Co-founder Robert West announces he is stepping down

robert photo

Working Films is a nationally and internationally recognized nonprofit organization leveraging the power of story-driven, non-fiction film and media to catalyze social change for equity and justice. Founded in 2000 by Robert West and Judith Helfand, Working Films has raised the bar for “outreach” and impact with documentary media.

Working Films has been a pioneer, leading the development of our field, such that today audience engagement is understood as a core part of independent documentary filmmaking and distribution, and is even a social science studied by scholars. The Sundance Film Festival, Center for Social Media, Film Arts Foundation, National Center for Media Engagement, The Center for Media, Culture and History at NYU, MASS MoCA and the Full Frame Film Festival have highlighted our work and successful community-based engagement campaigns. Working Films’ projects and campaigns has been covered by the Village Voice, LA Weekly, The Nation, Independent Film and Video Monthly and The Progressive.

In fall 2012, Working Films’ Co-founder and Executive Director Robert West was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM), an aggressive and terminal brain cancer. This news has come as a shock to our board, staff, and the entire Working Films community. Robert has embraced it with immense courage, grace, and honesty. He remains passionate about Working Films but, in order to focus on his health and well-being, he has decided to step down from his role as Executive Director.

Molly Murphy and Anna Lee, veteran staff members of Working Films, have been appointed by Robert and the board to serve in the roles of Interim Co-Directors. Molly began her career at Working Films in 2001 as the first full-time staff person to join Robert at our Wilmington, NC, headquarters and has served as Engagement Coordinator, Director of Community Initiatives, and most recently Deputy Director. Anna has been on staff for seven years and, as our Manager of Filmmaker and Partner Services, she has led our flagship Reel Engagement initiative.

The Working Films board has assembled a stellar transition team to navigate this sudden organizational shift. Joining Molly and Anna on the team are board members Reggie Shuford, Executive Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and board chair; Keryl McCord, Managing Director of Alternate Roots; and Barbara Abrash, recently retired from the Center for Media, Culture, and History at NYU. Also joining and coordinating the transition team is Gillian Caldwell, the renowned former Executive Director of WITNESS and 1Sky. Working Films Co- founder and Peabody award-winning filmmaker Judith Helfand, who has been instrumental in the strategic direction and methodology of Working Films for more than a decade, rounds out the team and will continue to work closely with Molly and Anna as the organization moves forward.

In honor of his visionary work, we are creating the Robert West Reel Engagement Fund. The funds raised will be used to support and advance Reel Engagement, the flagship initiative Working Films developed and evolved under Robert’s leadership. The motto: it takes more than one good film to move the dial for social change. Reel Engagement embeds collections of powerful story-driven media (and all the distribution opportunities that come with them) into strategic grassroots organizing campaigns to achieve progress on the issues of our times. We are encouraging donations to the fund now, so Robert can witness the wide community of support that surrounds him and the organization he has built. To make a secure tax-deductible contribution, click here.

We are deeply inspired by the tremendous care, concern and support expressed by so many during the past several months. We look forward to continuing our efforts with the extraordinary community of activists, organizers and media makers we are privileged to work with every day.

For more information about Working Films’ projects and initiatives, visit

Robert has been posting to the website Caring Bridge ever since his initial brain surgery and subsequent cancer diagnosis. The site shares the history and information of Robert’s journey. His profile can be viewed at To reach Robert directly, contact the Working Films’ office at 910-342-9000 and our staff will provide his contact information.

Response (1)

  1. Macky Alston says:

    Robert, you are my hero. Thank you for all you have done to transform our collective project – making art to make a difference – by which, in so many small and huge ways, you have transformed the world. Love you and can’t wait to congratulate you and love you up in person, Macky

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.