Doc About SI Swimsuit Issue Founding Editor Jule Campbell Is in the Works as Franchise Celebrates 60th Anniversary (EXCLUSIVE)

The May 17 release of the 2024 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue celebrates the swimsuit franchise’s 60th anniversary. A new documentary highlights the woman who founded the issue in 1964 – Jule Campbell.

Directed by Campbell’s daughter-in-law Jill Campbell, “Beyond the Gaze: Jule Campbell’s Swimsuit Issue” explores how the editor, who died in 2022, broke glass ceilings, navigated a sexist workplace and battled accusations of objectification, all while launching the careers of mogul models including Kathy Ireland, Christie Brinkley and Tyra Banks.

More from Variety

The 107 minute film, produced by EUE Documentaries and Red Barn Productions, recently wrapped production. The director is currently submitting the doc for consideration at various fall film festivals.

During her 32-year tenure as founding editor of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, Campbell was charged with the task of creating a yearly swimsuit issue that did not come across as gratuitous. The docu investigates how she managed to control the photographs that male photographers took and those that appeared in the Issue. Campbell was able to not only protect the models with whom she worked with, but also create a unique vision for the special issue, which became one of the most lucrative in American magazine history.

“In examining Jule’s career, I was intrigued to discover just how embattled she was, it seems, by everyone except the amazing women she worked with,” says director Jill Campbell. “Jule’s work was constantly scrutinized, yet she stuck to her inner moral compass and created something timeless.”

The docu uses never-before-seen Super 8 footage from swimsuit shoots with Cheryl Tiegs and Christie Brinkley, archival footage as well as sit-down interviews with Campbell, then in her 90s, and Sports Illustrated iconic models including Kathy Ireland, Elle Macpherson, and Paulina Porizkova to explore the obstacles the editor faced by putting women in bathing suits in an American sports magazine.

“Jule was the only fashion editor I worked with who was not only an ally but a feminist,” says former swimsuit model Stacey Williams. “Jule didn’t allow predation on her shoots. It sounds like a no-brainer, I know, but the number of female fashion editors who enabled the abuse of power by influential photographers is crushing.”

Ireland, who graced the SI swimsuit issue cover three times, adds, “Jule gave the models a name, and a platform to launch their own businesses.”

The docu covers the criticism Campbell faced throughout her career, which centered around people thinking that she degraded and objectified women.

“I wanted to make a film that takes a deep dive into both sides of the controversy that the existence of the swimsuit issue provokes, through the lens of Jule Campbell’s journey,” says the director.

In the doc Porizkova, who first posed for the swimsuit issue in 1983 and is on the four covers being released on May 17 asks, “Is it objectification or celebration of the female body? Or can it be both?”

Produced, directed and co-edited by Jill Campbell, “Beyond the Gaze: Jule Campbell’s Swimsuit Issue” is executive produced by Sharon Cooney Shuttleworth; produced by Rob Lyons (“Deciding Vote”) and Jonathan Gray (“Afghan Dreamers”); produced in consultation with Kathy Ireland; co-edited by Jill Woodward (“This Is Paris”); composed by Miriam Cutler (“RBG”); with Nelson Walker as director of photography (“Iris”). Gary Rubin is handling domestic sales.

Watch an exclusive clip below.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.