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Errol Morris

Since the premiere of his groundbreaking 1978 film, Gates of Heaven, Errol Morris has indelibly altered our perception of the non-fiction film, presenting to audiences the mundane, bizarre and history making with his own distinctive élan.

Roger Ebert has said, "After twenty years of reviewing films, I haven't found another filmmaker who intrigues me more ...Errol Morris is like a magician, and as great a filmmaker as Hitchcock or Fellini."

Recently, Morris was highly praised for his short film that ran at the front of this year's Academy Awards, where he asked an odd mixture of anonymous and well-known people outside the movie business to talk about what they love about movies. The Fog of War is his seventh documentary feature film.

In 2000 and 2001, Morris directed two seasons of a television series, FirstPerson - the first for Bravo and the second for the Independent Film Channel. The series uses his unique interviewing machine, the Interrotron. A modified teleprompter, the Interrotron allows Morris to project his image on a monitor placed directly over the camera's lens. Interviewees address Morris's image on the monitor while looking directly at the camera, which lets Morris and the audience achieve eye contact with his subjects.

The effect is to focus the subject's attention and gaze more directly into the camera than was possible in the past. "It's the difference between a faux first person and the true first person, says Morris. There's an added intensity. The Interrotron inaugurates the birth of true first-person cinema."

The first season had eleven episodes and premiered in March 2000 with Errol's short film, Stairway to Heaven, about Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who designs humane animal slaughterhouses. The second season of First Person began in August 2001 and featured an interview with Rick Rosner: philosopher, game-show contestant, cosmologist and high-school recidivist.

Errol Morris' last feature film, Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr., (2000) focuses on Fred A. Leuchter Jr., an engineer from Malden, Massachusetts who decided to become the Florence Nightingale of Death Row- a humanist whose mission was to design and repair gas chambers, electric chairs, lethal injection systems and gallows. His career and life are ruined after becoming involved in the world of holocaust denial. Mr. Death appeared on the year's Top Ten lists of many major publications, including USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, and The Boston Globe.

Morris began his first non-fiction feature in 1978 after reading a headline in the San Francisco Chronicle: 450 Dead Pets To Go To Napa. Gates ofHeaven follows the stories behind two pet cemeteries: one that fails set up by the idealistic Floyd McClure at the intersection of two superhighways; and one that thrives set up by the Harbert family, who apply the latest marketing concepts to the pet cemetery profession. Gates ofHeaven was described by Roger Ebert as one of the ten best films of all time.

Morris's second effort, about the inhabitants of a Florida small town who lop off their limbs for insurance money ("They literally became a fraction of themselves to become whole financially," Morris has commented.), had to be retooled when his subjects threatened to murder him. Forced to come up with a new concept, Morris created Vernon, Florida (1981), about the eccentric residents of a southern swamp town. David Ansen, writing in Newsweek, called it the work of a true original.

Morris completed his most controversial film, The Thin Blue Line, in 1988. Billed as "the first movie mystery to actually solve a murder," the film is credited with overturning the conviction of Randall Dale Adams for the murder of Dallas police officer Robert Wood, a crime for which Adams was to be executed. The Thin Blue Line was voted the best film of 1988 in a Washington Post survey of over one hundred film critics. Premiere Magazine, in a survey of films of the 1980's, described it as one of the most important and influential movies of the decade.

In 1992, Errol finished a film about the life and work of Stephen Hawking, the physicist who is often compared to Einstein despite having spent most of his life confined to a wheelchair with a computer as his only means of communication. A Brief History of Time won both the Filmmaker's Award and the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Morris' interviews for the film have been incorporated into a book, A Reader's Companion, published by Bantam Books. The film appeared on many Top Ten lists for 1992, including Time, The Los Angeles Times and The San Francisco Chronicle.

Errol Morris created one of the most highly regarded films of 1997, the critically acclaimed Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control which linked the fascinating, yet seemingly unrelated stories of a lion tamer; an expert on the African mole-rat; a topiary gardener who carves giant animals out of hedges; and an MIT scientist who designs robots. The film won the Best Documentary Film Award from the National Board of Review, National Society of Film Critics and Independent Spirit Award. It was also included in the 2000 Biennial at the Whitney Museum.

Morris has made numerous television commercials, including campaigns for Apple, ESPN, Cisco Systems, and American Express; he has also directed a much heralded postSeptember 11th campaign for United Airlines. In 2001, He won an Emmy for directing the commercial Photobooth for PBS.

Morris has received four fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur Fellowship. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was a graduate student at Princeton University and the University of California-Berkeley. Morris' work received a full retrospective in November 1999 at the Museum of Modern Art in 1999 and he received a special tribute at the Sundance Film Festival in 2001.

Morris lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with his wife, Julia Sheehan, an art historian, and their son, Hamilton.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2004.

Errol Morris Facts

BirthdayFebruary 5, 1948 (75)
BirthplaceHewlett, Long Island, New York, USA

Selected Filmography

The Fog Of War
The Thin Blue Line
The Unknown Known
Dark Wind
Gates of Heaven
Vernon, Florida
Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.
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