As an editor at Life Magazine in the 1950s, Robert Drew specialized in the candid still picture essay. As a Nieman Fellow at Harvard he worked out theories for a filmmaking based on candid photography in motion pictures.
He assembled a group of journalists and filmmakers — among them Richard Leacock, Gregory Shuker, D.A. Pennebaker, Albert Maysles, James Lipscomb, Hope Ryden, Mike Jackson, Tom Bywaters, Anne Drew. Robert Drew managed the engineering of lightweight cameras and recorders and developed editing techniques to allow stories to tell themselves through characters in action.
In 1960 Robert Drew planned, produced, recorded sound and managed the editing of “Primary,” the first film in which the sync-sound motion picture camera was able to move freely with characters throughout a breaking story (John F. Kennedy campaigning for President in Wisconsin). “Primary” was recognized as a breakthrough in documentary filmmaking (Robert Flaherty Award, American Film Festival Blue Ribbon).
Robert Drew expanded on his ideas by forming Drew Associates and producing films that have become known, along with “Primary”, as the foundation of cinema verite’ in America: “On the Pole,” “Yanki No!,” “Crisis: Behind A Presidential Commitment,” “The Chair,” “Faces of November.”
In 1970, Robert Drew married his second wife, then-Anne Gilbert, who worked at Drew Associates as an editor. The two became an inseparable filmmaking partnership and produced a wide-ranging number of documentaries.
In the field of the Sciences, the Drews produced “Men Encounter Mars,” “Who’s Out There?” and “The Space Duet of Spider and Gumdrop.” In National and International Affairs, films included “Men of The Tall Ships,” “Warnings from Gangland,” “London to Peking: The Great Motoring Challenge,” “L.A. Champions,” “For Auction: An American Hero,” and “From Two Men and a War.”
Nature films included “River Of Hawks,” for National Geographic Explorer and “Messages From The Birds” for the National Audubon Society and Turner Networks.
For this body of work The International Documentary Association named Robert Drew the recipient of the IDA Career Achievement Award.
Robert Drew continued to make award-winning films well into his 80s. He passed away on July 30, 2014.
Here are links to selected obituaries:
The Godfather of Cinema Verite – The New Yorker
Robert L. Drew, Pioneer in Documentary Filmmaking, Dies at 90 – The New York Times
Robert Drew, Pioneering Documentary Filmmaker, Dies at 90 – The Washington Post
Robert Drew Dies at 90; Pioneer of Documentary Filmmaking – The Los Angeles Times
Robert Drew Obituary – The Guardian