Rory Kennedy’s Moxie Films Inks Deal With Imagine Documentaries (EXCLUSIVE)

Rory Kennedy and Mark Bailey’s Moxie Films has partnered with Imagine Documentaries to develop and co-produce a slate of new nonfiction fare.

The partnership with the nonfiction division of Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment and Moxie Films is a multi-year agreement.

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Headed by Sara Bernstein and Justin Wilkes, Imagine Documentaries recently co-produced Kennedy’s “Downfall: The Case Against Boeing,” which Bailey wrote and produced. The Netflix docu, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, is an investigation of two Boeing 737 Max crashes that occurred within five months of each other in 2018 and 2019 that killed a combined 346 people. Netflix began streaming the docu on Feb. 18.

Kennedy and Bailey will develop and produce projects with the full resources of the label, which currently has its own first-look output deal with Apple TV Plus and a multi-picture arrangement with Imax for large-format content.

“This partnership enables Moxie Film to plug into our infrastructure,” says Wilkes. “That includes everything from physical production, development, creative resources and financial resources. We are actively investing and, in some cases, fully financing or co-financing projects. What that enables us to pass along to our filmmaking partners is the ability to start getting stuff made and not necessarily having to wait for a green light.”

Kennedy and Bailey, who are married, will also be able rely on Imagine for day to day production management.

“We are interested in expanding and being able to do more projects, but don’t want to be in a position of overseeing a big company and ultimately spend a lot of time managing,” says Kennedy. “We felt that Imagine could help support the back infrastructure of (our business) while we could continue to do the work that we love to do, which is making films and being the creators.”

Currently, Moxie Films is working with Imagine Documentaries and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way on an untitled Netflix feature documentary about the 2019 eruption of New Zealand’s White Island volcano. Kennedy will direct the film.

In 1998, Kennedy formed Moxie Firecracker Films with Liz Garbus (“What Happened, Miss Simone?,” “Becoming Cousteau”). Under that banner, the duo produced acclaimed nonfiction series and features including Garbus’ “The Fourth Estate” and Kennedy’s “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” and “Last Days in Vietnam,” the latter of which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2015. Kennedy and Garbus went their separate ways to create new banners: Kennedys’ Moxie Films and Garbus’ Story Syndicate, which she co-founded with Dan Cogan.

“Imagine Documentaries has been building quite rapidly because they have had a lot of success,” Bailey says. “So, it is nice to join into something that had a lot of energy behind it. As far as their focus, I don’t presume to lay out their mission statement, but it seems to us that they hit a real sweet spot between making excellent, thoughtful work that also reaches a large audience and that’s a nice space to be in.”

In 2020, Imagine Entertainment invested in Oscar-winning documentary director Alex Gibney’s Jigsaw Productions. Last year, directors Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin (“Tina,” “Undefeated”) inked an exclusive first-look deal with Imagine Documentaries.

Partnering with Gibney, Lindsay, Martin and now Kennedy and Bailey benefits Imagine and the filmmakers, Wilkes says.

“Being able to plug into the greater creative ecosystem of Imagine is an opportunity that we can provide to filmmakers,” says Wilkes. “Filmmakers who are working in Imagine are also crossing over into the scripted space, and scripted talent, whether it’s on the TV side of the company or on the feature film side of the company, can cross over and make a documentary. A recent example is Amy Poehler, who directed the documentary ‘Lucy and Desi.’

Bernstein, who previously served as senior VP of HBO Documentaries, adds, “I compare it to the good old days of HBO, where there really was a strong repertory company of documentary makers. In many ways, HBO operated like an independent production studio in that, at the time, we were able to provide resources and development money for filmmakers to explore ideas. What’s been exciting about what we can do at Imagine is that we could replicate that, but also provide a way stronger production infrastructure and we don’t have to just join a project to HBO.”

Imagine Documentaries formally launched in 2018. The nonfiction arm’s upcoming slate includes Ron Howard’s Nat Geo docu “We Feed People” about chef Jose Andres and the World Central Kitchen organization, which is premiering at South by Southwest film festival; Apple TV Plus’ “The Supermodels,” a docuseries about iconic careers of Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington; “The Dynasty,” a doc event series about the New England Patriots; the Martin Scorsese-directed documentary on New York’s 1970’s music scene and the New York Dolls; and the Sacha Jenkin’s directed Apple TV Plus doc “Black and Blues: The Colorful Ballad of Louis Armstrong.”

Kennedy is represented by UTA.

(Pictured: “Downfall: The Case Against Boeing”)

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