"In 1975, as a graduate student at MIT's Film Section, I began filming
"chapters" from my own life and the lives of people close to me. Those
chapters coalesced into two films, "Charleen," about my wise and flamboyant
high school teacher, and "Backyard," about my relationship to my surgeon father
and my medical school-bound brother. "Backyard" reveals my father's pride in
my brother's choice of careers, as well as his somewhat puzzled concern about
my choice--making documentary "home movies." He would say to me "Why don't you
try to make nature films." Instead, I went on to make "Sherman's March: A
Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love In the South During an Era of
Nuclear Weapons Proliferation," an absurd title, but one which aptly summed up
the major themes of the film. In it, I retraced General Sherman's destructive
Civil War route, interweaving this journey with portraits of seven southern
women I met along the way.
"Sherman's March " achieved wide acclaim, and led to a sequel, "Time
Indefinite," in which I document my somewhat awkward shift into adulthood,
getting married (finally), and then having to confront the sudden death of my
father. At the end of the film, I become a father myself. In "Something To Do
With the Wall," my wife and I reflect upon growing up in the shadow of the Cold
War as we film life along the Berlin Wall. I recently completed "Six O'Clock
News," a film about local television news and the fears a father can have about
raising a child in a society such as the one we see reflected in the six
Each of these films explores new territory for me, but in almost all of them,
members of my immediate and extended family reappear over a nineteen year span.
This fact adds, I believe, an additional dimension to my work, providing a
record of both how much and how little my family has changed over time."
-- Ross McElwee
McElwee grew up in North Carolina. He graduated from Brown University and
later from Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he received MS in
filmmaking in a program headed by documentarian Richard Leacock.
His career began in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina where he was a
studio cameraman for local evening news, housewife helper shows, and "gospel
hour" programs broadcast by the local television station. Later, he worked
freelance shooting films for documentarians D.A. Pennebaker and then John
Marshall, in Namibia.
McElwee started producing and directing documentaries in 1976. His body of
work includes five feature-length documentaries as well as several shorter
films most of them shot in his homeland of the South. His work has played
nationally in arthouse theaters and has been broadcast on Cinemax and PBS.
In three of his films, "Backyard," "Sherman's March," and "Time Indefinite," he
experimented with a personal autobiographical approach to non-fiction
filmmaking, filming as a one-person film crew and weaving into the final film a
highly subjective narration along with on-camera experiences by the filmmaker.
His current work, "Six O'Clock News," continues to explore ideas and issues of
subjective non-fiction filmmaking. His films have won many awards, including
"Best Documentary" at the Sundance Film Festival ("Sherman's March"). "Six
O'Clock News" recently was named best documentary at the Hawaii International
McElwee has been a visiting filmmaker at Harvard University for ten years and
has been awarded fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Guggenheim
Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.