Leigh Johnson (Photo by Tanya Braganti)

Leigh Johnson (Photo by Tanya Braganti)


We're delighted to announce that Leigh Johnson is our 2017 fellow! Leigh is an incredibly talented emerging editor who has impressed us with her passion for the craft, her thoughtful approach to the creative process and her love of collaboration. She’s deeply interested in exploring the ways in which people experience the world, just as Karen Schmeer was. Her sensitive and artful work as an editor on Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus took our breath away. She will receive the fellowship on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 at the SXSW Film Festival Awards Ceremony in Austin, Texas.

Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus

Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus


Garret Savage, Schmeer Fellowship Board President said, “Leigh has a really strong work ethic and an intuitive storytelling sense. And in recent years she’s dedicated herself to learning about documentary art and craft by attending panels, meetups and screenings. We love that! We’re eager to support her efforts to become a better editor and help push her career to the next level."

Leigh is thrilled to receive the fellowship and said, "For years I’ve admired not only the work of Karen Schmeer and the fellows honored in her memory, but also the passion and dedication of her friends. Through this fellowship, they embody a generosity of spirit that I’ve noticed and benefited from again and again in the documentary community. This kind of generosity is as humbling as it is inspiring, and a poignantly fitting way to keep Karen’s memory alive. I’m very grateful for this opportunity and excited for new mentors, new projects, and new learning experiences in the coming year!"

Leigh’s mentors for the year will be Penelope Falk (Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Step), Maya Mumma (O.J.: Made in America, Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown), and Geoffrey Richman, ACE (Murderball, The Cove). Read more about them here.


Leigh, who has worked in film and TV for eight years, didn’t set out to be an editor. In fact, she graduated with a degree in Neuroscience & Behavior from Vassar College and taught English in rural Japan for two years. During this time, she was teaching herself how to use Final Cut Pro as a creative outlet, and eventually decided to move to New York to pursue a career in editing. She wasn't sure how to break in, but quickly found a few internships that led to assistant work, including a stint at The Onion's video department.

From those internships came an opportunity to join the team of the feature documentary The Lottery, to help with post-production and the theatrical release. The film, directed by Madeleine Sackler, made the Oscar shortlist. Years later, when Sackler began her Dangerous Acts film, she hired Johnson as an associate producer. Leigh also began cutting the dailies as they came in. Eventually she was promoted to a shared editor role and earned her first feature documentary editing credit. The critically acclaimed HBO film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, won festival awards, and an Emmy for Outstanding Arts and Culture Programming.
Anne Barliant, her co-editor on Dangerous Acts, can’t imagine a better recipient for the Schmeer Fellowship and remarked, “Leigh has an incredible instinct for wringing great emotional meaning from simple juxtapositions. But her deep sense of responsibility for empathetically representing the subjects of our film is what truly impressed me.”
She’s currently working with Madeleine Sackler again on a unique documentary that blends animation and live action footage. It will be released in late 2017.

In addition to collaborating with directors to birth films into the world, Leigh works as a part-time doula. She resides in Piermont, New York.

Today PBS's POV Documentary Blog is publishing "Entering the Edit with Karen Schmeer Fellow Leigh Johnson", a short interview with Leigh about her process and her goals for the fellowship. She'll be publishing a series of blog entries throughout the year.