Documentary Filmmaker Roberto Guerra Dies

Roberto Guerra, an international documentary film director, producer, and cinematographer, born in Lima, Peru, has died. Born in 1942, he graduated from the Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria, Lima with a degree in engineering, and subsequently turned his attention to film, initially producing and directing in Peru.

On his first trip to NYC to purchase film equipment, Guerra met Albert Maysles and through him and his brother, David, he met the other cinema verité pioneers -- Ricky Leacock, D.A. Pennebaker, and Robert Drew. He initially worked with the Maysles, filming on some of their projects. Soon thereafter, he met Eila Hershon, who became his collaborator and life partner for the next 25 years. They made many films, including portraits of artists and international personalities in the worlds of fashion and design: Frida Kahlo, which won the first prize at the Montreal Festival of Films on Art; Langlois,* (a portrait of Henri Langlois, founder of the French Cinematheque); Oskar Kokoschka; Hans Haacke; Chanel, Chanel (a portrait of the fashion designer); The Story of Fashion (a three-hour series on 20th Century fashion); The Beauty Queens (a three-hour series profiling Helena Rubenstein, Elizabeth Arden and Estee Lauder); By Design (a six-part series profiling Lella and Massimo Vignelli, Milton Glaser, Benjamin and Jane Thompson, Karl Lagerfeld, Richard Sapper, and Elliott Erwitt); followed byDesign, a six-hour series including short profiles of over 25 designers.The films were broadcast by major networks in over 35 countries, including PBS, A&E, BRAVO, The Learning Channel, USA; Channel Four, UK; ZDF, Germany; RAI TV 2, Italy; ABC, Australia; TV Ontario, Canada; Antenne 2, France. The films were also featured in international film festivals in New York, Edinburgh, London, Cannes, Montreal, and Los Angeles, as well as at major museums and other venues. They also successfully penetrated the home video market, and have been critically acclaimed in both the Arts and TV pages of major international magazines and newspapers. Guerra and Hershon married in 1991; Eila Hershon died of cancer in 1993.

Guerra did his own camerawork and editing for all his films. His intuitive, sensitive eye and unique style and spontaneous grace imbue each film with a sense of involvement and intimacy with the subjects.

In 1996, Guerra met Kathy Brew and claimed that she "corrupted him to digital video." Previously all his films had been made on 16 millimeter film. Their life/work collaboration soon began, and has included a range of different independent projects. Their most recent is the feature documentary Design is One: Lella & Massimo Vignelli, which began its US theatrical release at the IFC Film Center in New York City in October 2013 with a favorable NY Times review. The film is being distributed in the US by First Run Features and in Canada by KinoSmith.

Former collaborations include four short films on Chinese contemporary artists, part of the Observer Observed series for The Joy of Giving Something Foundation; ID/entity: Portraits in the 21st Century, commissioned by the MIT Media Lab (screened at the International Festival of Films on Art in Montreal and broadcast on WNET/Thirteen's Metro Arts); a collaboration with artist Mierle Ukeles, creating a multiple-channel installation about the Fresh Kills landfill that was presented at Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island and Harvard University; Paradise Now: Picturing the Genetic Revolution (broadcast on WNET/Thirteen's Metro Arts and presented at the International Festival of Films on Art in Montreal). Guerra and Brew also produced segments for Public Television WNET's City Arts and Egg, for which they received two Emmy awards for Outstanding Fine Arts Programming.