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Vulcan Productions closing at start of 2021

Vulcan Productions, the Seattle-headquartered prodco established by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (pictured) in 1997 and the company behind several socially conscious and environmentally focused documentaries, is closing its doors at ...
May 27, 2020

Vulcan Productions, the Seattle-headquartered prodco established by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (pictured) in 1997 and the company behind several socially conscious and environmentally focused documentaries, is closing its doors at the start of next year.

In a statement issued Wednesday (May 27), general manager Ruth Johnston said, “This difficult decision was made as part of the ongoing transition after Paul G. Allen’s passing in 2018, and in light of the unprecedented crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Allen passed away in October of 2018 from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. With his sister Jody Allen, he co-founded VulcanĀ Inc. as an investment firm to handle his myriad business and philanthropic endeavors, which included the production arm.

The prodco was behind such acclaimed documentaries as The Ivory Game, Body Team 12, Racing Extinction, Ghost Fleet, The Cold Blue, Oliver Sacks: His Own Life and Sundance audience award winner The Reason I Jump. Its first documentary project, Inspirations, was helmed by Michael Apted and featured artists from various disciplines, ranging from David Bowie to Roy Lichtenstein, discussing their creative processes.

The 2003 series The Blues, meanwhile, featured episodes helmed by Martin Scorsese, Mike Figgis, Clint Eastwood and Wim Wenders, among others.

The company’s dedication to environmental issues and social change meant that many of its projects were augmented with significant impact campaigns. The prodco won its first Peabody Award in 2005 for Black Sky: The Race for Space, and won subsequent Peabody and Emmy awards for such titles as No Direction Home: Bob Dylan and Body Team 12, respectively.

“It’s been our honor to tell these stories at amazing film festivals and to gain inspiration from world-renowned scientists, elected officials and regular people doing amazing things,” Johnston said in her statement. “We’ve been nominated for Academy Awards, won Emmys, screened content for world leaders and activated millions of viewers who were inspired to make the world a better place.”

She added: “To be clear, we still have work to do before we sunset. First, we will be working with our production partners to manage this change as well as possible. Second, we still have incredible projects underway and all of our energies will be focused on making them each as successful as possible. In the coming months we will continue to tell great stories. We will build and activate communities, empowering audiences to take actions to protect their communities and our natural world. And we will do everything in our power to put our partners and audiences in the best possible position to succeed. In other words, in our remaining months together we will continue to do what we’ve always done: tell stories that change the world.”

The larger Vulcan umbrella company is also closing its arts and entertainment division, which houses the Cinerama movie theater, the Seattle Art Fair and two museums.

“The pandemic has had devastating effects on many businesses and nonprofits alike, especially those that rely on public gatherings and special events as part of achieving their mission,” read a statement from Vulcan Inc.

The closure of Vulcan Productions is the latest jolt to the documentary filmmaking community in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, following the news of the Tribeca Film Institute suspending its operations, announced on Tuesday.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news editor at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joined the RS team in 2015 with experience in journalism following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and with communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.

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