Cynthia Wade

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Cynthia Wade
Born United States
Occupation Film director, producer, cinematographer
Years active 1993–present
Spouse(s) Matthew Syrett
Relatives John Orr Young, Ali Benjamin, Whitney Tilson

Cynthia Wade is an American television, commercial and film director, producer and cinematographer based in New York City. She has directed documentaries on social issues including Shelter Dogs in 2003 about animal welfare and Freeheld in 2007 about LGBT rights as well as television commercials and web campaigns. She has won over 40 film festival awards, won an Oscar in 2008 and was nominated for her second Oscar in 2013.


Wade was born and raised in the New York City area.

She is the great-granddaughter of John Orr Young, the founder of Young & Rubicam.[1] She attended Smith College where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree, and Stanford University where she received a master's degree in Documentary Film Production.[2] During college, Wade attended the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT, where she studied directing.

In 1999 she married Matthew Syrett.[1]

She taught advanced digital cinematography[3] and film production in the graduate certificate program in Documentary Media Studies[4] at The New School and runs a film production company, Cynthia Wade Productions, Inc.[2][5] She lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters.[2]


In 1999, Wade’s personal documentary Grist for the Mill aired on Cinemax.

In 2003, Wade directed and produced Shelter Dogs, a documentary about the animal welfare system in the United States and the ethics of animal euthanasia.[6][7][8] For this film she won the Grand Prize at the Director's View Film Festival, the Audience Award at the Newport International Film Festival, the Best of the Fest award at the Northampton Film Festival and the Audience Award at the Orinda Film Festival.[9][10] It was the 2004 debut special for HBO's series America Undercover.[11][12]

In 2007, Wade directed and shot Freeheld, a documentary telling the story of terminally ill New Jersey police officer Laurel Hester. Hester came to public attention when she appealed to her local authorities to change the policy that prevented her female domestic partner from receiving pension benefits on Hester's death. While filming Freeheld, Wade spent time living with Hester and her partner Stacie Andree in New Jersey.[5] The film won 16 film awards including the Special Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, a Special Jury Prize at the Seattle International Film Festival, the Audience Award at the Boston Independent Film Festival, the Audience Award at L.A. Outfest.[13] Wade and Producer Vanessa Roth won the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) at the 80th Academy Awards in 2008.[14][15]

In 2008 and 2009 Wade directed the documentary Living the Legacy: The Untold Story of Milton Hershey School at Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Pennsylvania,{ one of several films she has made for schools and non profit organizations.[6][16] It aired on the Sundance Channel and the Independent Film Channel.[6]

In January 2010, Wade’s documentary Born Sweet, about a Cambodian boy who is poisoned with arsenic, had its World Premiere at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival where it was awarded Honorable Mention; it won 14 additional film festival awards, including prizes at Aspen, Palm Springs and the Hamptons Film Festivals.[17][18][19][20]

In 2011, Wade was Documentary Director for the Prime Time Emmy-Winning Sesame Street TV special "Growing Hope Against Hunger", about food insecurity in America, as told through four children's eyes in different parts of the country.[21][22]

In 2013, Wade was nominated for her second Academy Award for her HBO documentary Mondays at Racine. The documentary won 4 festival awards and an IDA Award Nomination.[23][24][25]

In 2014, during an event at the Sundance Film Festival, Wade released her short film "Selfie" in conjunction with the Sundance Institute and Dove (soap) dealing with how social media is changing the way women define beauty. "Selfie" is an installment of the 'Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. [26][27] The Selfie project went viral and captured over 7.1 million views worldwide. It was awarded a Clio in 2014 for Best Short Form Film.[28]

In 2015, Wade directed and cast #EndMommyWars,[29] a 7-minute documentary for Similac as part of their #EndMommyWars campaign. The film followed real new moms over the course of a day, where they talked about how they judged other mothers and felt judged themselves.[30][31]

In 2015, the feature film "Freeheld", based on Wade's 2007 documentary, was released by Lionsgate. Wade served as a lead producer on this film, which stars Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Steve Carell and Michael Shannon. It is directed by Peter Sollett.




  • 1995: Almost Home
  • 1999: Grist for the Mill
  • 2003: Shelter Dogs
  • 2006: Gender Rebel
  • 2007: Freeheld
  • 2012: Mondays at Racine
  • 2015: The Gnomist
  • 2015: Freeheld (2015)



  1. ^ a b "Cynthia Wade and Matthew Syrett", The New York Times, September 19, 1999, retrieved August 11, 2009 
  2. ^ a b c Cynthia Wade Productions (2007). "Filmmaker Profile". Official site. Retrieved August 11, 2009. 
  3. ^ "Bio". HBO. 
  4. ^ "AND THE OSCAR GOES TO...". Retrieved January 25, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "Oscar nomination for documentary about lesbian cop", Pink News, January 23, 2008, retrieved August 11, 2009 
  6. ^ a b c Dunkle, David N. (August 9, 2009), "A conversation with director Cynthia Wade", The Patriot-News, retrieved August 11, 2009 
  7. ^ Daniel, Jeff (January 25, 2004), ""SHELTER DOGS" IS MORE ABOUT ETHICS THAN AN EXPOSE", St. Louis Post-Dispatch, pp. F6 
  8. ^ Diamond, Wendy (January 20, 2004), ""SHELTER DOGS": AN UNDERCOVER DOCUMENTARY OF THE UNWANTED", Animal Fair Magazine, pp. F6 
  9. ^ "Shelter Dogs (2003)". New York Times. Retrieved December 8, 2015. 
  10. ^ "Shelter Dogs Awards". Retrieved August 11, 2009. 
  11. ^ Gorman, James (January 27, 2004), "Life And Death Decisions About Four Legged Prisoners", The New York Times, retrieved August 11, 2009 
  12. ^ Parker, James (January 27, 2004), "'Shelter Dogs' unleashes painful facts about strays", The Boston Globe, retrieved August 11, 2009 
  13. ^ "L.A. Outfest",, January 23, 2008, retrieved December 7, 2015 
  14. ^ Finn, Robin (March 7, 2008), "A Filmmaker Triumphant, A Film About Triumph", The New York Times, retrieved August 11, 2009 
  15. ^ "Story of lesbian cop's pension struggle wins Oscar", Pink News, February 25, 2008, retrieved August 11, 2009 
  16. ^ Dunkle, David N. (August 5, 2009), "Oscar winner directs documentary about Milton Hershey School", The Patriot-News, retrieved August 11, 2009 
  17. ^ Born Sweet (2010) - Awards,, retrieved January 20, 2014 
  18. ^ Sondhi, Jason (September 15, 2013), "Short of the Week",, retrieved January 20, 2014 
  19. ^ Tehrani, Bijan (March 25, 2010), "Cynthia Wade Talks About BORN SWEET",, retrieved January 20, 2014 
  20. ^ Koughuell, Ray (September 22, 2014), Q&A with Cynthia Wade: Death and Fate in a Cambodian Village, Voice of America News, retrieved November 29, 2015 
  21. ^ Aumer, Christy (June 30, 2011), Sesame Street Films in Vineyard Haven, Patch Media, retrieved November 29, 2015 
  22. ^ Hacker, Pam (October 4, 2011). "Brad Paisley, Kimberly Williams Paisley and the Sesame Street Muppets help families cope with hunger" (Press release). PBS Sesame Workshop. Retrieved November 29, 2015. 
  23. ^ Cynthia Wade Awards,, retrieved December 7, 2015 
  24. ^ BEST SHORT DOCUMENTARY MONDAY’S AT RACINE (2013), Irvine Film Festival, retrieved December 7, 2015 
  25. ^ MONDAYS AT RACINE -American Film Showcase, American Film Showcase, retrieved December 7, 2015 
  26. ^ Kelly, Samantha Murphy (January 20, 2014), Dove Short Film Embraces 'Selfies' to Redefine How We Perceive Beauty, Mashable, retrieved January 20, 2014 
  27. ^ Oster, Erik (January 22, 2014), Recommended Media’s ‘Selfie’ for Dove Leaves Us a Bit Verklempt, Media Bistro, retrieved January 22, 2014 
  28. ^ Oster, Erik (2014), Clio Awards – Dove Selfie, Clio Awards, retrieved December 7, 2015 
  29. ^ Bolonga, Caroline (October 22, 2015), If You've Ever Been Judged As A Mom, This Video Is For You, Huffington Post, retrieved October 22, 2015 
  30. ^ Ruiz, Rebecca (October 22, 2015), This New Ad Will Convince You Never Again To Judge a New Mom, Mashable, retrieved October 22, 2015 
  31. ^ Cullers, Rebecca (October 23, 2015), Feeling Judged? Judging Others? This Heartfelt Similac Film Hopes To End The Mommy Wars, AdWeek, retrieved October 23, 2015 

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