For the past 25 years, Ross McElwee has given new meaning and flair to first-person nonfiction cinema. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, McElwee studied at MIT with the legendary filmmakers Richard Leacock and Edward Pincus, from whom he learned that the verité documentarian need not be a detached recorder of events—as practitioners of direct cinema in the 1960s often claimed—but rather an engaged, even intrusive, participant in the unfolding action. The confessional mode of McElwee’s autobiographical films like Sherman’s March (1986), Time Indefinite (1994), Six O’Clock News (1996), and, most recently, Bright Leaves (2003) is always wise and irreverent yet rarely solipsistic; ever the unreliable narrator, McElwee is aware of the strictures of self-knowledge, and of our limited ability to know the hearts and minds of others. In his 11 films to date, he has chronicled his encounters with family and friends, lovers and strangers, in ways that have caused those relationships to change, while also having broader implications for race relations in America and the history and culture of the South. McElwee makes the grandest themes of human comedy his artistic province: love and death, chance and fate, memory and denial, the marvelous and the appalling. On September 21, the filmmaker will introduce Bright Leaves, followed by a conversation with Darryl Pinckney, author of the novel High Cotton. All the films are produced, filmed, written, and edited solely by McElwee, except where noted.
Organized by Joshua Siegel, Assistant Curator, Department of Film and Media.