Sherry Jones, Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker, dies at 73


As the top of her personal manufacturing firm, Washington Media Associates, Ms. Jones made greater than two dozen movies for the PBS documentary collection “Frontline,” working with the present from its first season in 1983. She additionally made documentaries for CNN and ABC and collaborated with journalists together with Invoice Moyers, Peter Jennings, Roger Wilkins, Hedrick Smith and William Greider, usually working with them on all facets of the reporting, script and storytelling.

“If we had extra filmmakers like her in Washington, undaunted by worry, unaffected by threats and unspoiled by reward, the American folks would see and know much more clearly how energy works its will,” mentioned Moyers, who collaborated together with her for greater than 20 years on documentaries equivalent to “Excessive Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1990), an Emmy-winning examination of the Iran-contra affair.

For one among their early tasks, concerning the affect of cash in politics, Ms. Jones engineered a climactic shot during which a pc printout unspooled throughout the Capitol grounds, itemizing marketing campaign contributions to every member of Congress, in keeping with Moyers. “It will need to have been nearly a mile lengthy,” he mentioned. “It was one of the dramatic and efficient visuals you could possibly have in a documentary. She all the time had that type of eye.”

Ms. Jones’s documentaries gained prime honors in broadcast journalism, together with eight Emmy Awards, three duPont-Columbia Awards and three Peabody Awards. She additionally obtained three Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Abroad Press Membership of America, together with for “Return of the Czar” (2000), a “Frontline” episode concerning the rise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the previous KGB officer whose strikes towards Ukraine prompted President Biden to announce new sanctions towards Russia on Tuesday.

Alongside together with her documentary “The Battle for Russia” (1994), about post-Soviet chief Boris Yeltsin, “Return of the Czar” “needs to be required anticipating anybody making an attempt to grasp Putin at the moment,” mentioned Thomas S. Blanton, the director of the Nationwide Safety Archive at George Washington College, the place Ms. Jones was a senior fellow. The movie featured interviews with veteran U.S. policymakers in addition to Russian observers, together with a former human rights commissioner in Moscow who mentioned that Putin’s election to the presidency might ultimately be seen “because the twilight of Russian democracy.”

Ms. Jones visited Moscow beneath chief Mikhail Gorbachev and studied Russian to enhance her reporting, finally profitable the belief of Soviet officers who allowed her to make use of uncommon archival footage for documentaries equivalent to “Within the Shadow of Sakharov” (1991), a 90-minute portrait of the Russian physicist and human rights activist.

However she was in all probability greatest recognized for digging into Washington scandals and controversies, together with in documentaries about disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the detention and interrogation program permitted by the George W. Bush administration, during which suspected terrorists and different detainees had been subjected to sleep deprivation, waterboarding, solitary confinement and different brutal “enhanced interrogation” strategies.

Ms. Jones investigated this system’s historical past and origins in “Torturing Democracy” (2008), acquiring archival paperwork that linked the interrogation ways used at Guantánamo Bay to a survival coaching program that the U.S. army developed in the course of the Chilly Battle. She additionally interviewed former detainees and Bush administration officers equivalent to Richard L. Armitage, a deputy secretary of state and torture critic who mentioned that he was subjected to waterboarding as a part of a army coaching train in the course of the Vietnam Battle.

“There is no such thing as a query in my thoughts — there’s no query in any affordable human being, there shouldn’t be, that that is torture,” he mentioned whereas discussing waterboarding within the movie. “I’m ashamed that we’re even having this dialogue.”

Produced and written by Ms. Jones, the movie earned a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award however was not initially embraced by PBS. A model of the documentary was despatched to the general public broadcaster in Might 2008, in keeping with a New York Times report, however PBS mentioned it didn’t have a slot to air the documentary nationally till Jan. 21, 2009, the day after Bush left workplace.

Ms. Jones rejected that provide and, with assist from Moyers, appealed to particular person stations to air the movie sooner. “It’s been very irritating,” she advised the Instances in October 2008, a number of months after Congress beginning holding hearings on the interrogation program. “There’s one thing of a public dialogue happening and there’s reporting that must be on the market.”

Blanton, the Nationwide Safety Archive director, mentioned in a cellphone interview that Ms. Jones was the primary documentarian “to place collectively the family tree of the torture program,” and famous that she questioned its morality a number of years earlier than a Senate Intelligence Committee report delivered new allegations of cruelty.

“She was such an acute observer. Sherry had an intuition for turning over the locks, shining a lightweight into the darkish locations, making an attempt to grasp the roots of the scandal or the disaster or the coverage,” he mentioned, “after which presenting context and detailed reporting in visually compelling methods.”

Sherry Lynn Jones was born in Austin on April 21, 1948, and grew up in Shawnee, Okla. Her mom was a social employee who labored for the state, and her father was a touring salesman who bought faculty provides.

Ms. Jones graduated from the College of Oklahoma in 1970 and obtained a grasp’s diploma in journalism from Northwestern College the subsequent 12 months.

She labored on political campaigns for Democratic senators Fred R. Harris (Okla.) and George S. McGovern (S.D.) earlier than coming to Washington, launching her documentary profession within the early Nineteen Seventies as a discipline producer for Oscar-winning filmmaker Charles Guggenheim. By the tip of the last decade she had based her personal manufacturing firm.

Ms. Jones’s “Frontline” documentaries included “Throwaway Folks” (1990), a portrait of the Shaw neighborhood in Northwest Washington, and “The Misplaced American” (1997), an investigation into the life and disappearance in Chechnya of humanitarian employee Fred Cuny. (She assembled proof suggesting he was murdered by a Chechen intelligence commander.)

She additionally wrote and produced the TV film “Watergate Plus 30” (2003), inspecting the autumn of Richard M. Nixon’s presidency by way of interviews with key gamers equivalent to White Home aide Jeb Stuart Magruder, who mentioned that the break-in was personally ordered by Nixon — a bombshell declare that was not universally accepted.

Ms. Jones retired from filmmaking quickly after the discharge of “Torturing Democracy,” having grown uninterested in the seemingly limitless strategy of elevating cash to make documentaries, in keeping with her pal McBride. She break up her time between houses in Washington and Dameron, Md., on the Chesapeake Bay, the place she volunteered at an natural farm and screened a few of her movies at close by St. Mary’s School of Maryland.

Survivors embrace her husband of 43 years, Alan Stone, a sculptor and former chairman of the Washington Challenge for the Arts; and a brother.

In an e mail, Moyers recalled that he and Ms. Jones “had been like a combative married couple after we collaborated on scripts, usually working by way of the night time within the modifying room as we resisted one another’s draft or edits, solely to emerge because the solar rose over Lafayette Sq. (three blocks from her workplace) and we walked to the Hilton for breakfast, agreeing every had improved the opposite’s effort.

“Then we might return and shortly be on the different’s throat,” he continued. “No quarrel ever made it previous the primary go of bacon and eggs.”


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