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Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Kirk Simon dies at 63

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    Kirk Simon, left, and Karen Goodman accept the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject at the 83rd Academy Awards in Los Angeles in 2011. Goodman and Simon received the award for “Strangers No More.”

Kirk Simon, a documentary filmmaker who turned luminaries in the arts into teachers and brought cameras into the classroom, memorably in an Academy Award-winning film about a multinational school in Israel, died April 14 in Manhattan. He was 63.

His brother, Ron, said Simon suffered cardiac arrest and was declared dead after he was taken to a hospital.

Simon directed and produced documentaries for PBS, National Geographic and HBO, tackling a wide range of topics. But he often returned to education, as he and his creative partner, Karen Goodman, his first wife, did in 2010 with “Strangers No More,” which won the Oscar for best short documentary.

That film focused on the Bialik-Rogozin School in Tel Aviv, where children, many of them refugees or migrants from more than 48 countries, came together to learn and adapt to life in their new home.

Beginning in 2010, he and Goodman produced and directed many episodes of “Masterclass,” an HBO series in which artists like Placido Domingo, Frank Gehry, Liv Ullmann and Alan Alda taught classes for gifted youths. The episode featuring Alda won an Emmy for outstanding children’s program in 2015.

Simon focused on Jane Goodall and her work with chimpanzees in Africa in the documentary “Chimps: So Like Us” (1990); took an in-depth look at a classroom in Nyack, N.Y., on the HBO miniseries “Kindergarten” (2001); and produced episodes of the Logo Channel series “Coming Out Stories,” in which gay and lesbian people revealed their sexual orientation on camera.

His most recent completed film was “The Pulitzer at 100,” a feature-length documentary released in 2016 for the prize’s centennial.

Ken Burns, the award-winning documentarian known for his historical series, was a classmate of Simon’s at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. In a telephone interview he said Simon’s body of work displayed a “sensitivity to these cruxes in our society, whether it’s coming out, whether it’s children and education — these really interested him, and he was voracious in pursuing them.”

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