The Working Films team is grateful for the care and support we’ve received from so many in the days since Robert West, our co-founder and long-time executive director passed away. Hearing and reading stories of love and appreciation for Robert – for his strategic thinking, generosity, passion for the work, and joux de vivre – expressed by friends and colleagues from around the world has made this difficult time much easier.robert west

The memorial service celebrating Robert’s life and legacy will be held on Saturday, June 22nd, at 2:00 PM, at the Cameron Museum of Art, 3201 South 17th Street, Wilmington, NC. It will be followed by a celebration that he planned at the historic firehouse at 602 South 5th Avenue, which was Robert’s home and is also the headquarters of Working Films.

If you are planning or even considering coming to Wilmington for the memorial, please let us know as soon as possible by emailing or calling Andy Myers ( / 910-342-9000). We can help make sure you have all the information you need and your stay is comfortable. We’ve reserved a block of rooms for Saturday night, June 22nd at the Hilton in downtown Wilmington. You can book a room in the block by calling the Hilton directly at 910-763-5900 by Friday 6/14. The Reservation ID is WST.

For those who would like to honor Robert’s life and legacy, contributions can be made to the Robert West Reel Engagement Fund, which will support an issue-driven Working Films’ initiative developed and evolved under Robert’s leadership. Dedicated to innovation, strategy and on-the-ground implementation, this Fund, just like Robert, will be nimble, dynamic, creative and responsive to the many urgent needs for change. Robert’s obituary as printed in the Wilmington Star News is below.

Again, thank for your concern and solidarity. It is sincerely appreciated.

The Working Films’ Staff and Board

Robert Kyle West 

Robert Kyle West, Co-founder and long-time Executive Director of Working Films, a nationally recognized non-profit dedicated to linking non-fiction films to activism, passed away at home in Wilmington, North Carolina on June 6, 2013 from brain cancer (GBM).

Robert and his twin sister Jane West were born on April 6, 1953, in Philadelphia, PA to parents Roberta Kyle West and Joseph F. West. As a child he resided in Lansdowne, PA and Cape May Point, NJ. In 1960, Robert’s father died, and in 1967 his mother, a native Virginian, moved the family to Richmond, VA. Robert attended Douglas Freeman High School and Virginia Commonwealth University where he developed what would become a life-long passion for art, history, politics, literature and film.

Early jobs in publishing and bookselling led West to the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC, where he was curator of film and video from 1985-1999. He was most noted for founding and directing the Charlotte Film and Video Festival, drawing fiction, non-fiction, experimental filmmakers and animators from all over the U.S. and the globe. In this same period he and a team of friends also founded Charlotte’s Gay and Lesbian Film Series.

Robert considered the use, curation and moderation of a public convening – especially one built around an independent film – an art form in itself. In 1999 he turned his deep belief in the power of film to build community and galvanize hearts, minds and concrete change, into the nonprofit Working Films, which he co-founded with filmmaker Judith Helfand. That year he moved to Wilmington, NC to establish his home and the headquarters of Working Films in a historic firehouse on South Fifth Avenue.

Robert and Working Films were pioneers in the field of media engagement, crafting long-term and innovative partnerships between filmmakers and some of the nation’s and world’s leading nonprofits and NGOs. The engagement methodologies he crafted are now part of the parlance of making, funding, distributing and actively using non-fiction films, nationally and increasingly internationally – particularly in the UK where he collaborated with BRITDOC. The working motto he loved and helped coin: STORY LEADS TO ACTION.

Robert tirelessly gave back to the field by sitting on boards including the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture , serving on juries and nomination committees including the Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media, the Rockefeller Media Fellowships, the Media Arts Fellowship Program of the NEA, Creative Capital, the NC Arts Council and The Independent Television Service, a production arm of PBS and serving on film festival panels including NC’s Cucalorus and Full Frame, The Center for Social Media’s “Making Media that Matters”, Sundance and in the last few years, Sheffield (UK) and Eso-Docs (EU).

An out gay man since he was twenty-five, Robert had an unrelenting commitment to the rights and equality of all people. He truly believed that everyone has the right to “be who they are.” Robert credits his uncle, Charles M. Butterworth, Jr., a Harvard trained lawyer who devoted his time and skills to the catholic worker movement, with giving him the gift of “considering a life committed to justice outside the mainstream.”

Robert’s surviving siblings and family members include; Fred and Hillary West of Chestnut Hill, PA and their children Kyle and Emily; Jane and Bruce Bench of Seattle, WA and their children, Robert, Jordan and Christopher; and brother John West of Santa Barbara, CA. He is predeceased by brother Joseph West, Jr. Robert also deeply loved his friends from Wilmington, Charlotte, NY and around the world. Too numerous to name, he appreciated their thoughtful care and their many messages of support throughout this year.

Robert turned the past very difficult year into a series of life-giving lessons offered to family and friends: Be Who You Are; Unplug from Technology, Take the Time to Feel the Wind and the Sun, and Be Present. It is in that spirit that we will gather on Saturday, June 22nd, at 2:00 PM, at the Cameron Museum of Art, 3201 South 17th Street, Wilmington, NC for a memorial service celebrating Robert’s life and legacy. Memorials in Robert West’s honor may be made to the Robert West Reel Engagement Fund at Working Films, 602 S. Fifth Ave, Wilmington, NC 28401 or Online condolence may be sent to the family at Atlantic Cremation Service.

Responses (2)

  1. Dear Family of Robert West,
    I was so very saddened to learn about Robert’s passing-on.
    I can’t tell you the number of times that I tried to find him
    over the years! I have a lovely pastel pencil drawing of his over my desk right now, – that he did of a single geranium that I had. It’s still as
    lovely as when he drew it, about 39 years ago now, in Richmond.

    I can see that he certainly used his many many gifts well, over the years to bless so many. He was such good company, – and so well read and enlightened! I only wish I had spoken to him before he left for his new home, – but I know that he is safe, and giving to others wherever he is, right now. What a wonderful model of kindness, wisdom, joy and love he is. Though I’m so sorry again, that he has left us, – I am forever glad that I knew him.

    Janie, if you read this, please do get in touch! I tried finding you also!
    I’ve never forgotten our car trip across the country! Please, again, do be in touch if you receive this. I am in the big apple, –NYC. And listed in the CS journal.

    I send much much love, indeed,
    and my prayers, condolence and love to all of Robert’s family, and friends too,
    Susan S. Collins

  2. This is a magnificent tribute to Robert K.West.
    If any of his family or friends see this, I would greatly
    like to talk or write with any of them. I had no idea that Robert
    had passed-on, – and have tried many many times to find him
    over the years.

    This is a beautiful memorial to him! Just tremendous.
    {Not sure why my letter on this site didn’t get off.
    But, again, would love to hear from anyone close to him,
    and or Jane too! She was a good friend. hopefully Ill be
    able to locate her.

    Susan S. Collins

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