Described in the announcement as a film about the “uncommon life of the late storyteller, explorer and chef,” the documentary first will be released in theaters worldwide exclusively by Focus Features, with TV premieres following on CNN and streams via HBO Max.
CNN Films and HBO Max will executive produce the film. Neville’s Tremolo Productions will produce the film.
“Anthony Bourdain did more to help us understand each other than just about anyone in the history of television,” said Neville, who also directed last year’s Mister Rogers docu Won’t You Be My Neighbor? for Focus Features. “He connected with people not in spite of his flaws but because of them. To have the opportunity to tell his story is humbling.”
Focus Features chairman Peter Kujawski said, “Morgan is the top of the game when it comes to documentary filmmaking, and we’re delighted to be working with him again on this project with our great collaborators at CNN Films and HBO Max.”
“We are thrilled that Morgan will bring his singular voice to this film, revealing what we loved so much about Tony” said Amy Entelis, executive vice president for talent and content development, on behalf of CNN Films. “Partnering with Focus Features and HBO Max ensures even more of Tony’s devoted fans will be able to celebrate him.”
Neville, whose 2013 doc about rock’s great back-up singers, 20 Feet from Stardom, won the Academy Award for best documentary feature, said, in the statement, that “CNN is in the DNA of Tony’s work, and the perfect partners in this journey. I’m thrilled to be reteaming with Focus Features after our journey on Won’t You Be My Neighbor?. I am also happy that HBO Max will make sure Tony’s audience only continues to grow.”
Sarah Aubrey, head of original content, HBO Max, praised Morgan in return. “It requires a filmmaker as expert and prolific as Morgan Neville to capture the essence of a raconteur and world explorer like Anthony Bourdain,” she said. “We are honored to partner with CNN Films and Focus Features on this project that is so close to all of our hearts and give viewers the opportunity to celebrate his legacy.”
The project marks the third announced film collaboration between CNN Films and HBO Max, following the announced The Scoop (wt) and Persona (wt).
Bourdain, who died by suicide last year, appeared on CNN with Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown, a CNN original series. Bourdain executive produced theatrical documentary Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent with CNN Films in 2016.
Lydia Tenaglia and Christopher Collins, founders of Zero Point Zero Production, creative collaborators with Bourdain for nearly two decades, including the series Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown, will be consulting producers for the upcoming documentary. Kimberly Witherspoon, Bourdain’s longtime agent and literary executor, will also serve as a consulting producer. The Bourdain estate will provide access to family photos, home movies, letters, music, and other content that will add greater insights into his work and life.
Said Tenaglia, “Having worked with Anthony Bourdain for close to 20 years, Chris Collins and I felt very protective over the story of his life and the decision on who to direct it. In Morgan Neville’s hands, we are sure to get a nuanced portrait of the complex, wildly creative man we knew.”
The deal between CNN Films and HBO Max and Focus Features was negotiated by Stacey Wolf, senior vice president of business affairs for CNN Worldwide, and Stephanie Schroeder, senior vice president for business affairs for direct-to-consumer content for WarnerMedia, on behalf of CNN Films and HBO Max, respectively, with Carol Smithson, vice president for business and legal affairs for Focus Features.