Documentary Community Pays Tribute to Jess Search, Virunga Producer and Co-Founder of Doc Society: She Defined Being a Luminary

Messages have been pouring in to pay tribute to Jess Search, producer and co-founder of U.K.’s Doc Society, who died Monday from brain cancer at the age of 54.

Search was a founding director of Doc Society, the mission of which is to “unleash the transformational power of documentary film to address the two critical and intertwined issues of climate change and democracies in crisis.”

Before that, she was a commissioning editor at Channel 4 and a founder of Shooting People, the online filmmakers network. She was also a board member of the U.K. think tank IPPR. She moderated panel discussions for IDFA, the Skoll World Forum, the Trust Women conference, and Doc Society’s Good Pitch.

Search was nominated for an Emmy for “Virunga.” Her recent executive producer credits included “F@ck This Job,” “Welcome to Chechnya” and “Cold Case Hammarskjöld.”

British Film Institute CEO Ben Roberts said: “I think Jess would be anti-tributes but invoking her rebel spirit we honor her legacy regardless. What a remarkable human who did so much to champion truth and justice through storytelling. I’ve rarely witnessed someone so utterly dedicated to her work.”

TV presenter, writer, actor, director and comedian Sue Perkins, whose series “Perfectly Legal” is on Netflix, said: “I’ve never known another human be more resolutely themselves. I marvelled at her; her authenticity and fearlessness – her charm and her strength. I owe her more than I can say. She made me feel it was ok to be who I was, at a time when I felt nothing but shame.”

Tim Horsburgh, VP, National Geographic Documentary Films, said on Twitter: “Well, fuck. Jess Search defined being a luminary. I’ll think of her as a bright light, a beacon, a white-suited visionary who blazed a path pushing documentary to higher heights. And made sure it was fun, too.”

Tim Wardle, the director of Emmy-nominated doc “Three Identical Strangers,” said: “Very sad to hear about the death of Jess Search. In my early 20s I was tasked with developing a Channel 4 project for her about rape trials. As a young male researcher to say I was intimidated would be an understatement. But she was incredibly encouraging, smart, open and inspiring.”

Lucy Walker, director of Oscar nominee “Waste Land” and “The Crash Reel,” said: “Everyone says you’re the coolest woman alive, but they met you in documentary world, and I think yes but how lucky does that make me, because you showed up in my life when I was 18.”

Olly Lambert, director of Emmy and BAFTA winner “Syria: Across the Lines,” said: “Oh Jess Search, what a loss to us all. A nuclear powerhouse of a woman, simply incomparable for her strength, passion, fearlessness and wicked sense of humor. Hard to overstate what she brought to the world of documentaries and the lives of us she changed. Ach.”

Jeanie Finlay, who directed “Your Fat Friend” and “Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth,” said: “My heart is full and hurts at the loss of Jess. I count myself amongst the ‘lucky fuckers’ who got to be in her orbit. A generous, force of nature, bringing fun to the serious and energy to the urgent. Thank you Jess for being a leader in our documentary world and changing it.”

Jamie Campbell and Joel Wilson at production company Eleven told Variety: “We owe our careers to Jess, who bought the first film we made, in 2001. She then commissioned our next three programs, all experimental and un-commercial, but Jess backed them to the hilt. She helped us buy our first camera equipment. She funded our first feature doc.

“She taught us to be courageous, and instilled in us the belief that we could change the world. She was utterly fearless, fiercely intelligent, and incredibly compassionate and empathetic. She improved the lives of many, many people.

“Without her we would never have had the confidence to set up a company, or to believe so strongly in the power of narrative as a force for good. She was our mentor and our hero. We are heartbroken that she is gone; but in awe of the style with which she left. Full of wisdom, humility and inspiration. Modern legend.”

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