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Courtney Sexton Exiting CNN Films to Rejoin Participant Overseeing Documentary Film

The news network announced last month it would stop commissioning long-form documentaries from third parties.

Courtney Sexton Participant Media

Courtney Sexton

Jeremy Freeman/Courtesy of Participant Media

Courtney Sexton, the SVP of CNN Films, is exiting the company after nine years amid word that the news network would scale back its original documentary films and series commissioned from third parties. She will soon rejoin Participant to lead its documentary content.

Sexton will serve as executive vice president of documentary film and television at Participant, overseeing all of its nonfiction storytelling. Before joining CNN, Sexton spent eight years as a development executive at Participant. She’ll return to the company at the start of 2023 and report directly to CEO David Linde.

Last month, new CNN boss Chris Licht announced that, as part of cost-saving measures, long-form documentary films and series coming from external sources would be no more. That includes many acclaimed and award-winning documentaries for which Sexton was directly responsible: including films like “RBG,” “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain,” “Three Identical Strangers,” and this year’s “Navalny.” As IndieWire reported then, the decision was considered a blow to the documentary film world, with the nervous expectation of a pivot to more low-cost, fast-turnaround documentary content spreading across organizations; not to mention, one less major buyer or home for artful and hard-hitting documentaries.

At Participant, Sexton will follow up on the legacy built by the late Diane Weyermann, who championed films like “An Inconvenient Truth,” “The Cove” and “CITIZENFOUR.” She passed away last year.

“Courtney is an exceptionally talented, compassionate executive with a track record of top-quality, purpose-driven content that connects with audiences around the world,” Linde said in a statement. “We will forever be indebted to Diane for her tremendous films and impact, and Courtney’s return to oversee our documentary team ensures our commitment to continue that work.”

“I’ve had the good fortune to work with the brilliant team at CNN Films, and I am incredibly proud of the projects we produced together over the last nine years,” Sexton said. “The chance to return to Participant and contribute to my mentor Diane’s legacy is a profound honor – I look forward to embarking on this new chapter.”

Participant’s upcoming documentary feature slate includes Neon and HBO’s “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” which this year won the Venice Golden Lion for Best Film. The studio will also soon release “Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power” via Greenwich Entertainment and Peacock. Some of its other recent documentary releases include the Sundance award winner “Descendant,” the three-time Oscar nominee “Flee,” and the episodic “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey” for Netflix.

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