Helen Whitney

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Helen Whitney
Residence New York
Alma mater Sarah Lawrence College
Occupation Documentary Filmmaker, Producer and Writer
Website https://www.helenwhitney.com

Professional career[edit]

Helen Whitney is an award-winning American producer, director and writer of documentaries and feature films that have aired on PBS, HBO, ABC and NBC. Her subjects have stretched across a broad spectrum of topics including youth gangs, a portrait of the 1996 presidential candidates, a Trappist monastery in Massachusetts, the McCarthy Era, Pope John Paul II, and the late photographer Richard Avedon. "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero", arguably Whitney's best-known film, was PBS' two-hour special on 9/11, which explored the spiritual aftershocks of this horrific event. Her film, The Mormons, was a four-hour PBS series and the first collaboration between American Experience and Frontline.

Ms. Whitney's most recent film, "Forgiveness: A Time to Love & A Time to Hate", examines the power, limitations - and in rare cases - the dangers of forgiveness through emblematic stories, ranging from personal betrayal to international truth and reconciliation commissions. This three-hour series aired on PBS in April 2011. Whether her film subjects are political or spiritual, they cut close to the bone and on occasion they have created controversy. Her 1982 ABC News Close-Up documentary about the McCarthy Era, "American Inquisition", provoked a libel suit brought by journalist Victor Lasky. Whitney and ABC News were defended by the legendary First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, whose many landmark cases include the Pentagon Papers. The court ruled in favor of Whitney's documentary. It was decisive victory for ABC News and the producer Helen Whitney. In the words of Floyd Abrams words "we won and the broadcast was totally vindicated." In her feature work, she has directed many distinguished actors, among them Lindsey Crouse, Austin Pendleton, Blair Brown, Brenda Fricker, David Strathairn.

Her films have received the highest awards in the industry. Among her many accolades are an Oscar nomination, the duPont-Columbia University Award, an Emmy Award and the George Foster Peabody Award. Ms. Whitney frequently lectures at colleges and universities, museums and churches throughout the country. In 2012, she presented the William Belden Noble lectures at Harvard University. She has also been an artist-in-residence on numerous campuses and she continues to produce award-winning documentaries that raise important, provoking questions.


Whitney grew up in New York City, where she attended the Chapin School. [1] She received a BA in English literature from Sarah Lawrence College in 1965 and a master's degree in Victorian literature from the University of Chicago in 1967.

Documentary Films - Producer, Director, Writer[edit]

Title Airing Network Duration Year Released
First Edition PBS 30 minutes 1975
Youth Terror: The View From Behind The Gun ABC 60 minutes 1978
The Monastery ABC 90 minutes 1980
Homosexuals ABC 60 minutes 1982
American Inquisition ABC 60 minutes 1983
They Have Souls Too ABC 60 minutes 1992
Society Class In Great Britain Turner Network 60 minutes 1992
Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light PBS: American Masters 90 minutes 1994
The Choice '96 PBS: Frontline 2 hours 1996
John Paul II: The Millennial Pope PBS Frontline 3 hours 1998
Faith and Doubt At Ground Zero PBS: Frontline 2 hours 2002
The Mormons PBS: Frontline and American Experience 4 hours 2007
Forgiveness: A Time To Love And A Time To Hate PBS 3 hours 2011

Dramatic Feature Films - Director[edit]

Beginning in 1982, following her acceptance by the Sundance Institute, Helen wrote and directed a number of dramatic features for television.

Title Airing Network Year Released
A Town's Revenge ABC 1997
In The Gloaming Trinity Playhouse 1997
Every Day Heroes 1990
Lethal Innocence American Playhouse 1991
First Love. Fatal Love HBO 1991

Scripts - Writer & Co-Writer[edit]

Title Role Airing Station/Location
The Siege Co-writer Commissioned by Trinity Playhouse
Change of Heart Co-writer Commissioned by American Playhouse
Kale Messenger Co-writer Commissioned by Warner Brothers
K.589 Co-writer Selected by The Sundance Film Festival
Prejudice: Take One Writer Commissioned by Highgate Productions
Willa Cather: The Road Home Co-writer PBS American Masters
The Rise and Fall of Mark Twain Co-writer PBS American Masters
Deliverance Co-writer Commissioned for PBS for the 50th anniversary of WW2
Black, White and Blue Co-writer HBO
The Song of the Lark Co-writer Lifetime Television


In 2011, following the release of her two-part PBS documentary "Forgiveness: A Time To Love & A Time To Hate", Whitney wrote a companion book to the film with the same title and a foreword by the Dalai Lama.

Abbreviated List of Awards and Nominations[edit]

Year Body of Work Award Received
1977 First Edition Academy Award Nomination: Best Documentary Short
1978 Youth Terror: The View From Behind The Gun The San Francisco International Film Festival Award
1978 First Edition The Flaherty Film Festival Award
1985 American Inquisition The Edward R. Murrow Award
1988 They Have Souls Too The Humanitas Prize
1990 A Town's Revenge The Humanitas Prize
1995 Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light The Director's Guild of America: Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary Film
1995 Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light The Hamptons International Film Festival Award for most popular film
1996 The Choice '96 The Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award
1996 The Choice '96 George Foster Peabody Award
1996 The Choice '96 Emmy Award for Outstanding Analysis of a Single Current Story
1996 The Choice '96 The Writer's Guild of America Award for Outstanding Script for Television Documentary
2002 Faith and Doubt At Ground Zero The Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award
2002 Faith and Doubt At Ground Zero The Christopher Award
1999 John Paul II: The Millennial Pope The Writer's Guild of America Award for Outstanding Script for Television Documentary

Film and Lecture Presentations[edit]

Helen Whitney has delivered keynote addresses and lectures at Yale University, Berkeley, Pomona College, Harvard Divinity School, Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Bellarmine University, John Jay School of Criminal Justice, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Minneapolis Art Institute, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville, KY, the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C, Syracuse University and Roanoke College in Virginia.

Endowed Lectures[edit]

  • William Belden Noble Lectures at Memorial Church, Harvard University, 2012
  • Flagler College Convocation Address for the class of 2012, St. Augustine, Florida
  • The Luce Lecture at Boston University, 2007
  • The Smith-Pettit Lecture on Mormonism, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2007

Artist In Residence[edit]

  • Dixie State College
  • Brigham Young University
  • University of Utah
  • Utah Valley University
  • Utah State University
  • The Studios of Key West
  • Stanford University


As a 2009 Woodrow Wilson scholar, she has taught at numerous small colleges across the U.S., among them Flagler College, Roanoke College and St. Mary's College.


  • Film Forum, Board Member and Chairman of the Board, 1986-1991
  • New York Women in Film and Television, Board Member
  • City Church of New York, Founding Member


External links[edit]