Robert Kenner

Growing up in Mamaroneck, New York, Robert Kenner had his sights set on becoming a documentary filmmaker from a young age. He was a student for a time at the Solebury School, a day boarding academy in New Hope, Pennsylvania. But Kenner dropped out of school entirely at age 18, determined to become a filmmaker. He soon got to work acting as an assistant to the camera operators on a number of small-scale productions. Kenner got his first job as a real producer on the low-budget crime drama "3:15" (1986). He would produce a handful of other narrative features including "Blue City" (1986) and "Lonely Hearts" (1991), but Kenner's first love and main interest was documentary filmmaking. He finally got the chance to pursue this love entirely when he directed "The Lost Fleet of Guadalcanal" (1993) for the National Geographic Society. The documentary explored a fateful World War II battle and the wreckage it left behind. He would direct a number of other such historical documentaries for National Geographic, including "Russia's Last Tsar" (1994) and "America's Endangered Species: Don't Say Good-bye" (1998). Later that same year, Kenner began what would become a prolific collaboration with PBS for the station's "American Experience" (PBS, 1988-) series. He began with "Influenza 1918" (1998), which discussed the tragic ramifications of the flu epidemic that swept the United States during that year. Next came "John Brown's Holy War" (2000), "War Letters" (2001), and "Two Days in October" (2005). "Two Days in October," which chronicled the Battle of Ong Thanh and the protest at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during the Vietnam war, won Kenner a Peabody award. After reading Eric Schlosser's book Fast Food Nation, a non-fiction book indicting the practices of the mass-scale food industry, Kenner became inspired to pursue his next project. The director felt that Morgan Spurlock's documentary "Super Size Me" (2004) had already made a film covering many of the issues specific to the fast food industry. However, as he began researching the many corporate and political powers that lurked behind the farm subsidies and labeling restrictions at the heart of America's crippling food-related health and environmental problems, he realized he had more than enough material to make a film about the state of factory farming and industrial food production. Soon, Kenner was well on his way to producing "Food Inc." (2008). Though he would offer large scale corporations like Tyson and Monsanto numerous chances to participate in the film, he would ultimately find none of them willing to play a role in his production, except in the form of legal threats. Kenner's legal budget on the film would be three times that of his previous three films combined. "Food Inc." would be released to massive acclaim and considerable audience reception, even taking home an Academy Award nomination. Kenner would use the movie's impact to form a social media campaign called "FixFood," which sought to spread awareness about creating change in the world of food production. After directing a film for HBO about stories of human connection via the internet called "When Strangers Click" (2011), Kenner switched gears and opted to make another muckraking film. "The Merchants of Doubt" (2014) explored how corporate and political powers create their own "experts" paid to publicly cast doubt on the dangers of their products, from tobacco's link to cancer, to fossil fuels' link to climate change.