Robert Bilheimer is the director, writer, and producer for Worldwide Documentaries, Inc, a not-for-profit film production company he founded in 1989 with his partner, longtime colleague, and senior producer Heidi Ostertag.
Robert has directed critically acclaimed films for over 30 years that focus – although not exclusively – on global human rights and social justice issues. In 1989, Robert was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary for Cry of Reason, a feature-length film that profiles the South African anti-apartheid leader Dr. Beyers Naudé. In 1992, Robert made the definitive film version of Nobel Laureate Samuel Beckett’s play Endgame, working from a script prepared especially by the author for the Smithsonian series Beckett Directs Beckett. Over the past fifteen years, two of Robert’s films-- A Closer Walk, about the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, and Not My Life, about global human trafficking – have been seen by hundreds of millions of people across a broad set of global demographics, platforms, and networks, and remain the “go-to” films on their respective issues to this day. In 1996, Robert also made I’m Still Here, about families whose sons and daughters suffer from serious mental illness, especially schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. In 2019, he received the Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice for his film Not My Life.
Robert’s latest film, Oh Mercy-Searching for Hope in the Promised Land was released in February 2021. Oh Mercy is a documentary film about the thousands of refugees and asylum seekers from Central America who awaited court dates and immigration hearings in the US under the policy of Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) or “Remain in Mexico”—many for well over a year. Increasingly desperate and discouraged, they huddled in squalid camps and detention centers on both sides of the Rio Grande, which for several hundred miles serves as a natural border between Mexico and the United States. The film in one year, has been accessed through its website thousands of times, and is being used in educational and faith based settings; by advocacy groups; as well as by individuals wanting to learn more about current US immigration policies.
At 77, and a doting grandfather, Robert feels as though he is “just getting started”. He is now working on a follow up film to Oh Mercy as part of Running To Stand Still, a series of films about global forced migration, with all the passion and vigor that have characterized his work for three decades.
Robert was educated at the International School in Geneva, Switzerland; Hamilton College, where he received his B.A.; and Indiana University where he received his Master’s Degree in theatre and film. Before launching into his career as a documentary filmmaker, Robert worked as a freelance journalist, reporting for AFP and TIME from East and South Africa; as director in professional regional theatre, notably the Nairobi National Theatre; the Manitoba Theatre Center in Winnipeg; and the Rochester Shakespeare Theatre, which he founded. From 1968 – 1970, he also served a tour in the US Army, where he earned the Army commendation medal.
Robert spends as much time as he can hiking the trails in the Finger Lakes area of upstate New York where he lives with his family and Golden Retrievers, Mia and Eli.