You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Inside CNN Films, the Company Behind ‘RBG’ and ‘Three Identical Strangers’

CNN Films became the belle of the indie box office last summer thanks to a pair of unlikely popcorn-season smashes. The film arm of the cable news channel produced “RBG,” a deep dive into the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and “Three Identical Strangers,” the incredible story of triplets separated at birth. The two documentaries went on to gross $14 million and $11.5 million, respectively. Those are lofty numbers for niche movies, particularly of the non-fiction variety.

“Both movies benefited from a lot of water-cooler talk,” said Courtney Sexton, vice president of CNN Films. “There is a hunger out there for meaningful stories.”

In each instance, CNN Films partnered with outside distributors to release the films in theaters. Neon handled the rollout of “Three Identical Strangers,” while Magnolia oversaw the release of “RBG.” The company will mount Oscar campaigns for the movies. It has already sent out screeners for “RBG” to members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the group behind the awards show, and plans to do the same for “Three Identical Strangers.”

Sexton joined CNN in 2013 after eight years as a development executive at Participant Media, where she worked on the likes of “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Food, Inc.” She’s a big believer in the value of the theatrical experience, arguing that it helps make the broadcast premieres of movies such as “RBG,” which aired over Labor Day, more of an event.

“We’re creating content that still fits into the fabric of CNN, but is not anchor-driven news,” said Sexton, adding, “we’re looking for things in the zeitgeist that have the ability to break through all the noise.”

CNN Films, which has also backed the likes of “Our Nixon” and “Blackfish,” originally started with a mixture of in-house productions and acquisitions. It now leans more heavily on nurturing projects from their inception to their release. Despite the shift in focus, Sexton and others will be on the ground at the Toronto Film Festival scouting talent and possibly buying something if it fits into their model.

Even if it leaves Toronto empty handed, CNN Films has several high-profile projects lined up in the coming months. In September, the company will team with Magnolia on the release of “Love, Gilda,” a look at the late “Saturday Night Live” star Gilda Radner, and in early 2019 it will debut “Apollo 11” to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

But one daunting assignment looms. CNN Films recently announced that it is planning a feature-length documentary on “Parts Unknown” host Anthony Bourdain. The celebrity chef’s globe-trotting culinary adventures were a staple of the news network. He died by suicide in June at the age of 61. Sexton says Bourdain’s family and friends are supportive of the project, but she admits that the task is a weighty one.

“It’s something that has to be done right and with absolute sensitivity,” said Sexton. “We want to honor his legacy and make a product he’d be proud of.”

More From TIFF:

More TV

  • Cineflix Rights Scoops Icelandic Political Series

    Cineflix Rights Scoops Icelandic Political Series 'The Minister'

    Cineflix Rights, a leading U.K. content distributor, has acquired “The Minister,” the anticipated political drama series headlined by Icelandic star Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”). Produced by the Icelandic company Sagafilm, “The Minister” centres on Benedikt Ríkhardsson (Ólafsson), a populist politician who becomes Iceland’s Prime Minister. However, Benedikt is suffering from [...]

  • WGA Authorizing Managers, Lawyers to Make

    WGA Authorizing Managers, Lawyers to Make Deals if Agents are Fired

    The Writers Guild of America has authorized managers and lawyers to negotiate deals for writers in place of agents — if the guild tells members to fire their agents on April 7. The guild’s negotiating committee notified members of the plans in a message Wednesday. The WGA and the Association of Talent Agents having made [...]

  • Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna'Jane

    Rachel Bloom on the 'Beautiful Mystery' of the 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' Series Finale

    While four seasons of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” have explored musical genres from boy bands to country, the one type of music series co-creator and star Rachel Bloom admits the show will not explore before the end is Rebecca’s own style. “Basically the idea is that part of the music in her mind is her looking inside [...]

  • Netflix's Lisa Nishimura Named Indie Film,

    Netflix's Lisa Nishimura Named Indie Film, Documentary Features Head

    In the wake of Bela Bajaria’s recent move to lead Netflix’s international non-English original TV series, the online streamer is shuffling its leadership team to more clearly distinguish between development of its English and non-English language content. As a result, Netflix has elevated Lisa Nishimura to vice president of independent film and documentary features, a [...]

  • Family Guy Bob's Burgers

    Fox Entertainment Lays Out Programming Slate in Post-Disney Merger Sizzle Reel (Watch)

    Fox Entertainment unveiled a new sizzle reel on Wednesday night in the wake of the Disney-21st Century Fox merger officially closing, with the broadcaster touting its current series roster. The video features both scripted and unscripted programming across Fox’s lineup. Among the shows featured are legacy series like “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy,” and “Empire.” In [...]

  • Katherine Heigl

    Katherine Heigl Cast as Lead in CBS Comedy Pilot

    Katherine Heigl has been cast as the female lead in the CBS comedy pilot “Our House,” Variety has learned. The show centers around a devoted mom (Heigl) and dad, who are committed to raising their children with the love and support the mom never got as a kid, but discover how difficult that is with her insane [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content