Drew Associates

Drew Associates Drew Associates, founded in 1960, has produced more than 100 documentary films in a candid style known as American cinéma vérité. These films and their excerpts are available for licensing or screenings.

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Newly edited footage from Drew Associates' "The Children Were Watching," a raw chronicle of reactions to school integrat...
The Children Were Watching - The Criterion Channel

Newly edited footage from Drew Associates' "The Children Were Watching," a raw chronicle of reactions to school integration in New Orleans in 1960, has attracted more than 1 million viewers since being posted on Instagram earlier today. Civil rights leader Ruby Bridges, who was the first African American child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, shared the footage in Selena Gomez's Instagram account (Gomez is using her Instagram account to spotlight Black leaders and share their voices). The new edit shows Bridges being escorted by U.S. Marshals to and from the school as well as white parents taunting those who want to integrate the school. And it takes viewers into the home of the Gabriel family, which tried to send their daughter to school the same day that Ruby Bridges integrated the school. Take note: The footage may be disturbing. You can find more about Ruby on Instagram @rubybridgesofficial. As Ruby said: "It was very important for me to share this with you because I think it will help you to understand why I think we, Black and Brown sisters and brothers, need to stand united in this fight to save Black and Brown lives. I want you to remember that it is all of our shared history. This is your legacy, too."

Directed by Robert Drew and Richard Leacock • 1961 • United States In this Drew Associates classic, Richard Leacock photographs the first week of school integration in November 1960 in New Orleans. As black students enter their new schools under the escort of U.S. Marshals, their classmates’ w...

Receiving the 2019 Robert and Anne Drew Award for Documentary Excellence at today's fabulous DOC NYC Visionaries Luncheo...

Receiving the 2019 Robert and Anne Drew Award for Documentary Excellence at today's fabulous DOC NYC Visionaries Luncheon, Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar (whose film "American Factory" is a masterwork of cinema verite), paid a beautiful to Bob in their speech: "Documentaries are boring, Robert Drew said in the mid-50s. Robert Drew wanted a more immediate kind of documentary, a camera that put us in the middle of events as they unfold. No narration. No correspondent. Where we grapple with the events and the drama at hand right with the people on screen. He commissioned small, light cameras. He hired young kids to work with him. Their names were Pennebaker, Leacock, Maysles. They would give documentary a rebirth. We are two of their children." They even brought photos from when they met Bob and Anne at a film festival a decade ago. Bravo, Julia and Steven!

In Memoriam: D.A. Pennebaker

So sorry this earth has lost D.A. Pennebaker, a man of great soul and a prodigious filmmaking talent. He was the last man standing of the Fab Four filmmakers who pioneered American cinema verité at Drew Associates. Here's a tiny slice of life from that time, as Penny tests his camera on June 2, 1963, before starting to film Robert F. Kennedy for what became "Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment." To get the full arc of his filmmaking career, see Pennebaker Hegedus Films.

Check out the '60s Verite extravaganza at the Film Forum, which runs through Feb. 6. We are thrilled to have 9 films scr...

Check out the '60s Verite extravaganza at the Film Forum, which runs through Feb. 6. We are thrilled to have 9 films screening as part of this fabulous festival: Jane, The Children Were Watching, On the Road with Duke Ellington, Mooney vs. Fowle, The Chair (tonight 7:20 pm and tomorrow 4:05 pm), Yanki No! (Feb. 3 at 3:50 pm). The Kennedy films, Primary, Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment, and Faces of November close out the festival with multiple screenings of new master versions, lovingly restored by The Criterion Collection, in partnership with the Academy Archive. D.A. Pennebaker will be there on Feb. 6 to introduce Primary at the 6:50 pm screening and Crisis at the 8:20 screening. Bravo to Elspeth Carroll and everyone at the Film Forum for programming such a feast of amazing films!

This is "60s VERITE" by Film Forum on Vimeo, the home for high quality videos and the people who love them.


Congratulations to filmmaking partners Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the winners of the 2017 Robert and Anne Drew Award for Documentary Excellence, which recognizes a mid-career filmmaker distinguished for observational cinema. They will share a $5,000 cash prize sponsored by Drew Associates. The award will be presented at the Visionaries Tribute Award Luncheon at the DOC NYC Festival on November 9, 2017.

Ewing and Grady’s latest film One of Us, about three Hasidic Jews who are seeking to move out of their insular community, screens at DOC NYC as part of this year’s Short List. Their previous films include Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You, Detropia, 12th & Delaware, Jesus Camp, and The Boys of Baraka.

The award’s name celebrates Drew Associates’ Founder Robert Drew and his wife Anne, who was his filmmaking partner for more than four decades. The three previous recipients were Dawn Porter, Kim Longinotto and Laura Poitras.

“Every time I see a Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady documentary I learn something profound about the human experience,” saidJill Drew, the general manager of Drew Associates, who helped select the recipients. “Their ability to go deep into cultures that are oftentimes portrayed as caricatures goes to the heart of why observational documentary is so powerful and important, especially now. They don’t tell us what to think; they show us what it’s like.”

In honor of today's Wisconsin Primary, The Criterion Collection's Current blog posted a terrific essay recalling the 196...
A Primary on the Horizon

In honor of today's Wisconsin Primary, The Criterion Collection's Current blog posted a terrific essay recalling the 1960 campaign, spiced up with a few fabulous-looking clips from the re-mastered "Primary." The premiere screening of the restored version is tomorrow night at the first-ever "Criterion Live!" event at the Metrograph in Manhattan. 'Twill be very cool.... https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/3998-a-primary-on-the-horizon

Today, just as they have for decades, voters in the great state of Wisconsin head to the polls to take part in this year’s presidential primary election, selecting among eager candidates who share the “great dream” of becoming president of the . . .

We're thrilled that The Criterion Collection will release remastered versions of our four Kennedy films later this month...
The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates

We're thrilled that The Criterion Collection will release remastered versions of our four Kennedy films later this month! You can find them here: https://www.criterion.com/films/28907-the-kennedy-films-of-robert-drew-associates

Seeking to invigorate the American documentary format, which he felt was rote and uninspired, Robert Drew brought the style and vibrancy he had fostered as a Life magazine correspondent to filmmaking in the late fifties.

Robert L. Drew and Anne Drew

Robert L. Drew and Anne Drew

Drew Associates's cover photo

Drew Associates's cover photo

ROBERT L. DREW (1924-2014)For Immediate Release: July 30, 2014; updated August 3, 2014Drew family statement on the passi...
Robert Drew

ROBERT L. DREW (1924-2014)

For Immediate Release: July 30, 2014; updated August 3, 2014

Drew family statement on the passing of Robert L. Drew, father of American cinéma vérité

Contact: Thatcher Drew at [email protected]

Documentary filmmaker Robert L. Drew, father of American cinéma vérité, died today at his home in Sharon, Connecticut. He was 90 years old.

Drew and his associates pioneered a new kind of reality filmmaking in the early 1960s that is now a staple of the documentary form. Drew made more than 100 films over his 50-plus-year career, many on social issues, politics, and the arts.

Drew’s entire collection is being preserved by the archives of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, of which he was a member. Two of Drew’s films are in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. His list of honors includes the Cannes Film Festival Special Jury Prize, blue ribbons from the New York Film festival, the International Documentary Association Career Achievement Award, an Emmy Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, First Prizes in the Venice Film Festival, 19 Cine Golden Eagles, the Flaherty Award, and the Dupont-Columbia Best Documentary award.

Drew was a Life Magazine correspondent and editor, as well as a former WWII fighter pilot, when he formed Drew Associates in 1960 to produce his kind of films. He hired a team of like-minded filmmakers that included Ricky Leacock, D.A. Pennebaker, and Albert Maysles, all of whom have had internationally renowned careers as documentary filmmakers.

Drew’s films pioneered a strict journalistic code that allowed no directing of subjects, no set-up shots, no on-camera narrator. The candid footage was edited into a dramatic narrative that gave the feeling of what it was like to be there as events occurred. His technique became known as cinéma vérité or direct cinema, though he liked to call it reality filmmaking.

To accomplish this, Drew and his associates re-engineered a motion picture camera and sound recorder so they could move freely and in sync with a subject. This allowed them the mobility to capture real life as it unfolded before the lens, as documented in the documentary "Cinema Verite: Defining the Moment" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZuiX9xBbwc0).

For their first film with their new equipment, Drew convinced a young senator from Massachusetts who was running for President to be his first subject: John F. Kennedy. Drew and his team recorded Kennedy as he campaigned for the 1960 Democratic Presidential nomination in Wisconsin. The resulting film, “Primary,” was the first film made where the sync sound camera could move freely to capture events as they were actually happening.

“Primary,” along with the famous 1963 film about Kennedy’s decision to back racial equality as a moral issue and force the integration of the University of Alabama –“Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment” – won numerous awards and have been named to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry as works of enduring importance to American culture. “Crisis” includes candid scenes from inside the Oval Office, the only time a U.S. president has allowed independent cameras to film actual White House deliberations.

Drew refined his early ideas about documentaries with dramatic logic in a 1954-55 Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, where he studied storytelling in order to craft documentaries that used narrative and what he called “picture logic” rather than following “word logic,” or a lecture format. When he returned to Life Magazine, Drew made several experimental films.

Drew explained in a 1962 interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZuiX9xBbwc0 that he envisioned a documentary form that would be “a theater without actors; it would be plays without playwrights; it would be reporting without summary and opinion; it would be the ability to look in on people’s lives at crucial times from which you could deduce certain things and see a kind of truth that can only be gotten from personal experience.” See resources below for a link to that interview.

Drew formed Drew Associates and made several films under contract for Time, Inc., which owned a handful of television stations and sometimes teamed with ABC and commercial sponsors to broadcast the independent films. In addition to “Primary” and “Crisis,” these included some of the recognized seminal works of early cinéma vérité: “Yanki No!” (1960) about Latin America’s rising anger at its northern neighbor; “On the Pole,” (1960 and 1961), which follows top driver Eddie Sachs at two Indianapolis 500s; “Mooney vs. Fowle” (1961), an inside-the-locker room story of a high school football state championship game; “The Chair” (1962), in which a crusading lawyer saves a man from the electric chair; and “Jane” (1962), about Jane Fonda’s debut as the lead in what turned out to be a Broadway flop. Each of the films won major awards at film festivals in the U.S. and Europe.

Drew’s contract with Time, Inc., ended in 1964, and from then on Drew Associates functioned as an independent producer. Drew won an Emmy Award in 1969 for “Man Who Dances,” which depicts the grinding physical stress on New York City Ballet’s then-premier dancer, Edward Villella. That film was edited by a filmmaker who would soon become Drew’s second wife and filmmaking partner, Anne Gilbert Drew. The two were inseparable personally and professionally until Anne’s death in April, 2012, from lung cancer.

Drew won the Dupont-Columbia Best Documentary award in 1986 for “For Auction: An American Hero,” the story of a rural auctioneer and the family whose farm is put up for sale when their debts become overwhelming.

Robert Lincoln Drew was born in Toledo, Ohio, in February, 1924, the eldest of four children. His family soon moved to Ft. Thomas, Kentucky, where his father ran a seaplane base on the Ohio River and taught his son to fly. Drew remembered his father taking a dollar from a customer for a seaplane ride and quietly slipping it to his son to run down to buy the fuel needed to gas up the plane.

Drew left high school shortly before graduation to enlist as a cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps. After flight training school, Drew was posted to a combat squadron near Naples, Italy, and flew 31 missions before being shot down behind enemy lines on January 31, 1944, 16 days before his 20th birthday. Drew survived for three and a half months eluding German troops in the mountains near the town of Fondi, Italy, before finding his way through the approaching battle lines to return to his squadron.

Drew returned to the States and enrolled in a military engineering school so he could qualify to join the first squadron of jet fighter pilots, a posting he was finally granted only after he impressed the squadron leader with a highly visible, illegal dog fight in the air over a military base against two Navy airplanes. He was still in training when the war ended. When Life Magazine came to his base to do a story on jet fighters, Drew wrote a first-person essay for Life about what it was like to fly the plane. That essay eventually landed him a job as a Life correspondent. That was when he found himself asking the question “Why are documentaries so boring?”

Drew is survived by his three children: Thatcher Drew, Lisa W. Drew, and Derek Drew; and three grandchildren: Jonathan Drew, Kimberly Drew and Seth Drew. He is also survived by his first wife, Ruth Faris Drew, his brother Frank M. Drew, brigadier general, U.S. Air Force, retired; and a sister, Mary Way Drew Greer.

Jill Drew, his daughter-in-law, is General Manager of Drew Associates, which is active in distributing the company’s library of films.

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

Wikipedia entry, includes a filmography listing scores of his films, as well as several additional resources

Drew Associates web page includes a Picture Book with many details of Drew’s career at www.drewassociates.net.
Excerpt on Robert Drew from Peter Witonick Documentary "Cinema Verite: Defining the Moment" (1999): includes the 1962 interview with Drew mentioned above. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZuiX9xBbwc0

Kristine McKenna, L.A. Times, 1993: "He Looked at J.F.K. Without the Myths: Robert Drew's documentaries following Kennedy from the campaign to presidency to his funeral played a key role in pioneering a synthesis of journalism and film."

Ron Sutton, Documentary Magazine, 2013: "This We Know is Drew"

Matt Zoller Seitz, NY Press, 2003, "Filmmaker Robert Drew on light cameras and light rifles"

For Educational use only. For documentary film class JMSC University of Hong Kong 2010. Instructor Jim Laurie. Excerpt from Peter Witonick Documentary "Cinem...

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Drew Associates

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