Breaking In / Sophie Hoffman

Located on 28th street is an intimate production company called Break Thru Films, run by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg. It appears to be a normal office space, but the sculpture of boobs, signed by Joan Rivers, and a New York Times article  that hangs on the wall prove otherwise.  

These are just a testament to two of the many documentaries directed by Stern and Sundberg over the years. In 2010, the duo produced "Joan Rivers — A Piece of Work," which premiered at Sundance, where it won the US Documentary Prize for Best Editing. 

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The New York Times article that hangs on the wall is a review of their Emmy nominated film, "The Devil Came on Horseback." It reads, "Brutal, urgent, devastating — the documentary 'The Devil Came on Horseback' demands to be seen as soon as possible and by as many viewers as possible." The heart-wrenching documentary shows the violence and tragedy of the genocide of Darfur through the eyes of an American witness.

Stern grew up in New York and Sundberg grew up in Minnesota, but they both attended Dartmouth where they, ironically, never crossed paths. The two finally met on a film set.

Stern first had the idea to start Break Thru in 1990, after she was asked to do a film called "Neglect not the Children" for PBS. This was the first film Stern did completely on her own, and hence, Break Thru Films was born. Sundberg joined the company in 1993 to help with the production of "The Trials of Daryl Hunt," a documentary about an African American man who, in 1984, was wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of a young white newspaper copyeditor. 

"We sort of said let's go down there and see if there's a story here and then piled in the car and started filming," said Sundberg. The documentary was an ongoing process because the trial was so long. In 2007, that's fourteen years later, when the documentary premiered, it was nominated for an Emmy.

Throughout their careers, both women have worked for multiple companies as producers and directors. Stern was working as an Associate Producer for HBO's "Autopsy" when she overheard that the company was looking for another associate producer. She suggested Sundberg for the job. The two became close while working at HBO. They enjoyed their jobs, yet both felt it didn’t compare to producing and directing their own films.  

"I loved having the paycheck and the umbrella over me, but I just felt I must tell stories," said Stern. "It’s where we really just kind of explore stuff without having to answer to anyone."  

Their latest documentary, "Let Them Wear Towels" premiered July 16, 2013 on ESPN. It told the story of Sports Reporter Melissa Ludkte and her fight to be allowed into players' locker rooms during the 1977 World Series. It depicts the fight women reporters had to go through to get equal access into the world of male sports.

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In addition to film, Break Thru also produces TV shows, webisodes, and commercials.  Stern and Sundberg are currently in post-production on the third season of a fashion series called, "The Fashion Fund," a competition founded by Anna Wintour, Editor of Vogue, and the Council of Fashion Designers of America ("CDFA"). In the competition, ten finalists compete for money from Vogue to expand their fashion line. There are multiple challenges and Stern and Sunberg follow the designers through each step of the grueling process, interviewing designers as well as judges. Among the judges are Anna Wintour, Diane Von Furstenberg, Ken Downing, and many other prestigious names in the fashion industry. The show enables viewers to see designers right at the beginning of their career. Some of the past winners of the "Fund" include Alexander Wang, Joseph Altuzarra, and Greg Chait of the Elder Statesman. This year will be the show’s third season: the first premiered on Hulu, the second premiered as webisodes, and now, the third season will premiere in January of 2014 on Ovation, a network devoted to the arts.

Film is not the only interest of either women. Both are mothers, and Stern published a children’s book series, "Beryl Bean: Mighty Adventurer of the Planet." Having each other to rely on, Stern and Sundberg have been able to juggle the many responsibilities of motherhood, an expanding business, and a commitment to storytelling. "A lot of people say, how do you start making films," explained Sundberg, "I think you just start making them." 


Sophie Hoffman is a junior at Depauw University and while in New York, I interned at two production companies, Verisimilitude and Break Thru Films, as well as the acting studio, Page 22.