Leslie Iwerks is an Academy Award® and Emmy® nominated director and producer, as well as the granddaughter of famed Disney animation legend and designer of Mickey Mouse, Ub Iwerks. She is a third generation filmmaker, following in the footsteps of her grandfather and father, Don Iwerks, both Academy Award-winning film industry pioneers. Leslie’s extensive body of work has garnered not only worldwide critical acclaim, but has generated meaningful philanthropic change. The Internet Movie Database rated Leslie #13 out of 83 of the world’s “bravest” documentary film directors, and she has been a leader in making award-winning films that celebrate the genius, risks and rewards of renowned visionaries. She is an environmentalist and human rights advocate who has raised millions of dollars through the showing of her films. For the last 15 years, Leslie has boldly traveled to all seven continents documenting untold stories—from the depths of the Guatemala City garbage dumps to the toxic tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to the outer reaches of Antarctica.
Most recently in 2016, Leslie produced, directed and edited the feature length documentary Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table, uncovering the story of New Orleans restaurateur Ella Brennan, the famed matriarch of a Cajun/Creole culinary dynasty who launched the careers of celebrity chefs Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse. The film recently won the Audience Award at the 2016 New Orleans International Film Festival where it premiered and is currently being screened in film festivals nationwide.
From 2012 to 2016, Leslie has actively been filming and editing a documentary with Walt Disney Imagineering documenting the artists and engineers who design and construct Disney’s world-famous theme parks and attractions. The project incorporates Disney properties from all around the world including Anaheim, Paris, Tokyo and even the newly constructed Shanghai Disneyland.
In 2012, Leslie produced and directed a feature length documentary in association with Hearst Corporation entitled Citizen Hearst, narrated by William H. Macy. From William Randolph Hearst’s earliest days as a newspaper pioneer up through today’s global impact of the company’s many multimedia brands, the film covers Hearst’s entire 125-year history. Featuring interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Dan Rather, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Bob Iger, Heidi Klum and the Hearst family, viewers get a never-before-seen view of the media empire from behind the glass walls of New York’s Hearst Tower, to inside the world-renowned Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California.
Leslie’s 2011 documentary, Pipe Dreams, about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline proposed to run from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast, was one of eight documentaries shortlisted for the Academy Award® for documentary short subject in 2012. Narrated by actress Daryl Hannah, the film follows what has been called “the greatest environmental battle in the U.S. today” and has been screened on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. It held a successful premiere in Los Angeles and has become an important tool for the thousands of people across the country fighting the pipeline, and continues to play in venues across the U.S. and around the world to help raise awareness on this hot-button issue.
In 2010, Leslie’s one-hour television special Industrial Light & Magic—Creating the Impossible was narrated by Tom Cruise, and chronicles the amazing rise and pioneering developments of the visual effects house that revolutionized Hollywood. Featuring interviews with George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Robin Williams, J.J. Abrams, Jerry Bruckheimer, Samuel L. Jackson, Seth Green, Jon Favreau and ILM’s top visual effects supervisors, the story covers the earliest days of Star Wars to the most recent visual effects blockbuster, Star Trek.
Additionally, in 2010, UK-based production company Babelgum commissioned, financed and distributed Dirty Oil, directed, edited and co-produced by Leslie and narrated by Neve Campbell. Dirty Oil had a high profile premiere in London in February 2010 and was released theatrically throughout the UK and on DVD in September 2010. The film, exposing the environmental and human rights issues in Alberta’s toxic oil sands, traces the environmental and social impacts of Canadian oil on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border. The film features top environmentalists, scientists, government officials, local residents and longstanding chiefs of nearby aboriginal tribes.
Leslie’s 2008 theatrical documentary, The Pixar Story chronicles the history, business and artistic triumphs of Pixar Animation Studios. The film is narrated by actor Stacy Keach and features Steve Jobs, John Lasseter, Ed Catmull, George Lucas, Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Billy Crystal, among others. The Pixar Story premiered on STARZ in 2008 and garnered record high ratings for the cable network. The film was nominated for the 2008 Editors Guild ACE Award for best documentary editing and the 2008 Emmy® Award for Outstanding Nonfiction Special.
Leslie’s documentary film Downstream was short-listed for an Academy Award® for best documentary short in 2008. The documentary traces the courageous actions of a doctor fighting for the lives of residents living and dying of rare cancers in Ft. Chipewyan, a native community downstream from the oil sands in Ft. McMurray in Alberta, Canada.
In 2006, Leslie’s short film, Recycled Life, was nominated for an Academy Award®. It chronicles the thousands of people living and working in the largest and most toxic landfill in Central America over the last sixty years—the Guatemala City garbage dump. Narrated by Edward James Olmos, the film had its television premiere on HBO in 2007. Subsequently, the film has raised millions of dollars for Safe Passage, a non-profit that helps the children and families living in the garbage dumps.
Leslie directed, wrote and executive produced Pixar’s 20th Anniversary Special for ‘The Wonderful World of Disney’, a three-hour television special that starred John Ratzenberger as host amidst many Pixar computer animated characters inside Pixar’s Emeryville headquarters. It aired on ABC in 2006 in conjunction with Pixar’s 20th Anniversary and the debut of John Lasseter’s Cars.
Leslie’s award-winning theatrical documentary Walt Disney Pictures released documentary The Hand Behind the Mouse-The Ub Iwerks Story chronicles the life of her grandfather, Ub Iwerks. The film traces his early career with Walt Disney and the creation of Mickey Mouse, to his own animation studio in the 1930’s to his Academy Award®-winning visual effects work with Walt Disney and Alfred Hitchcock. The film is narrated by actor Kelsey Grammer and has screened in over twenty film festivals and aired on the Bravo Channel in 2001. It features interviews with Roy E. Disney, Chuck Jones, John Lasseter and others.
Leslie is a graduate of the USC School of Cinema-Television and currently serves on the USC School of Cinematic Arts Alumni Council. She has been a juror, panelist and guest speaker for film festivals and a VIP guest presenter on Princess and Disney Cruises around the world. She was an invited keynote speaker for the graduating class of the Beijing Film Academy, where she spoke at the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square. Her ongoing work continues to be featured on numerous internet, radio and television spots globally.
She current serves as the Creative Director for Iwerks & Co., a multimedia production company based in Santa Monica, California. Iwerks & Co. is an industry leader in documenting the human story of innovation and enterprise around the world. Among its environmental and social issue documentaries, the company is known for telling compelling stories about visionary people and entities who have achieved the remarkable, the unbelievable and often the unfathomable. www.iwerksandco.com