When Films Change the World
Films have a greater opportunity than ever to inspire and empower social awareness and change on a mass scale. Those behind some of the most successful impact films discuss how to make a difference through storytelling.
Danny Gabai, Chief Content Officer, VICE Studios U.S.
Elizabeth Haggard, SVP of Narrative Film, Participant
Jonathan Prince, Co-Founder & President, Philmco Media
David Steward II, CEO, Lion Forge Animation
Robert Rippberger, Founder & Co-Executive Director, SIE Society
David Steward IICEO, Lion Forge Animation
David Steward, II is an Academy Award®-winning producer who owns and operates multiple companies with a mission of creating, discovering, and highlighting multicultural and diverse content in the entertainment industry.
In 2018, Steward founded Polarity, a holding company to oversee the operations of a portfolio of companies. The companies offer an array of content offerings including graphic novels and comics, animated television, streaming and cinematic features, and gaming. Key portfolio companies include Oni Lion Forge Publishing Group (the merged entity of The Lion Forge and the twenty-year comic book publisher Oni Press), the European publishing house Magnetic Press, the original content developer Illustrated Syndicate, the animation studio Lion Forge Animation, and Lion Forge Labs.
In 2019, Polarity launched the Lion Forge Animation Studio, credited for producing the Hair Love short film, distributed by Sony Pictures Animation, and winner for “Best Animated Short” in the 2020 Academy Awards®. Lion Forge Animation has gained recognition for highlighting animators of color and in 2021 was named one of Fast Company Magazine’s Most Innovative Companies in the World, placing #3 in the film and TV category.
Among the significant entertainment deals brokered by David in the last year include: a partnership with Wendell Scott Ventures to introduce the iconic and groundbreaking life and legacy of Wendell Scott, NASCAR’s first black racer, to audiences through films, TV series, digital content, games, and more; a first look deal with Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Kids + Family label; a partnership with BRON Studios on an animated TV series Heiress; a Hair Love spinoff series (Young Love) for HBO Max; and a multi-picture joint venture partnership with Chinese studio Starlight Media, to name a few.
David’s entertainment portfolio started with the founding of The Lion Forge, LLC, the St. Louis-based publisher in 2011. Before merging with Oni Press, the company published comics and graphic novels with a mission to create content for everyone, regardless of gender identity, ethnicity, or cultural background – a mission which is still maintained at Oni Lion Forge Publishing Group. The company boasted multiple publishing accolades. The first original graphic novel Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven was nominated for three Glyph Awards, as well as the Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity, and Lighter Than My Shadow was voted the 2017 Graphic Novel of the Year by Amazon. The benefit collection, Puerto Rico Strong, brought home the company’s first Eisner Award in 2019 in the “Best Anthology Comic” category. Across multiple imprints and formats that has included licensed properties like DreamWorks Voltron Legendary Defender, original works from top independent creators, and the original and all-inclusive Catalyst Prime superhero universe, Lion Forge has published something for every level of comic book fan, young and old.
A past Board Chair of Nine PBS in St. Louis, David was recently elected Lay Vice Chair of Americas Public Television Stations (APTS). He was the recipient of the APTS Advocacy Award in 2021.
David was also the recipient of a coveted Eisner Award, the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award, earned on behalf of the Comic Book United Fund, which he started with Binc and DC at the onset of the COVID pandemic to provide aid to comic book retailers. The fund was an offshoot of the Forge Fund he had created years earlier.
Before starting Lion Forge, David founded and operated Photographx.com. Started in 2000, the company grew from a photography solutions provider into a multimedia company providing photography, filmmaking, animation and design to its clients. Steward has also worked as a film producer for a Christian media company based in Los Angeles, and later formed and managed The Chi Rho Group, a “traditional” private equity organization focused on making acquisitions in consumer-packaged goods, technology, and media & entertainment.
David graduated Magna Cum Laude from American University in 1998 with a B.S.B.A. in International Marketing.
Robert RippbergerFounder & Co-Executive Director, SIE Society / SIE Films
Robert Rippberger is a filmmaker with a broad array of creative and executive experience. He most recently directed and produced the film “Those Who Walk Away” starring BooBoo Stewart (Descendants, X-Men) and prior to that directed and produced the Harlem drama, “Strive,” with Danny Glover. Both were released theatrically and received dozens of accolades worldwide.
Rippberger has also directed and produced critically acclaimed documentaries, including the 2019 film “Public Enemy Number One” from Executive Producer ICE-T, exploiting the U.S. war on drugs. Prior, Rippberger directed and produced the 2015 film “7 Days in Syria”, an exploration into the human side of the war in Aleppo, Syria. The film was championed by Angelina Jolie, screened at Britain’s House of Lords, to senior members of the U.N., and was released on Hulu and Amazon.
Rippberger is a member of the Producers Guild of America and is on the PGA’s Social Impact Entertainment Task Force. In addition to heading SIE Films, Rippberger is the founder and co-executive director of SIE Society, a leading global alliance of Social Impact Entertainment filmmakers. In 2022 he published his second book, “The Power of Storytelling: Social Impact Entertainment” available through book sellers everywhere October 25th.
Rippberger’s current projects include producing the documentary “How to Build a Truth Engine” with Executive Producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov, producing the documentary “The Mouse That Roared” from Academy Award-nominated director Judith Ehrlich, producing the stop-motion animated film “The Inventor” from “Ratatouille” writer Jim Capobianco, starring Daisy Ridley, Stephen Fry, Marion Cotillard, and Matt Berry, and executive producing the horror film “Float” by former Blumhouse executive Zac Locke. Rippberger also has two upcoming director projects to be announced soon.
Danny GabaiChief Content Officer
Danny Gabai is Chief Content Officer at VICE Studios, which he has helped build from the ground up to encompass all of VICE’s feature film, scripted television, and premium non-scripted and documentary productions.
VICE Studios is a division of VICE Media Group, the world’s largest independent youth media company. Launched in 1994, VICE has offices in 35 cities across the globe with a focus on five key businesses: Studios; VICE.com, an award-winning international network of digital content; VICE TV, an Emmy-winning international television network; a Peabody award-winning NEWS division with the most Emmy-awarded nightly news broadcast; and VIRTUE, a global, full-service creative agency.
Gabai has produced multiple feature films, documentaries and TV series for VICE, including the 3 time Oscar nominated and 2 time BAFTA nominated animated documentary FLEE; Showtime’s upcoming documentary MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM; 6 part docuseries PRIDE for FX, Scott Burns’ 2019 Golden Globe nominated Amazon feature film THE REPORT; Chris Smith’s Emmy-nominated Netflix documentaries FYRE: THE GREATEST PARTY THAT NEVER HAPPENED and JIM & ANDY: THE GREAT BEYOND; Gaspar Noe’s CLIMAX, winner of the Director’s Fortnight competition at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival; and Ana Lily Amirpour’s THE BAD BATCH, winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 2016 Venice Film Festival.
Gabai has worked across every aspect of VICE’s creative business over the past 10 years, including overseeing VICE’s entire original digital content slate from 2012 – 2014, running VICE’s film marketing division and conceiving VICE’s industry defining campaigns for “Spring Breakers”, “The Conjuring” and the Cannes Lions winning “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”; and working closely with Spike Jonze to help develop the original slate of shows that launched the VICELAND channel.
Prior to VICE, Gabai spent 10 years as a Motion Picture Agent at WME Entertainment and the William Morris Agency, where he worked with clients including filmmakers Gaspar Noe, Lee Daniels, Nicolas Winding Refn and Roman Coppola, “Mr. Robot” creator Sam Esmail, fashion designers Rodarte; as well as companies including JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot and VICE.
Gabai graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Elizabeth HaggardSenior Vice President of Narrative Film, Participant
As Senior Vice President of Narrative Film, Elizabeth Haggard is involved in the day-to-day development and production of the narrative film slate for Participant, the leading media company dedicated to entertainment that stands at the intersection of art and activism. She is currently producing Shirley, a biopic about Shirley Chisholm starring Regina King, and written and directed by John Ridley for Netflix.
Prior to joining Participant, Haggard oversaw the development and production of Ramona Film’s film and TV slate as their Production Executive. While there, she produced Janicza Bravo’s film Zola for A24 and Dave Franco’s directorial debut The Rental for IFC and Black Bear. She was an Executive Producer on the UCP pilot Masters of Doom, based on David Kushner’s book of the same title, and developed the critically-acclaimed Hulu show Pam & Tommy. Haggard started her career at Universal Pictures as an Executive Assistant to Donna Langley before being promoted to Director, Story Department. Haggard received a BFA in Theatre Studies and a BA in English from Southern Methodist University.
Jonathan PrinceCo-Founder & President, PhilmCo Media
Jonathan Prince is a prolific writer/producer/showrunner whose recent accomplishments include producing the upcoming musical feature film 1660 Vine, the first feature film from his new studio/production company, PhilmCo Media. His recent credits also include developing and Executive Producing Four Weddings and a Funeral with Mindy Kaling for MGM/Hulu, and Co-Creating and Executive Producing American Soul, which aired its second season on BET.
He currently has one-hour television pilots in development at Sister (W: National Book Award Winner Colum McCann), Paramount Television (D: Billy Porter) and Fox (D: Jonathan Levine EP: Mick Fleetwood), all via PhilmCo. Many of Prince’s productions are inspired directly or indirectly by strong musical themes, going back to his first creation, the Emmy-winning drama American Dreams, for NBC.
In 2021, Jonathan wrote a music-driven pilot for HBO Max with Broadway composer Andrew Lippa, and he is currently developing a Studio 54 series with Peter Paige and Billy Porter. Prince is producing the feature comedy Rock the Boat for stars Rebel Wilson and Leslie Mann with producer Jon Turteltaub and EOne. Other notable projects include writing the event-series 38 Nooses for AMC and executive producer Robert Redford and co-creating the innovative drama series 12 Rooms for Amazon.
Jonathan has collaborated as writer/producer on multiple other projects with artists including director Catherine Hardwicke, director Abderrahmane Sissako, producer Jimmy Iovine and comedy showrunner Chris Moynihan. Jonathan has created and run multiple other TV series, including The Cleaner, which he co-created for A&E, and Cane, which he created and Executive Produced for CBS.