Ross McElwee

Ross McElwee

Ross McElwee grew up in North Carolina. He graduated from Brown University and later from Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he received a MS in filmmaking in a program headed by documentarians Richard Leacock and Ed Pincus. 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  Later, he freelanced, shooting films for documentarians D.A. Pennebaker and then John Marshall, in Namibia. McElwee started producing and directing documentaries in 1976.

Ross McElwee has made seven feature-length documentaries as well as several shorter films. Most of his films were shot in his homeland of the American South, among them the critically acclaimed Sherman's March, Time Indefinite, Six O'Clock News, and Bright Leaves. Sherman's March won numerous awards, including Best Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. It was cited by the National Board of Film Critics as one of the five best films of 1986. Time Indefinite won best film award in several festivals and was distributed theatrically throughout the U.S. Six O'Clock News won Best Documentary at the Hawaii International Film Festival. These three films were broadcast in the U.S. over PBS and nationally in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Australia.

McElwee's films have been included in the festivals of Berlin, London, Vienna, Rotterdam, Florence, Sydney, and Wellington. Retrospectives include the Museum of Modern Art; the Art Institute of Chicago; the American Museum of the Moving Image, New York; and États généraux du film documentaire in Lussas, France. McElwee has received fellowships and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the American Film Institute, and the Massachusetts Arts Council. He has twice been awarded fellowships in filmmaking by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2000, Sherman's March was selected for a Cinéma du Réel retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and four of his films were featured in a selection of western documentaries shown for the first time in Tehran, Iran. Sherman's March was also chosen for preservation by the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 2000 as an "historically significant American motion picture."

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Ross McElwee
  • Backyard

    Directed by Ross McElwee • Documentary • 1984 • 40 minutes

    The result of McElwee turning his camera on his family and their neighbors, the film is a humorous and poignant look at odd moments in a genteel Southern town.

    "Backyard is equal parts Samuel Beckett, Jean-Luc Godard and Werner Herzog."...

  • Bright Leaves

    Directed by Ross McElwee • Documentary • With Ross McElwee, Allan Gurganus, Paula Larke, Marilyn Levine, Emily Madison, Charlleen Swansea, Adrian McElwee, Tom McElwee • 2005 • 105 minutes

    McElwee family legend has it that the Hollywood melodrama Bright Leaf starring Gary Cooper as a 19th century...

  • Photographic Memory

    Directed by Ross McElwee • Documentary • 2012 • 87 minutes

    Filmmaker Ross McElwee (Sherman’s March, Bright Leaves) finds himself in frequent conflict with his son, a young adult who seems addicted to and distracted by the virtual worlds of the internet. To understand his fractured love for his s...

  • Sherman's March

    Directed by Ross McElwee • Documentary • 1986 • 155 minutes

    When First Run released Ross McElwee's Sundance Award winning Sherman's March in 1986, it went on to become one of the largest grossing documentaries ever. Audiences and critics alike fell in love with McElwee's "quirky, funny and fasci...

  • Six O Clock News

    Directed by Ross McElwee • Documentary • 1997 • 103 minutes

    McElwee pursues murder, mayhem and catastrophe the same way he pursued southern women in Sherman's March. Made after McElwee becomes a father and finds himself at home watching a lot more TV, he becomes obsessed with the nightly tales o...

  • Time Indefinite

    Directed by Ross McElwee • Documentary • 1993 • 117 minutes

    McElwee, Charleen Swansea, and several other memorable characters you met in Sherman's March invite you to pick up their story in Time Indefinite, McElwee's hilariously profound sequel to his much-beloved, critically acclaimed hit.