Robert Shaw’s life is an epic story of genius, audacity, and a passionate commitment to creating a better
world. His journey is a wonderfully American tale of reinvention – the improbable ascent of an unschooled
musician from obscurity to the heights of classical music. It’s a story that would seem far-fetched as fiction,
but it’s all true. And when asked to help bring it to the screen, I could not resist.
Shaw’s main instrument was the chorus, an institution perfectly suited to this most democratic of musicians.
To Shaw, a chorus is a form of participatory democracy, a collection of individuals whose voices create a
community greater than themselves. He insisted his choruses include the best musicians, regardless of race
or ethnicity, and he embraced integration in the arts throughout his career. His idealism shaped his creative
choices with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, cajoling his chorus members to understand the urgency of
their work, while encouraging audiences to welcome the challenging music of contemporary composers.
He was a man of great principles and boundless chutzpah.
The subjects of my previous films – from Sacco and Vanzetti to Gus Garcia to Doc Pomus – have been
visionary outsiders who drew on genius and passion to transform the world. I’m so pleased to now include
Robert Shaw not just in my filmmaking cosmos but deep within my soul. Like the many thousands of choristers
whose lives were changed by his presence, I have been transformed by coming to know this brilliant,
complex and endlessly fascinating American hero.
The process of making the documentary has been infused with Robert Shaw’s spirit. Our film’s originator,
Kiki Wilson, assembled an ensemble of creative people to join our voices together to distill Shaw’s essence
on film. It’s been an honor to collaborate with the community that’s gathered to tell this story, including the
gifted writer/director Pamela Roberts and with my longtime filmmaking partner Amy Linton, whose editing
captures the poetry and music of Shaw’s brilliant life. I joined the team when the filmmaking was already
well underway, and am grateful to have drawn on the years of research that went into uncovering this story.
In the tradition of Robert Shaw, we set out to tell a story not only about music, but about the possibility of
a life well lived, and the necessity of creating a more beautiful world. We are excited about sharing this
remarkable tale – and the message of our extraordinary subject – far and wide.