Leslie Iwerks (‘The Imagineering Story’): “Disney allowed me to speak of secrets of which no one had ever spoken before”


The documentary filmmaker Leslie Iwerks has woven Disney in their DNA. As the granddaughter of Ub Iwerks, the man who created Mickey mouse along with the inimitable Walt Disney, the combination of his work in directing documentary films innovative to share the untold story of Disney’s supposed to be a return home for her. ‘The Imagineering Story’ is a series of six chapters in Disney+ that tells the story of the Imagineers, an amalgam of the English words for “engineer” and “imagination” that gave the engineers of the empire of amusement parks by the Disney because it indicates the combination of cutting-edge technology and fantasy and imagination that continues to define the company even today. Although the documentary was born as a 90 minute film in 2012, the time and collaboration, which is exciting with the streaming platform Disney+ led to Iwerks to expand his documentary to create a six-part series narrated by Angela Bassett. The result is ‘The Imagineering Story’, a documentary series that takes advantage of images from the archives and exclusive behind the castle to uncover the secrets and the human stories behind the magic of Disney.

You can go behind the scenes with the documentary Leslie Iwerks 'The Imagineering Story' about the history behind the Disney theme parks

We recently had the opportunity to interview Iwerks, who was nominated for an Oscar and an Emmy for his work as a documentary filmmaker, about his latest project with Disney+. He talks about the collaborative process with Disney, how it casts a light on the stories never told of the company and if the rumors are real as to if Disney will renew ‘The Imagineering Story’ for another season of trivia and stories behind the scenes. Disney+ is now available in Spain.

Behind the cameras

eCartelera: how Much truth there is in the rumours that ‘The Imagineering Story’ might become a recurring series Disney+?

Leslie Iwerts: I think that is a good, solid rumor! I can not vouch for it nor deny it at this time, but there are ideas for many more stories. As we will see.

eC: How exciting! With this batch of chapters, what there were limits to what one can display, or is it an exploration sincere Disney without restrictions?

L. I.: I would say that 98% of the shooting had no restrictions. I was allowed to go to places where there had been none before. I was allowed to go backstage and talk about secrets of which no one had ever spoken before. Many of the Imagineers asked me, “What we are allowed to talk about that?” and I told them “!Yes! We are all in this together and we all have a voice and a vote to decide on what is in the documentary and what is cut”. So many people told me stories very frank and sincere. Stories emotional. Stories of creativity and challenges. Whatever you can think of! So I would say with confidence that the vast majority of what we saw and we were able to include has no restrictions.

eC: In the first chapter, an Imagineer says that “Disneyland is an experience”. Do you have concerns about how to translate this multi-sensorial experience on the screen?

L. I.: Not really. I think that, in the end, this is a human story. I didn’t want to concentrate too much on how it became Disneyland. I always felt that the human history was going to be the engine. What were the challenges for these people to create these stories and build these attractions and parks?

In terms of the visuals, never thought about if we would be a challenge. I would say that yes, there were challenges, especially when it comes to the attraction of ‘Ratatouille’ because you can’t show a screen of 280º on a tv 16×9, but you can catch the idea. All the footage in 3D was hard to submit. In the early stages, I conceived the idea of making the documentary in 3D. I thought this was a pretty cool innovation in documentary, telling this story in 3D so that people could live the action and enjoy the attractions by themselves. But that was a challenge too big for real! Especially when you consider that the project turned into six chapters, this idea would have been too expensive. So this series came to try to tell the story through the images that we find.

'The Imagineering Story' reveals the real history of the Disney parks

eC: Some of the images of the file you found focus on women of Disney as Harriet Burns and Mary Blair. Does that was important to you, tell these stories about women within a scope of business dominated by men?

L. I.: Not exactly, but inspired me. I met Harriet Burns personally. She was a friend of the family and spent time with her. It was always a wonderful woman, kind and affectionate. He always talked about those early days, working with other Imagineers, what fun that always was. Never, ever, even before the movement of #MeToo, I thought that Disney was a rather sexist where are they excluded women or something like that. It was very inclusive. Walt [Disney] he called to Harriet Burns the first lady of Imagineering. He respected a lot. Walt respected all women. I think that it was a time in which women did not do the jobs they do today, and Walt gave them those opportunities. I think that with the passage of time, improved because the cultures have changed and the times have changed, but for 70 years, Disney hired a lot of young women as part of a new generation of Imagineers. Women like Kim Irvine. Then, these older women were to teach to this new generation of women how to do the work. To me, it was very fun to demonstrate that lineage, to show how it began with the first lady of Imagineering and developed until today, when there are many women at the helm of the larger projects and do not flaunt.

eC: you mentioned that ‘The Imagineering Story’ became a six-part series, when he teamed up with Disney+. Does the collaboration with the platform brought something else new to the series?

L. I.: Yes! We had arrived at a cut fairly fixed when you saw him in Disney+, but we had not had the opportunity to do very much in the style of cinema vérité. We had recorded the interviews to be casual with people in the parks, but we had not gone to places where no man had gone before. So when Dan Silver [el vicepresidente de Disney+] he asked us what we would like to do that we had not done yet, I told him that it would be fun to take the viewers behind the scenes and reveal things. That led to the scenes with Bob Gurr [Imagineer] on the attraction of the Matterhorn Bobsled and the stories of the tunnels of service [Disney World tiene uno de los sistemas más extensos de túneles de servicio en el mundo]. We were also able to explore the attractions of ‘Star Wars,’ and it was very fun to go behind the stage there. It was great to explore the review of the attraction of Peter Pan. We saw the attraction of ‘It’s a Small World’ with Kim Irvine. All of those things were things that had not been seen like this before. Never the spectators had been able to go behind the stage in that way. So that was very fun for us.

Leslie Iwerks directs and produces the documentary 'The Imagineering Story' for Disney+

eC: you’ve explored Pixar with ‘The Pixar Story’ and the theme parks and the Imagineers behind them with ‘The Imagineering Story’. Is there another aspect of Disney history that you would like to discuss with a documentary?

L. I.: I think that there are many different aspects of the story. I’ve explored a lot. I did something on the history of animation with my grandfather and Walt and Mickey mouse. There are so many things that would be interesting, so we’ll have to see what comes next. Without doubt, there are many different stories to tell, especially with this company. That is the exciting part of working with Disney+.