Robert West, specialist in community engagement around documentaries, dies at 60

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West (Photo: Working Films)

West (Photo: Working Films)

Robert West, a former community-engagement strategist for the Independent Television Service who left to form his own outreach organization for independent filmmakers, died June 6 after a long battle with brain cancer. He was 60.

West joined ITVS in 1999 as the outreach coordinator for the organization’s Community Connections Project, now known as the Community Cinema program, which connects social-issues documentaries with audiences and causes. He left in 2002 to form Working Films, a cinema-engagement collective that networks filmmakers with organizations and each other. West continued to work with ITVS through Working Films, most recently partnering to promote the Oscar-nominated Hell and Back Again, a documentary that addresses needs of young war veterans and aired as an Independent Lens episode.

In fall 2012, West was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. He chronicled his battle with the disease on his blog at

“Robert has been a leader in the art of grassroots engagement strategies,” Jim Sommers, senior v.p. of content at ITVS, told Current. “Robert epitomized ‘the hope of the world’ through his courage, his actions and his contributions — back in the day at ITVS, Working Films, and with all the films and filmmakers he has helped.”

“While we’re just heartbroken at the loss of Robert, we’re really committed to the legacy that he’s left us,” Anna Lee, filmmaker and partner-services manager at Working Films, told Current. “He had this wealth of experience around this idea of using film as a tool for change.”

ITVS has asked that donations be made in West’s name to the Robert West Reel Engagement Fund, which will support engagement efforts for future documentaries about social issues.

Please send obituary notices to [email protected]

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