanuel Savitzky, had a butcher shop in Manhattan in the 1920s. The name of it was “The Live and Let Live Meat Market.” And although it’s simple, it’s incredibly true and highly effective. Live your life. Don’t judge others. Don’t hate others. Don’t be overly concerned with how others might perceive you. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Carry forward and live life to the fullest.

And for the record, as someone who hasn’t eaten red meat in 30+ years, I do note the hypocrisy in an institution that was killing living beings while sporting this mantra. In a time of world wars, it was still a remarkable message that resonates today. Perhaps if it was a flower shop, I’d love it even more.

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers can follow me at @jeffllieberman on Instagram and Twitter. I’m also active on Facebook and LinkedIn by searching Jeff L. Lieberman. My company’s website is which also links to all of my films. Most of my films can be streamed on Amazon, iTunes and Vimeo.

This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!

Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmaker Jeff L Lieberman of Re-Emerging Films Is… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.