Michael Roemer

Professor Adjunct of Film, Yale School of Art, and of American Studies

Michael Roemer, A.B. Harvard University, faculty member at Yale since 1966: You are one of the impressive filmmakers and teachers of filmmaking of your generation. Born in Germany during the time the Nazis were coming to power, you were part of one of the Kindertransports to England when your father could not find work enough to feed his family. Later you reached America, and Harvard, and your gift and passion for filmmaking began there, where you directed A Touch of the Times, the first feature film to be produced at an American college.

Over the years, you have made many films, both fiction and documentary, which have earned strong accolades. As a young man, you cut your teeth producing twelve films on Shakespeare for the Ford Foundation with the Stratford (Ontario) Shakespeare Festival Company. You have produced films for the National Science Foundation and Heath Publishing Company, all widely shown on public television, and have continued to make films for that medium. At the same time, you have made your own important full-length feature films and documentaries, films that have the mark of your individual genius. It would be impossible to note all of your major work here, but among the films with the greatest acclaim one might mention Nothing But a Man, your neorealist feature-length film on the American black experience, with its Motown soundtrack, called by The Washington Post, “one of the most sensitive films about black life ever made in this country,” and a prizewinner at the Venice Film Festival; your public television documentary Faces of Israel; and your searing masterpiece Dying, nominated by the Television Critics Circle as the best documentary film of the year in 1976. In all of these, you have chronicled the nature of human experience and deepened and enriched our sense of ourselves.

At Yale you have been the anchor, guide, and guru to literally generations of young filmmakers searching to find their way and now making their mark around the globe. Part of your brilliance as a teacher has been the range of what you have been able to bring to bear in the classroom. Characterized by some of your students as, “one of the smartest people we’ve ever met,” someone with an, “unusually lively mind,” and, “exceptionally learned about film,” you are a great scholar and a fine film historian, as well as someone knowledgeable about “making.” You bring to your teaching the breadth and depth of this knowledge, the incisive eye of the critic, and the passion of an artist. Extremely able as a technician, you nevertheless are the opposite of someone whose sole focus is on technique. You have taught your students, rather, how to think creatively about filmmaking, how to ask the big questions and to get inside subjects: in short, you have taught them not filmmaking alone, but the nature of the creative process.         

As we step back with a wide-angle lens, Michael Roemer, what we see is a grand panorama of what you have given to Yale: the creative work you have made and the students you have taught. As we focus in, we are pleased to put you at the center of the screen, just this once, as we thank you with full hearts for a half-century of dedication to art and teaching.

Tribute Editor: Penelope Laurans