Ruth Peyser has been making animated films since her arrival in New York from Australia in 1978. Her strong body of work explores social and political themes, with a focus on women's issues.
Ruth completed Another Great Day in 1980, a film she made in collaboration with Jo Bonney. As young women who had recently moved to New York, they were examining their life choices. They developed the idea for the film from their many discussions. Another Great Day tells the story of a woman who mechanically follows the expected societal norms, which causes her a despair she doesn’t understand. Ruth and Jo were surprised at the positive public response. The film was shown at many festivals worldwide, won awards, and was also shown on PBS stations throughout the United States. They continued their collaboration and completed Random Positions in 1983. This film examined the acceptable but frequently destructive roles people play with themselves and others in sexual relationships.
By the mid-1980s Ruth had been playing guitar in no wave bands for a number of years. In 1985, when she was playing in Bump, she made an animated music video using one of their songs. One Nation Under TV uses hand colored and manipulated sequential photographs set to discordant music to tell the story of Bob, a bored and depressed TV addict who undergoes a series of nonsensical self-destructive acts while glued to the tube. The manipulative and addictive qualities of mainstream media are a theme in many of Ruth’s films.
Ruth completed Covered in Fleas in 1988. The film traces an hour in the life of Lulu, a neurotic, urban everywoman. After a harrowing walk home from work, Lulu returns to her apartment, where her unemployed boyfriend watches TV. They argue, her boyfriend walks out and Lulu is left to contemplate matters as best as she knows how. Unlike her earlier films, which used manipulated sequential photographs, Covered in Fleas was entirely hand drawn. The illustrations have an edgy, underground comics feel.
In the early 1990s, Ruth received funding from the Independent Television Service (ITVS), which made it possible for her to make Go to Hell. The film examines how fear can be an irrational, but determining factor in how we navigate our lives. Around the same time ITVS also funded Side-Kicks Productions to create Animated Women, a four part series for public television. Mood, the third episode of the series, was devoted to Ruth and her work. The series aired on PBS stations throughout the United States, was awarded a CINE Golden Eagle and picked up other prizes and honors at film festivals around the country.
Ruth completed Go to Hell a few weeks before she had her second daughter. When her daughters were young, Ruth took a hiatus from filmmaking. Instead she wrote short stories about her past. Some of these stories became There was a Little Girl, an autobiographical film spanning fifty years. Ruth tells six stories from her life set ten years apart, each on a backdrop of political and social events of that year. It explores her personal growth and the relationships of three generations of women in her family. The film uses animation, manipulated found footage and stills to tell the stories.
In 2012 Ruth received funding from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) and the Jerome Foundation to make I'm Here It's Me Can You See. The film explores the effects of chronic illness on people's lives through the stories of two women with Parkinson's Disease.
Ruth's award-winning films have been screened on public television and at hundreds of festivals in the United States and throughout the world, including the Black Maria Film Festival (1st Prize), Atlanta Film Festival (Grand Jury Award and Best Animated Film), Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Films, Big Muddy Film Festival, Ann Arbor Film Festival, ASIFA, Anthology Film Archives, Film Forum, Toronto International Film Festival, London Film Festival, WNET-13 Independent Focus, PS122 Field Trips National Tour and the Jerusalem Film Festival.