McElwee, Ross: Documentary Director Profile

Ross 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 six 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.

“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.