Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Susan Polis Schutz Bridges Divides with Words and Film


Peekskill native Susan Polis Schutz’s new film, Bridging Divides: Sharing Heartbeats, is about people coming together to bridge divides by sharing activities and discussions. While Susan conceived of the film as a response to the divisive times we live in, the connectedness it promotes very much reflects Susan’s experience growing up in Peekskill.

“It really was ideal,” Susan recalls of her childhood here. “Our class [Peekskill High School class of 1962] was very diverse, and we had friendships with everyone regardless of their ethnicity…. We got to know everyone as people. And people all have the same needs.”

In addition to being a documentary filmmaker–Bridging Divides is Susan’s ninth film–Susan is an accomplished writer and poet. She began her writing career in Peekskill with a newspaper she put together when she was in fourth grade. “I had little jokes in there and little news items, like Hillcrest being built,” Susan recalls.

Turning to poetry as an adolescent she said she “couldn’t really understand my feelings until I wrote them down. Same with my films. They help me understand what’s going on.”

Susan and Stephen on their wedding day in 1969. Photo courtesy of Susan Polis Schultz.

Susan and her future husband, Stephen Schutz, met while they were both in college. She was studying English at Rider University; he was studying theoretical physics at Princeton. They married at her parents’ Hudson View Estates apartment in 1969 and had a small dinner party to celebrate at Colonial Terrace. The couple then moved to Boulder, Colorado, for Stephen’s postdoctoral fellowship researching solar energy.

Susan continued to write poetry and in 1971, Stephen, who had studied drawing and lettering at the High School of Music and Art in New York City, suggested making a silkscreen poster with the words of her poem, “Come into the Mountains, Dear Friend.” The couple left twelve posters at a nearby bookstore but forgot to leave their phone number. When they checked back a month later, the bookstore had sold all the posters and wanted more. This was the start of Blue Mountain Arts.

“We were in Blue Mountain, Colorado and thought it was such a coincidence that Blue Mountain was a beautiful place in Peekskill as well. So we named it Blue Mountain Arts because of both Blue Mountains which we loved,” recalled Susan.

The couple bought a pickup truck, put a camper shell on the back, and a plywood board with a mattress on it in the camper. Then they began traveling around the country selling posters.

Susan has fond memories of the company’s humble beginnings. “We had posters piled high,” in the truck Susan remembers. “We went to about 20 states. It was a lot of fun. When we sold enough posters, we would stay in a motel.”

In addition to posters, the couple began making greeting cards and books. The company grew quickly. In 1974 the couple hired Susan’s mom as their first sales manager. By 1980, Blue Mountain Arts had 100 employees and 200 salespeople. At one point, the company’s greeting cards became the number one selling card line in America.

Over the years, Susan’s poems have been published in more than 450 million books and greeting cards worldwide. Her book To My Daughter with Love on the Important Things in Life has sold more than 1.8 million copies.

As their company grew, so did their family. Susan gave birth to the couple’s first child, Jared Polis, in 1975. As a baby he traveled on sales calls with his parents. This may have helped with his people skills; Jared is now the governor of Colorado. The couple welcomed their daughter, Jordanna, now a social and biotech entrepreneur, in 1980. Son Jorian was born in 1983. He is a writer like his mom as well as a permaculture farmer.

Navigate Left
Navigate Right
  • Susan and Steve’s only means of transport early 1970’s

  • Susan and Steve’s truck from the beginning of Blue Mountain Arts

  • Susan and Steve in 1986

Navigate Left
Navigate Right

“We’re an exceptionally close family,” Susan says. She coached her children in sports when they were young. “I was the only woman coaching for a while,” she remembers. Today, she says, “We help each other in anything we do.” This might be a business project or helping Jared in his political campaigns. They also help Susan with her work. “They watch my films before the final edit,” she says.

Susan created her first film, Anyone and Everyone, after Jared came out to her and her husband.

“Filmmaking is an extension of my poetry career,” Susan says. “It’s visual rather than writing. I wanted to find out more, and then I wanted to share it.” Anyone and Everyone captures the coming out stories of gays, lesbians, and their parents. PBS still plays the film, seventeen years after its first release. “It’s a difficult time for young people and their parents,” Susan says. “I still get letters from people thanking me for making that movie.”

Navigate Left
Navigate Right
  • Fandango Fronterizo passing a tamale through the American Mexico borderfence. Photo David Maung

  • Peace Players Northern Ireland, a mixed religion and background basketball team members giving high fives. Photo IronZeal Films

  • Jerusalem Youth Chorus Jewish and Muslim members Amer and Shifra talk about the meaning of singing together. Photo IronZeal Films

  • Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom Clarie and Shereen Muslim and Jewish members hug. Photo IronZeal Films

  • Chicago Childrens Choir sing and celebrate. Photo IronZeal Films

  • Jorge Ochoa dances at the Fandango Fronterizo Photo IronZeal Films

Navigate Left
Navigate Right

Susan has created eight additional documentaries since her first film was released in 2007. Though they touch on a wide range of topics, including depression, white supremacy, and resiliency, among others, they all provide the viewer with knowledge as well as hope. This is especially true for her newest release, Bridging Divides: Sharing Heartbeats.

 The seed for this film was planted when Susan read about Fandango Fronterizo. This San Diego grassroots organization makes music to connect Mexicans and Americans through a border wall. “Once I heard about Fandango, I met them and just fell in love with them,” Susan says.

The writer and filmmaker says she was becoming increasingly alarmed by what she saw as a dangerous rise in hatred around the world. Fandango Fronterizo was proof that there were more positive ways to coexist. Armed with hope, Susan began doing research to find other groups that brought people together.

“With Bridging Divides: Sharing Heartbeats, I wanted to showcase the powerhouses who are actively creating new generations who share a newfound sense of humanity and bonds of connection where once there was only division,” Susan says.

In the film, Susan focuses on six such groups. These groups bring together people of different ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, religions, gender identities, and sexual orientations. One of the groups, PeacePlayers, uses basketball to bring 2,500 Protestant and Catholic children in Northern Ireland onto the same team.

“One of the girls on the basketball team had never met a Protestant before,” Susan says. “And now they are best friends.”

Susan hopes this film inspires others to find ways to bridge divides. “I want to inspire people to form their own groups or at least meet people from other walks of life,” she says.

The author and filmmaker, who recently turned eighty, is taking a well-deserved rest before thinking about her next film project.

“Making a movie is an enormous amount of work,” Susan says. “Bridging Divides took two years to make. I love making movies, but I need a break.”

Susan on the set of her most recent film, Bridging Divides:Sharing Heartbeats. Photo Credit: Jillian Frost

Taking a break from movie-making  doesn’t mean doing nothing, however. “I’m involved in a lot of things,” Susan says. “I work with Blue Mountain Arts. I’m very much involved with my children’s and grandchildren’s lives. And Steve and I take walks all the time.”

She also keeps in touch with friends from Peekskill. “There are seven of us who still have a text chat,” she says. “We text every couple of weeks. We have a class email with about 80 people on it, so we’re all in touch.” And she looks forward to her next visit to Peekskill, whenever that might be.

People can watch Bridging Divides on and on the PBS app. The film is also airing on public television stations around the country; check your local listings.

Visit to learn more about Susan’s other films. And to learn more about Blue Mountain Arts as well as to purchase greeting cards, books, and calendars, visit


About the Contributor
Jeannette Sanderson
Jeannette Sanderson has been writing and telling stories since she was a child. The author and her husband moved to Peekskill more than 30 years ago and raised their children here. Jeannette loves Peekskill and delights in meeting and writing about the people who make this city special for the Peekskill Herald.