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UNC alumnus Ed Perkins directs HBO documentary — 'The Princess'

ED PERKINS (Photo Credit - Munich Film Festival).JPG
Director Ed Perkins at the THE PRINCESS premiere at City Kino during the 39th Munich Film Festival on June 28, 2022. Photo Courtesy of © Filmfest München / Bernhard Schmidt

Since graduating from UNC in 2009, Oscar-nominated filmmaker and Morehead-Cain alumnus Ed Perkins has crafted an extensive resume.

In addition to directing films for Netflix, National Geographic, The Guardian, BBC and Channel 4, Perkins won a Grierson Award for Best Newcomer for his 2015 feature documentary "Garnet’s Gold." His 2018 film “Black Sheep” was also nominated for Best Documentary Short at the 91st Academy Awards. 

Perkins has spent the last five years working exclusively at Lightbox, a media company that produces non-fiction content, founded by two-time Academy Award-winning producer Simon Chinn and Emmy Award-winning producer Johnathan Chinn.

More recently, Perkins released the feature documentary “Tell Me Who I Am” on Netflix and the HBO Original documentary “The Princess."

Perkins said he loves documentary because it gives him access to people's worlds and lives. 

“People trust you with their stories and that is an amazing responsibility," he said. "For someone to sort of allow you into their emotional world and trust you to bring their very precious story to life.”

“The Princess” is a feature documentary about Diana, Princess of Wales. 

Gorham "Hap" Kindem, Perkins' former communications professor at UNC, described the story of "The Princess" as "complex." 

“He just lets the footage speak for itself and lets us experience what Diana experienced, while at the same time, there's a real critical eye on the media, as well as the monarchy and their treatment of her," Kindem said.

Kindem, who taught classes in film and documentary production at UNC from 1977 to 2015, spoke fondly of Perkins and his talent.

“He was more ambitious, much more ambitious than the average student,” Kindem said. “He took on topics that were pretty substantial and somewhat complicated.”

Despite his ambitions, Perkins did not grow up wanting to be a filmmaker. Instead, he credits his education at UNC for his love of film.

“I was pretty focused on maths and economics and physics and analytics, sort of quantitative and hard subject matters," he said. "And then I came to UNC and went to do the liberal arts education. And of course, it just opened my eyes to a whole different world.”

After taking some early journalism courses, Perkins came across “Man on Wire," a documentary that tells the story of a Frenchman who walked on a tightrope between the Twin Towers.

“I sort of looked at it and thought one day, I'd like to try and make films like that, that are about real events and real people and that are grounded in truth and yet, you know, have an ability to take audiences on this kind of amazing emotional journey,” Perkins said. 

In his last two years of college, Perkins developed a love for film. As his Senior Honors Thesis, he produced a documentary under Kindem’s guidance — an analysis on the attack on fundamental religion in the United States. 

For this documentary, Perkins interviewed Christopher Hitchens, author of the book “God is Not Great.” And about a decade later, Perkins again enlisted footage of Hitchens in his professional work.

In “The Princess,” Perkins included footage he found of Hitchens criticizing the idolatry of Princess Diana.

During his fourth summer as a Morehead-Cain, Perkins interned at National Geographic in New York and worked under another Morehead-Cain alum, Kim Woodard, the studio's former executive producer.

Perkins said he credits Woodard with showing him it was possible to have a career in film.

Both Kindem and Woodard said Perkins' documentaries showcase his great attention to detail and gift for storytelling. 

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“You really felt like you were being immersed in a specific individual’s world where you understood their life in the specific,” Woodard said. “You saw the details. You lived the details. And it sounds like he's carried that forward.”