Jess Search, the influential documentary producer and co-founder of the U.K. Doc Society, has died at age 54 after a battle with brain cancer. She passed on July 31 after being diagnosed with cancer in June.
Nearly two decades ago, Search co-founded the non-profit Doc Society, which since 2005 has been dedicated to funding documentaries globally. Search’s many credits as a documentary film producer include the Academy Award-nominated “Virunga” about gorilla protection and for which she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy award, the Emmy-nominated LGBTQ advocacy documentary “Welcome to Chechnya,” and many more.
Doc Society leadership — Megha Agrawal Sood, Shanida Scotland, Sandra Whipham, and Maxyne Franklin — shared a note on Tuesday announcing Search’s passing.
“She was surrounded by the love of her life Beadie Finzi, their children Ella and Ben, and friends. As a fierce supporter of independent artists and co-founder of Doc Society, Jess spent the weeks following her diagnosis focused on her passions laid out in her recent announcement, No Time Like the Present. Her greatest wish was to continue to secure the Doc Society mission of unleashing the transformational power of documentary film to address the two critical and intertwined issues of climate change and democracies in crisis,” the note read.
It continued, “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. 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.”
“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,” the Doc Society said. Read the full letter here.
Sundance Film Festival artistic director and IndieWire co-founder Eugene Hernandez shared a tribute on Instagram, writing, “Jess Search is a rock star. Larger than life itself. So big. Her impact on indie & documentary film — indelible. Her seemingly boundless ability to connect, celebrate & *live*, unfathomable. Jess’s devastating email with word of her brain tumor was brutal but inspiring: ‘I have news which has made me more aware than ever that There. Is. No. Time. Like. The. Present.’”
“What a light she is and was and will forever be,” filmmaker Ava Duvernay replied.
“There was no candle that burned brighter. What a beautiful tribute. What a human. So sorry for your loss,” filmmaker Liz Garbus added.
Search announced her illness in July, saying she’d be stepping down from her post at Doc Society, writing at the time, “Today I am sharing that I’m currently under the care of a neurosurgeon because like 300,000 others every year around the world, I’ve been diagnosed with a brain tumor. I’m stepping back from Doc Society — after 18 years of nonstop creative collaboration, dedicated craft, joyous partying and fierce camaraderie.”