Robert Bilheimer, President of the non-profit organization Worldwide Documentaries, and 2019 recipient of the Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice, is one of the most influential documentary filmmakers working in the world today. In 1989, Robert was nominated for an Academy Award for Cry of Reason, a feature-length documentary that profiles the South African anti-apartheid leader Beyers Naudé Since that time, he has made carefully crafted documentary films on a wide range of social, cultural, and humanitarian concern.
Departing from the documentary genre in 1992, Robert also made the definitive film version of Nobel Laureate Samuel Beckett’s play Endgame. He worked from a script prepared especially by the author for the series “Beckett Directs Beckett,” a project of the Smithsonian Visual Press.
Over the past ten years, Robert has made two films – A Closer Walk, about the global AIDS epidemic, and Not My Life, about human trafficking, that have been hailed as “masterpieces,” and seen by millions of people across a very broad set of global demographics.
International film critics and human rights leaders have focused on both A Closer Walk and Not My Life as examples of Robert’s ability to make documentary films that are at once powerful depictions of tragic human rights issues, and yet are also “beautiful" and “redemptive” works of art. This combination, critics have said, makes him unique among major documentary filmmakers working today. Mike McCarthy, the Senior Producer of CNN International’s Freedom Project, which aired Not My Life in 2011, called the film a “seminal work.” Veteran Gannet film critic Jack Garner called the same film “an artful motion picture, and a beautifully told story of suffering and compassion.”
Throughout his career, Robert’s films have attracted an international audience. They have been seen on television in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, India, Europe, Scandinavia, South Africa and China. His films have also been shown in theaters in the United States and abroad, and exhibited at major film festivals in Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, New York City (Tribeca), Durban, and the XXXVth India International Film Festival in Goa, India.
Robert’s most recent film, Not My Life, is being used as a tool to educate communities worldwide about the millions of children who are exploited, every day, through an astonishing array of practices including forced labor, domestic servitude, begging, sex tourism, sexual violence, and child soldiering. Since 2012, Not My Life has been seen by millions of people at public screening and community events, television broadcasts, classrooms and homes around the world.
As the small staff at Worldwide Documentaries works on the global awareness initiative built around Not My Life, Robert is presently working on a new film series, Running to Stand Still, about the dehumanization and exploitation of forced migrants and refugees.
Early in his career, Robert worked as a freelance journalist and as a professional theatre director. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, he was a stringer for Time magazine and filed regularly for the Nairobi Daily Nation, and Agence France Presse.
In the theatre, Robert has directed more than 30 professional productions in the US, Canada, and East Africa, including a landmark production of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage” at the Kenya National Theatre. At the Manitoba Theatre Centre, he was Tony Award winner Len Cariou’s Associate Artistic Director, and was named Director of the Year by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Robert was born in New York City, and was educated at the International School in Geneva, Switzerland; Hamilton College (BA, English Literature); and Indiana University Graduate School (MA, Theatre and Film). He received the Army Commendation Medal for his work as Chaplain’s Assistant in the US Army Special Services, 1968-1970. From 1986 to 1988 he was a Resident Scholar at the Anson Phelps-Stokes Institute for Black American and Native American Studies in New York City. Robert has also taught, lectured, and spoken at distinguished academic institutions around the world, including the Eastman School of Music, and the John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Robert lives in upstate New York. He is married and a proud grandfather to Ella Detweiler. His hobbies and activities include woodworking gardening, hiking, and cross-country skiing with his constant companions Mia and Eli, Golden Retrievers.