Project Description

Ross McElwee

Self-portrait of Ross McElwee

FSC-Harvard Fellow – Before 2004, 2005-06, 2008-09, 2011-12, 2013-14

Ross McElwee has made ten feature-length documentaries as well as a number of shorter films. Sherman’s March has won numerous awards, including Best Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. Sherman’s March was also chosen for preservation by the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 2000 as a “historically significant American motion picture.” Bright Leaves premiered at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight and was nominated for Best Documentary by both the Director’s Guild of America and the Writer’s Guild of America. McElwee’s In Paraguay premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2008, and he returned to Venice in 2011 to premiere Photographic Memory.

In 2005, complete retrospectives of McElwee’s films were presented at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and later in Paris, Brussels, Milan, Lisbon, New Zealand, Seoul, Quito, and Nyon, Switzerland. Four of his films were featured in a selection of western documentaries shown for the first time in Tehran, and in 2015, McElwee presented his films in Changchun, Guangzhou, and Beijing, China.

McElwee has received fellowships and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the American Film Institute, the LEF Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. McElwee received the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival’s Career Award in 2007. He is currently at work on a documentary about the cable television remake of  Sherman’s March.

FSC Works

Film Still from Time Indefinite

Time Indefinite

Ross McElwee, 16mm film, 117 mins. (1993)

Autobiographical filmmaker Ross McElwee continues his obsessive personal investigation of his own life, focusing on real people and their recollections of the past.

The film begins with the filmmaker’s engagement, and includes notable sequences in which his old friends provide spontaneous, humorous, and poignant advice about marriage.

A personal and self-reflective travelogue, this film celebrates love, matrimony, death, birth, disappointment, and hope; a cinematic transposition of everyday life through a selection of authentic events raised to the level of cinematic art by the filmmaker’s sense of observation, and his courage to expose the most intimate emotions.

Distributed by First Run Features, New York.

Film Still from Something to Do with the Wall

Something To Do With the Wall

Marilyn Levine & Ross McElwee, 16mm film, 88 mins. (1990)

In 1986, Ross McElwee (Sherman’s March) and Marilyn Levine first shot footage on the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s erection, when the imposing structure was still very much intact as the world’s outstanding symbol of the Communist hard line.

They thought they were making a documentary on the community of tourists, soldiers, and West Berliners who lived in the seemingly eternal presence of the graffiti emblazoned eyesore.

But in 1989, as the original film neared completion, the Wall came down, and McElwee and Levine were in Berlin again, this time to capture the radically different atmosphere of the reunified city.

The filmmakers are less objective reporters than participants in an attitude adjusting process which, in their cases, harkens back to myths and fears that made up the Cold War lore of their childhoods in the classrooms of 1950s America.

Distributed by First Run Icarus Films, New York.

Film Still from Six O’clock News

Six O’clock News

Ross McElwee, 16mm film, 103 mins. (1997)

Having recently become a father, the filmmaker begins to worry about how to support his new family through documentary filmmaking.

Forced to spend more time at home, now that he has a child, he also begins to watch a lot of television news. Real life, as seen through television news, seems saturated with disaster and danger.

The state of the world, and especially of the United States, seems threatening and surreal. Can this really be the nation in which he is intending to raise a son?

Convinced he can no longer earn a sufficient living making documentaries, the filmmaker begins to investigate the possibilities of getting work in Hollywood, where, as he is constantly reminded, they make “real movies.”

But the six o’clock news, with its nightly tales from real life, continues to fascinate him, and eventually he finds himself drawn to seek out and film in more depth some of the people and events he has seen for a few seconds on the six o’clock news. He undertakes a journey.

Distributed by First Run Features, New York.

Film Still from Bright Leaves

Bright Leaves

Ross McElwee, 35mm film, 107 mins. (2003)

North Carolina produces more tobacco than any other state in America. Ross McElwee’s film describes a journey taken across the social, economic, and psychological tobacco terrain of North Carolina by a native Carolinian whose great-grandfather created the famous brand of tobacco known as Bull Durham.

Bright Leaves is a subjective, autobiographical meditation on the allure of cigarettes and their troubling legacy for the state of North Carolina.

It’s about loss and preservation, addiction and denial. And it is about filmmaking — home movie, documentary, and fiction filmmaking — as the filmmaker fences with the legacy of an obscure Hollywood melodrama that is purportedly based on his great-grandfather’s life.

Bright Leaves explores the notion of legacy — what one generation passes down to the next — and how this can be a particularly complicated topic when the legacy under discussion is a Southern one and is tied to tobacco.

Distributed by First Run Features, New York.