By Tammy Reese
13 members played a key creative role in 11 different projects featured in Sundance this year – and two of them fall under the Executive Producer expertise of prolific NYWIFT Member Sara Bernstein! Bernstein is an award-winning producer and Co-President of Imagine Documentaries, the prolific documentary arm of Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment, overseeing the development and production of premium documentary feature films and series. Bernstein has garnered 10 Emmy wins, 29 Emmy nominations and 11 Peabody Awards, and the documentary features she has supervised have garnered two Oscars and 13 Oscar nominations. In 2020 she was featured on Variety’s New York Women’s Impact List.
Bernstein heads to Sundance with Amy Poehler’s documentary Lucy and Desi, which brings the iconic pair’s humanity to life through an exploration of their personal and professional partnership, as well as Downfall: The Case Against Boeing, comprehensive investigation into the crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and a look at the families and officials fighting for justice.
We spoke to Bernstein specifically about Downfall and how she hopes her team’s work will make an impact.
What was your first reaction when you found out that Downfall: The Case Against Boeing would showcase at the Sundance Film Festival?
I was so grateful to Sundance for offering the best festival premiere platform a filmmaker can hope for. [Director] Rory Kennedy and the team worked tirelessly through an unprecedented and challenging time and it’s really validating to have Sundance recognize the power of the documentary.
How did you get involved with the project and what has the experience been for you?
Our partners Rory Kennedy and Mark Bailey had a unique perspective and access to the case and investigation, and like many others, we at Imagine Documentaries had been following this tragedy unfold in real time in the news. Collectively we approached Netflix who quickly greenlit the project. Netflix has been very supportive in the process and understand not only the significance but also the sensitivities within the subject matter. It has been a very humbling experience to have the trust of our participants to tell this story.
What do you want audiences to take away from the film?
That corporations should and can be held accountable for their actions, especially when it impacts peoples’ lives. I think Downfall uniquely outlines the tragic cost when corporations value profitability over their responsibility to humanity, particularly when safety is paramount. What these families have lost, and the pain they continue to go through, is unfathomable.
What do you love most about being a part of the film industry?
The amazing community of filmmakers! I feel so lucky every day to be a part of this group and Sundance is so important to this sense of community.
What’s next for you?
Imagine Documentaries has an amazing slate of upcoming doc features and series! Along with Downfall and Amy Poehler’s Lucy and Desi, which Amazon launches in March, we are thrilled to have Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s Julia and Ryan White’s short film Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker on the Oscar short lists; and Ron Howard’s new documentary on chef José Andrés and World Central Kitchen for NatGeo Films.
Recent projects Sara Bernstein has produced or executive produced include Downfall: The Case Against Boeing (Netflix), Lucy & Desi (Amazon), Julia (Sony Pictures Classics), Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker (MTV Doc Films), Paper & Glue (MSNBC Films), Gossip (Showtime), DADS (Apple TV+), Rebuilding Paradise (National Geographic Documentary Films), On Pointe (Disney+), We Are the Brooklyn Saints (Netflix), Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel and Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer (Netflix), Supervillain: The Making of Tekashi 6ix9ine(Showtime), The Day Sports Stood Still (HBO); as well as the upcoming series The Supermodels (Apple TV+), the upcoming Ron Howard directed documentary on chef Jose Andres and World Central Kitchen for NatGeo Films, the Martin Scorsese directed documentary feature film on David Johansen and The New York Dolls (Showtime), Sacha Jenkins’ documentary feature on Louis Armstrong (Apple TV+), and a new Erin Lee Carr directed true crime series.
Prior to joining Imagine, Bernstein was Senior Vice President, HBO Documentary Films overseeing nonfiction development and production for the network. Credits include Academy Award and Emmy-winner Citizenfour; Academy Award-winner Music by Prudence; Emmy-winners The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, White Light, Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, One Last Hug, and Baghdad ER. Emmy-nominated Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, The Case Against Adnan Syed, The Case Against 8, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, Unlocking The Cage. Academy Award nominees Burma VJ, Which Way Home, Iraq In Fragments, The Final Inch; True Crime documentaries Beware the Slenderman, I Love You Now Die and Mommy Dead and Dearest.
Additional reporting by Katie Chambers.
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