Oscar-nominated documentary producer dies age 54 after brain cancer battle

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Jess Search has died aged 54
Jess Search has died aged 54

Oscar-nominated documentary maker Jess Search has died at age 54 following a brain cancer diagnosis. The co-founder of Doc Society was involved in many projects over the years including the epic gorilla film Virunga, Citizenfour, and The End of the Line.

After working as a commissioning editor at Channel 4, Search founded the Britdoc Foundation in 2005 with the backing of her former employer, which eventually turned into the Doc Society. The organisation worked with filmmakers around the world to produce and fund documentaries.

Her colleagues said she died peacefully on Monday, surrounded by her family, including her partner, Beadie Finzi, and their children Ella and Ben. The Doc Society said in a statement announcing Search’s death: “Jess lived fully these last few weeks. In characteristic humour, she responded to her diagnosis by considering herself a ‘Lucky Fucker’, having lived a life of purpose on her own terms. She continued to send late-night voice memos, order rounds of margaritas, and bring together an amalgam of global comrades around the shared mission of vital system-shifting narrative work to change the world for the better.

Oscar-nominated documentary producer dies age 54 after brain cancer battle erideuiqtqiqdrinvJess shared her cancer diagnosis last month (Getty Images North America)

“To the horror of some, she did all this while sporting a pair of hot pink Crocs, with socks and jibbitz, in glorious contrast to her trademark white suit she rocked at Good Pitches all over the world.” They said a celebration of Jess' life will be planned for the coming months.

”A beloved partner and parent, a brilliant friend, an industry catalyst, master campaigner, consummate producer, preternatural public convener, and mentor to many, Jess leaves a global family who we know will continue to speak out on injustice, challenge the status quo and live lives of purpose with love in their hearts. We consider ourselves to be Lucky Fuckers to stand beside all of you.”

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Film producer Kat Mansoor, who worked with Search on projects including Here’s Johnny and Cow, said the documentary industry had lost a champion. She said: “She was genuinely trying to change a landscape that is so difficult to traverse. She was a real believer in culture and art as mediums for change.

“She was behind big films that won Oscars and were Bafta-nominated and they all had powerful messages. She fought for them and she made them happen. She fought for the industry and we’re going to have to take up the mantle so we can continue to make films that change minds and move people.”

The documentary maker announced last month that she had been diagnosed with cancer. She said her organisation operated on a flat power-sharing model and its work would continue under her five co-leaders. Jess said she was “extremely calm and have literally everything I need” and signed off with a quote from Marcus Aurelius and a playlist of her favourite music.

In her final message, she called on the documentary-making community to “triple-down and build rocket boosters for our shared work”. Search said she believed in the power of documentaries to change the world. She added: “To deal with the climate crisis and realise a just transition, the world needs more democracy; the negotiation of a new social contract between people and the state. Doc Society is centring all we have learned in narrative strategy over the past two decades to help address these two critical and intertwined issues.”

Mia O'Hare

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