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‘Rust’ Documentaries on Alec Baldwin and Halyna Hutchins Move Forward

‘Rust’ Documentaries on Alec Baldwin and Halyna Hutchins Move Forward

‘Rust’ Documentaries on Alec Baldwin and Halyna Hutchins Move Forward

Among the many people who will be closely watching Alec Baldwin‘s involuntary manslaughter trial when it begins in Santa Fe this week are two sets of documentarians covering parallel and potentially competing stories from the movie Rust

Both sets of filmmakers have also become part of the still unfolding tragedy of the indie Western set, where Baldwin accidentally shot 42-year-old cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in 2021.

Rachel Mason, director of the 2019 Netflix documentary Circus of Books and a close family friend of Hutchins, has been making a film about the cinematographer since Hutchins’ widower, Matthew Hutchins, recruited her and producer Julee Metz to the task in 2021 amid a flurry of media requests about his wife.

Mason and Metz, who are shooting their film for Liz Garbus and Dan Cogan’s production company, Story Syndicate, have interviewed members of the Rust cast and crew, including director Joel Souza and cinematographer Bianca Cline, who joined the film to replace Hutchins when Rust resumed production in Montana in the spring of 2023. Some of the crew working on Mason’s film attended the American Film Institute with Hutchins and, since her project has the approval of Rust‘s producers, she was allowed on the Montana set. “My motivation is to preserve someone I lost,” Mason said, of her reason for making the documentary about Hutchins.

Meanwhile, Rory Kennedy, director of the Oscar-nominated 2014 film Last Days in Vietnam and 2007’s Emmy-winning Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, has been working on a film about Baldwin with Baldwin’s participation for more than a year. Less is known about the origins of Kennedy’s film, but, in a sign of just how small the doc world is, Kennedy has an interesting connection to the company behind the Hutchins film: From 1998 until 2018, Kennedy and Garbus produced nonfiction films and television together at their joint company, Moxie Firecracker. Kennedy is making the Baldwin film with her husband and business partner, Mark Bailey, under their banner, Moxie Films, which has a multiyear agreement with Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment. 

The Kennedy movie was a source of tension for the Rust cast and crew who convened in Montana in 2023, about 25 of whom had worked on the original New Mexico set. With paparazzi trailing Baldwin at the gates and in the hills around the Yellowstone Film Ranch in Livingston, the actor’s attempts to get access for Kennedy’s cameras angered some members of the production, who felt he was making the documentary in an attempt to exonerate himself, according to two sources who were on the set. Ultimately Kennedy’s crew was not allowed on the set. “There’s no way in hell I’m doing that,” Souza says he told Baldwin of giving Kennedy an interview, according to the New York Times

Seemingly unintentionally, both of the Rust doc filmmakers have become characters in the stories they’re trying to tell, Kennedy most dramatically. In October 2023, after New Mexico prosecutors extended a plea offer to Baldwin, special prosecutor Kari Morrissey learned of Kennedy’s film and got annoyed enough to kill the deal, according to an April 2024 court filing. “Undersigned counsel received information that Mr. Baldwin commissioned his own documentary about the death of the woman he killed and was actively pressuring material witnesses in the case against him to submit to interviews for his own documentary,” reads the filing, part of a 316-page prosecution response to Baldwins’ lawyers’ attempt to get his case dismissed. “It was at this point that the plea offer was rescinded,” the filing says.

In April, prosecutors filed a subpoena seeking footage from the film, saying Kennedy’s interviews with Baldwin and other witnesses contain “critical pieces of information concerning key elements of this criminal prosecution.” In a motion to quash that subpoena filed in May, Kennedy signed an affidavit saying that Baldwin “did not commission, solicit, encourage, or otherwise seek out the Baldwin Project.” The motion goes on to say that Baldwin is not paying for, directing or producing the Moxie Films documentary, nor being paid for it, and that, while he may be consulted on factual accuracy, he has no editorial or creative control over the film. In June, a Los Angeles judge ruled that Kennedy is not required to turn over the tapes, agreeing with her attorneys that the interviews are covered by the California Shield Law, which protects journalists from having to provide unpublished material to prosecutors.

Kennedy declined to comment for this story, but her prior filmography suggests the Baldwin project may be more nuanced than a simple vanity portrait. Much of her recent work, like 2022’s Downfall: The Case Against Boeing and the 2024 HBO docuseries The Synanon Fix, about a drug rehab turned cult, is skeptical and investigative. Even her seemingly admiring sports doc, 2017’s Take Every Wave, about surfer Laird Hamilton, depicted the subject’s egomania. 

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Prosecutors have not attempted to subpoena Mason’s footage, and may even be considering her a helpful figure to have in the courtroom. During armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed’s trial in April, Mason and Metz, whose sons attended school with Hutchins’ son, Andros, were the only members of the public in the courtroom who knew Hutchins personally. Mason attended the trial wearing Hutchins’ wide-brimmed hat, one in which the cinematographer was often photographed. When the jury delivered a guilty verdict for Gutierrez-Reed, the Court TV camera panned to Mason for a reaction shot.

Baldwin has a small but interesting connection to both filmmakers. Years before making Rust, the actor, who is on the executive committee of the Hamptons Film Festival and helps curate and promote its SummerDocs selections, interviewed both Mason and Kennedy on stage about their previous films.

While both Mason and Kennedy’s films remain in production, the Rust movie itself has been finished since February. So far producers have been unable to find a distributor for the Western.

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