Who Needs Sleep?

Institute History

  • 2006 Sundance Film Festival


Ahhh…the glamorous life in Hollywood. Or is it? Today, crews in the film and television industry routinely work sweatshop hours, often clocking 15- to 18-hour days at the expense of their families, their health, their well-being, and even their lives. In 1997, after a 19-hour day on the set, assistant cameraman Brent Hershman fell asleep behind the wheel, crashed his car, and died. Deeply disturbed by Hershman's preventable death, filmmaker and multiple-Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler dons the director's hat to examine how sleep deprivation and long work hours are a lethal combination.

Using behind-the-scenes footage from major film shoots, Wexler and codirector Lisa Leeman invite the viewer into the coveted world of the Hollywood elite, then slyly pierce that bubble with the pinprick of reality. Today's studios are owned by corporate conglomerates beholden to shareholders and quarterly earnings. Deftly interweaving personal accounts from leading artisans in Hollywood with medical findings on sleep debt, Wexler and Leeman reveal that we are a culture and a country in crisis.

Seven years in the making, Who Needs Sleep? is both a biting admonition of an industry that places corporate greed above workers' safety and a passionate cry for change.

— David Courier

Screening Details


As you use our Online Archives, please understand that the information presented from Festivals, Labs, and other activities is taken directly from official publications from each year. While this information is limited and doesn't necessarily represent the full list of participants (e.g. actors and crew), it is the list given to us by the main film/play/project contact at the time, based on the space restrictions of our publications. Each entry in the Online Archives is meant as a historical record of a particular film, play, or project at the time of its involvement with Sundance Institute. For this reason, we can only amend an entry if a name is misspelled, or if the entry does not correctly reflect the original publication. If you have questions or comments, please email [email protected]