20E: Retrospective Roger Ross Williams

The Movies that Matter Festival proudly presents a retrospective of films by American filmmaker Roger Ross Williams. Williams began making films after giving up his journalistic work for large media such as CNN and The New York Times, because as a journalist he couldn’t tell the stories he wanted to: ‘I always want to tell stories about experiences of people who feel outside of the mainstream,’ he said in an interview.

His first film, the short documentary Music by Prudence, about disabled singer Prudence Mabhena, immediately earned him an Oscar in 2010, making Williams the first African-American director to win an Oscar.

At the festival we will show Williams’ strong condemnation of homophobia and religious extremism in God Loves Uganda, a documentary about the large-scale campaign by American evangelists to spread their extremely conservative views in Uganda. In the heart-warming Life, Animated we meet the autistic Owen Suskind, who knows all Walt Disney films by heart. For him, these films are a way to make contact with people and to better understand his world.

We also show The Apollo, a tribute to the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York City, breeding ground for musical greats such as James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles. In his VR documentary Traveling While Black, which can be watched free of charge at the festival, Williams places the viewer in the United States at the time of the racial segregation. Afro-Americans who lived during the segregation, share their story, and in doing so, they share an important and painful part of the country’s history.

One director, so many different subjects. But however different they might seem to be, for Williams, all films are personal. ‘I make the films because I connect with that subject, with that person,’ he says. ‘You have to have that sort of passion to make documentaries because it takes so much, so many years and so much blood, sweat and tears that it had better be personal.

Roger Ross Williams will be present at the festival for Q&A's.