Thomas Lennon


Public bio

Lennon’s work in documentary film has earned him an Academy Award and three Academy nominations.  But more often his good fortune has come in pairs:  two national Emmys, two duPont-Columbia awards, two George Foster Peabody awards, and two films that premiered at Sundance.  

Lennon just completed Sacred, a vast global documentary for PBS; two years in the making and drawing on the contributions of filmmaking teams from around the world, it explores the role of prayer in daily life. Sacred premiered at the Tokyo Film Festival in November 2016 and has been invited to a dozen international festivals. 

He founded, with Ruby Yang, the China AIDS Media Project; their groundbreaking AIDS awareness messages were seen over 900 million times on Chinese television and the Internet, probably the largest AIDS campaign ever conducted anywhere in the world. This work got them profiled in the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle,  the LA Times and on PBS.  Lennon and Yang made a trilogy of films set in China, including The Blood of Yingzhou District, which won an Oscar in 2007, and The Warriors of Qiugang, nominated for an Oscar in 2011. This film profiles a farmer’s multi-year campaign to halt the poisoning of his village’s water and land; the local authorities, as a direct result, began a multi-year, massive clean-up of the toxic site. 

In 2003, Lennon was series producer and lead writer of Becoming American, a six-hour PBS series with Bill Moyers that traced Chinese immigration from the early 19th century to the present-day. “A model documentary that gets almost everything right,” wrote the New York Times. The series won four Emmy nominations.

More than ten million viewers -- double the PBS prime-time average -- tuned in to the 1998 premiere of Lennon’s The Irish in America: Long Journey Home.  “The filmmaker is a consummate storyteller,” wrote The Boston Globe; the work “looks and sounds like a labor of love,” said The New York Times. Rated among the year’s ten best by TV Guide, the series earned, again, four Emmy nominations, and its companion CD won the Grammy for best folk album of the year.

Lennon’s The Battle over Citizen Kane (1996) was featured at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals among many others – “a two-hour tornado of a documentary,” according to Time Magazine. After the film’s nomination for an Oscar, Ridley Scott’s production company adapted it as an HBO dramatic film, starring John Malkovich and Liev Schreiber.  Lennon also directed numerous films for the major contemporary and historical strands on public television, Frontline and The American Experience.

Before setting up his own production company, Lennon worked for almost a decade in the Close-up Division of ABC News, with assignments in the Soviet Union, South America and the Middle East.  Despite a lifetime of earnest achievement, Thomas Lennon is still occasionally confused with the comic actor and writer with the same name (famous for his spandex hot-pants) and twice had to send back large royalty checks.