Documentary industry pays tribute to Robert Drew

Michael Moore, Marshall Curry, Mark Cousins, Lucy Walker and AJ Schnack are among the documentarians paying tribute to vérité pioneer Robert Drew (pictured), who has passed away at the age of 90.
July 31, 2014

Figures from across the documentary landscape have taken to Twitter and other social media platforms to pay tribute to Robert L. Drew (pictured), who has passed away at the age of 90.

Drew, who helped pioneer and popularize the direct cinema style of documentary-making via films such as Primary and Crisis, died yesterday (July 30) at his home in home in Connecticut.

“Modern art has Picasso. Rock ‘n roll has Bill Haley. And the documentary film has Robert Drew,” said Bowling for Columbine director Michael Moore, in a statement. “All of us who make non-fiction movies can trace our lineage to what he created.”

Moore was one of many non-fiction filmmakers paying homage to Drew via social media. Director AJ Schnack wrote that his doc Caucus – which played last year at festivals such as Hot Docs and AFI Docs – was directly influenced by Drew’s JFK film Primary.

“God bless Robert Drew, a man whose films inspired me to make documentaries and who encouraged me to surround myself with talented friends,” Schnack wrote on Facebook. “Primary is directly responsible for Caucus and for the work I’m doing right now.”

On Twitter, Point and Shoot director Marshall Curry wrote that Drew was a “great pioneer of cinema verite, & generous adviser when I was figuring out my first film.” Elsewhere, Waste Land director Lucy Walker Tweeted: “Grieving Robert Drew. Read his 1955 study of why documentary films are dull, and his solution which inspired us all.”

Filmmaker Mark Cousins added: “By liberating the equipment he created the access, intimacy + presence of [English language] non-fiction film… Le Corbusier’s “the technology is the poetics” helps explain why Robert Drew mattered so much.”

Drew’s passing also saw tributes from festivals such as Hot Docs, IDFA and Sheffield Doc/Fest, while TIFF’s documentary programmer Thom Powers wrote that Drew: “was pivotal in the creation of the modern American documentary.”

New Yorker film critic Richard Brody added: “Deeply saddened by the passing of Robert Drew; perhaps no filmmaker has ever changed his art form more completely, enduringly – and modestly.”

As reported yesterday, a celebration of Drew’s life will be held on Sunday (August 3) in Sharon, Connecticut. A memorial service will also be held in New York City at a later date.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.