Born in Toledo, Ohio, one of his best known films is Primary (1960), a documentary about the Wisconsin Primary election between Hubert Humphrey and John F. Kennedy. It is considered to be one of the first direct cinema documentaries.
Some time after completing a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University in 1955, Drew was hired at Time Inc. to develop new portable film equipment. This funding led to Drew engineering the first portable sound-sync picture camera unit, enabling him to record picture and sound at the same time. Around this same time Drew formed Drew Associates in the early 1960s, working closely with many exemplary filmmakers who had and have continued to have documentary careers of their own, including Richard Leacock, D. A. Pennebaker, Albert Maysles and Terence Macartney-Filgate (Canada). For Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963), Drew convinced President John F. Kennedy to let his crews shoot candidly in the White House, and Drew Associates filmmakers (including Gregory Shuker and Richard Leacock) took cameras into the Oval Office and into the home of Alabama Governor George Wallace who was resisting desegregation. The film includes candid presidential meetings over the crisis precipitated by Wallace when he planned to physically block the entry of two African-American students to the University of Alabama. The program aired in October 1963 on ABC and triggered a storm of criticism over the admission of cameras into the White House.
Drew has made scores of documentaries in the past half century, winning major awards all over the world. His subjects have included civil rights, other social issues, politics, music, dance and more. His most recent was From Two Men and a War, which recounts his experience as a World War II fighter pilot and his encounters with the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Ernie Pyle.
- Primary (1960)
- Eddie (1961)
- Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963)
- Faces of November (1964)
- Dave Saunders, Direct Cinema: Observational Documentary and the Politics of the Sixties, London, Wallflower Press 2007
- Drew Associates Web page
- Entry about Drew in The Museum of Broadcast Communications
- Search for Robert Drew here for an informative 2003 New York Press article
- Robert Drew at the Internet Movie Database
- Interview with Robert Drew at IFC.com