Six O' Clock News

ROSS McELWEE Biography

by Ross McElwee

"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 o'clock news.

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

Career Summary:

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 Film Festival.

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.

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