Thomas Lennon

Director of Documentary Film Lab

Lennon’s work in documentary film has earned him an Academy Award and four Academy nominations. But more often his good fortune has come in pairs:  two national Emmys, two duPont-Columbia awards, two George Foster Peabody awards, and two films that premiered at Sundance.

Lennon recently completed Knife Skills, a film about a high-end French restaurant staffed almost entirely by men and women with criminal records that was nominated for an Academy Award.

In collaboration with 40 filmmaking teams around the world, he directed Sacred, a documentary exploring the role of prayer and ritual in daily life; Sacred premiered at the Tokyo Film Festival, has screened at 25 international festivals and is due to air on PBS in late 2018.

Lennon made a trilogy of films set in China in partnership with Ruby Yang, including The Blood of Yingzhou District, which won an Oscar in 2007, and The Warriors of Qiugang, nominated in 2011. This film follows a farmer’s multi-year campaign to halt the poisoning of his village’s water and land; just two weeks after the film’s Oscar nomination, the local authorities announced a cleanup of the toxic site that continues to this day. He and Yang founded the China AIDS Media Project; their AIDS awareness messages were seen over a billion times on Chinese television and the Internet, probably the largest AIDS campaign in the history of the disease.

In 2003, Lennon was series producer and lead writer of Becoming American, a six-hour PBS series with Bill Moyers that traced Chinese immigration from the early 19th century to the present-day. “A model documentary that gets almost everything right,” wrote the New York Times. The series earned four Emmy nominations.

More than ten million viewers -- double the PBS prime-time average -- tuned in to the 1998 premiere of Lennon’s The Irish in America: Long Journey Home. “The filmmaker is a consummate storyteller,” wrote The Boston Globe; the work “looks and sounds like a labor of love,” said The New York Times.

Lennon’s The Battle over Citizen Kane (1996) was featured at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals among many others – “a two-hour tornado of a documentary,” according to Time Magazine. After the film’s nomination for an Oscar, Ridley Scott’s production company adapted it as an HBO dramatic film, starring John Malkovich and Liev Schreiber. Lennon also made many films for the PBS strands Frontline and The American Experience.

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