June 20th, 2013 by Andy Myers
We’ve recently returned from a week in Boston with our Reel Economy partner, United for a Fair Economy (UFE) for Raise the Roots, the annual conference of the Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative. We kicked off the conference with an sneak peek screening of the dynamic documentary Inequality for All. Starring Robert Reich, it’s being lauded as the Inconvenient Truth of the Economy. We packed the house at The Brattle Theater in Cambridge and the screening was followed by an engaging panel discussion on organizing for progressive state tax policy.
The next day, we led a workshop entitled From Seats to Streets: Using Film to Move the Masses. We presented case studies that showed how the Reel Economy collective can and is being used to help advance a fair and just economy. Workshop attendees included directors of organizations from all over the country who are a part of UFE’s Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative, a network of 28 member organizations in 24 states that use grassroots power to promote progressive tax reform.
A main focus of the session was on developing specific strategies to put the films to use for state level shifts – we’ve recognized, as has Reich, that this is where change is happening and our work with Reel Economy in the next year with UFE will field test a state level organizing strategy. The workshop participants came up with specific examples of how they can put these films to work at home and envisioned the impact Reel Economy can have.
We’ve already begun some of this work in North Carolina with UFE and Democracy North Carolina, where we are hosting two screenings of Citizen Koch, one in Durham (June 30th) and one in Greenville (June 25th), to spotlight the similarities between the issues in the film (which follows the gubernatorial election and recall in Wisconsin) and the current political climate in NC. Our goal is to support and assist with further building and mobilizing the Moral Monday movement and to advance the work of NC organizations working for economic and social justice.
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June 10th, 2013 by Molly Murphy
The Working Films team is grateful for the care and support we’ve received from so many in the days since Robert West, our co-founder and long-time executive director passed away. Hearing and reading stories of love and appreciation for Robert – for his strategic thinking, generosity, passion for the work, and joux de vivre – expressed by friends and colleagues from around the world has made this difficult time much easier.
The memorial service celebrating Robert’s life and legacy will be held on Saturday, June 22nd, at 2:00 PM, at the Cameron Museum of Art, 3201 South 17th Street, Wilmington, NC. It will be followed by a celebration that he planned at the historic firehouse at 602 South 5th Avenue, which was Robert’s home and is also the headquarters of Working Films.
If you are planning or even considering coming to Wilmington for the memorial, please let us know as soon as possible by emailing or calling Andy Myers (email@example.com / 910-342-9000). We can help make sure you have all the information you need and your stay is comfortable. We’ve reserved a block of rooms for Saturday night, June 22nd at the Hilton in downtown Wilmington. You can book a room in the block by calling the Hilton directly at 910-763-5900 by Friday 6/14. The Reservation ID is WST.
For those who would like to honor Robert’s life and legacy, contributions can be made to the Robert West Reel Engagement Fund, which will support an issue-driven Working Films’ initiative developed and evolved under Robert’s leadership. Dedicated to innovation, strategy and on-the-ground implementation, this Fund, just like Robert, will be nimble, dynamic, creative and responsive to the many urgent needs for change. Robert’s obituary as printed in the Wilmington Star News is below.
Again, thank for your concern and solidarity. It is sincerely appreciated.
The Working Films’ Staff and Board
Robert Kyle West
Robert Kyle West, Co-founder and long-time Executive Director of Working Films, a nationally recognized non-profit dedicated to linking non-fiction films to activism, passed away at home in Wilmington, North Carolina on June 6, 2013 from brain cancer (GBM).
Robert and his twin sister Jane West were born on April 6, 1953, in Philadelphia, PA to parents Roberta Kyle West and Joseph F. West. As a child he resided in Lansdowne, PA and Cape May Point, NJ. In 1960, Robert’s father died, and in 1967 his mother, a native Virginian, moved the family to Richmond, VA. Robert attended Douglas Freeman High School and Virginia Commonwealth University where he developed what would become a life-long passion for art, history, politics, literature and film.
Early jobs in publishing and bookselling led West to the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC, where he was curator of film and video from 1985-1999. He was most noted for founding and directing the Charlotte Film and Video Festival, drawing fiction, non-fiction, experimental filmmakers and animators from all over the U.S. and the globe. In this same period he and a team of friends also founded Charlotte’s Gay and Lesbian Film Series.
Robert considered the use, curation and moderation of a public convening – especially one built around an independent film – an art form in itself. In 1999 he turned his deep belief in the power of film to build community and galvanize hearts, minds and concrete change, into the nonprofit Working Films, which he co-founded with filmmaker Judith Helfand. That year he moved to Wilmington, NC to establish his home and the headquarters of Working Films in a historic firehouse on South Fifth Avenue.
Robert and Working Films were pioneers in the field of media engagement, crafting long-term and innovative partnerships between filmmakers and some of the nation’s and world’s leading nonprofits and NGOs. The engagement methodologies he crafted are now part of the parlance of making, funding, distributing and actively using non-fiction films, nationally and increasingly internationally – particularly in the UK where he collaborated with BRITDOC. The working motto he loved and helped coin: STORY LEADS TO ACTION.
Robert tirelessly gave back to the field by sitting on boards including the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture , serving on juries and nomination committees including the Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media, the Rockefeller Media Fellowships, the Media Arts Fellowship Program of the NEA, Creative Capital, the NC Arts Council and The Independent Television Service, a production arm of PBS and serving on film festival panels including NC’s Cucalorus and Full Frame, The Center for Social Media’s “Making Media that Matters”, Sundance and in the last few years, Sheffield (UK) and Eso-Docs (EU).
An out gay man since he was twenty-five, Robert had an unrelenting commitment to the rights and equality of all people. He truly believed that everyone has the right to “be who they are.” Robert credits his uncle, Charles M. Butterworth, Jr., a Harvard trained lawyer who devoted his time and skills to the catholic worker movement, with giving him the gift of “considering a life committed to justice outside the mainstream.”
Robert’s surviving siblings and family members include; Fred and Hillary West of Chestnut Hill, PA and their children Kyle and Emily; Jane and Bruce Bench of Seattle, WA and their children, Robert, Jordan and Christopher; and brother John West of Santa Barbara, CA. He is predeceased by brother Joseph West, Jr. Robert also deeply loved his friends from Wilmington, Charlotte, NY and around the world. Too numerous to name, he appreciated their thoughtful care and their many messages of support throughout this year.
Robert turned the past very difficult year into a series of life-giving lessons offered to family and friends: Be Who You Are; Unplug from Technology, Take the Time to Feel the Wind and the Sun, and Be Present. It is in that spirit that we will gather on Saturday, June 22nd, at 2:00 PM, at the Cameron Museum of Art, 3201 South 17th Street, Wilmington, NC for a memorial service celebrating Robert’s life and legacy. Memorials in Robert West’s honor may be made to the Robert West Reel Engagement Fund at Working Films, 602 S. Fifth Ave, Wilmington, NC 28401 or workingfilms.org/robertwest. Online condolence may be sent to the family at Atlantic Cremation Service.
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June 6th, 2013 by Anna Lee
UPDATE: The memorial service celebrating Robert’s life and legacy will be held on Saturday, June 22nd, at 2:00 PM, at the Cameron Museum of Art, 3201 South 17th Street, Wilmington, NC. It will be followed by a celebration that he planned at the historic firehouse at 602 South 5th Avenue, which was Robert’s home and is also the headquarters of Working Films.
Our much beloved Robert West, Working Films’ Co-Founder and long-time Executive Director, passed away peacefully in his home early this morning. He approached death the same way he lived his life — with grace, dignity, intention, honesty, and whenever possible, humor.
Since Robert’s diagnosis of brain cancer (GBM) last September, he has been embraced by the love and support from friends and colleagues in Wilmington and around the world. Be it fresh cut peonies straight from the Saturday farmers market, a stunning hand-worked velveteen quilt from LA, a box of posh UK chocolates, heartfelt responses to his revelatory posts on Caring Bridge, or the myriad emails, hand-drawn cards and letters he received, he was held closely and cared for deeply. And, along with him, so was Working Films. For that, we will be forever grateful.
We are heartbroken. But we are buoyed by the knowledge that Robert’s singular vision and unique spirit live on. He leaves all of us a legacy. Whenever the lights come up after a stirring film we will take a deep breath… smile, think of him and welcome the catalytic moment when stories lead to action. And in that moment, Robert will be with us.
Details of a memorial and celebration (designed and curated by Robert himself) will be forthcoming. For those who would like to honor Robert’s life and legacy, contributions can be made to the Robert West Reel Engagement Fund, which will support an issue-driven Working Films’ initiative developed and evolved under Robert’s leadership. Dedicated to innovation, strategy and on-the-ground implementation, this Fund, just like Robert, will be nimble, dynamic, creative and responsive to the many urgent needs for change.
With deep appreciation, love and solidarity,
Working Films’ Staff and Board
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June 3rd, 2013 by admin
Schedule a one-on-one consultation to hone your audience engagement and outreach strategy, gain input on your fundraising approach, and meet the double bottom line - making an impact while making a living. Our team can provide grounded and strategic advice to ensure your documentary film or media project will make a measurable and meaningful difference. For more information on what we offer in these personalized sessions and to schedule an appointment, click here.
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May 8th, 2013 by Andy Myers
Working Films’ Co-founder, Robert West was awarded with the 2013 Frank Harr Community Service Award, presented by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington LGBTQIA Office. The award recognizes a person or organization promoting visibility and understanding of LGBTQIA issues and who are working towards improving the health and well-being of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Wilmington, NC and surrounding areas.
Robert was nominated for the award because of his tireless effort with Working Films’ Reel Equality campaign in 2012, launched in response to the proposed ballot measure which placed a ban on same-sex marriage and legal recognition of domestic partnerships in the NC constitution. With the goal of turning audiences into supporters of statewide efforts to fight the ban, Robert led the curation of six films to educate citizens on how bans like this can have devastating consequences. These include: The Campaign, Sole Journey, Gen Silent, Marriage Equality, Out in the Silence and Freeheld.
The award was presented at a ceremony on May 4th, honoring Robert’s determination to fight the ban and his unrelenting commitment to the rights and equality of the LGBTQIA community.
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April 15th, 2013 by Andy Myers
We are excited to announce that Reel Economy will be part of the 2013 Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative’s Annual Conference from June 4-6 in Boston, MA. The Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative, is a network of state-level grassroots organizations that advocate for progressive and adequate state taxes.
This conference will be open to allies and advocates involved in the tax fairness and economic justice movement: community leaders, activists, and organizers, legislators, people concerned with tax policy, people not yet concerned with tax policy, , journalists, foundation representatives, people with good ideas, and others who believe in the power of a bottom-up movement!
We’ll be there to kick things off with an advanced screening of Inequality for All and we’ll represent Reel Economy in a workshop on how to effectively use film to advance economic justice campaigns. Click here for the full agenda and registration.
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April 5th, 2013 by Anna Lee
As you may know, this past fall, Robert West, Working Films’ cofounder and executive director for the past thirteen years, was diagnosed with GBM, a fatal brain cancer. Robert has embraced this news with grace, love and courage.
On Sunday, The Southern Documentary Fund, The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Chicken & Egg Pictures, P.O.V., The Garrett Scott Memorial Fund, The Johnson Family Foundation, Thom Powers, Liz Shaw, Betty Hahn and filmmakers Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar, Marco Williams, Cynthia Hill, Alice Elliot, Tia Lessen, Carl Deal, Michele Stephenson, Joe Brewster will be celebrating the work and vision of Robert West and Working Films’ unique brand of Reel Engagement – past, present and future.
This is a special opportunity to honor Robert West’s vision and his invaluable contributions to the field of social issue documentary filmmaking across the country, around the globe and at home in North Carolina.
Please join us if you are at the festival and in the area. We will also post updates on our Facebook page while we are here, so be sure to check them out.
Sunday, April 7
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10:00 – 11:15 a.m.
Carolina Theater, Cinema 2
(brief program begins at 10:30)
February 19th, 2013 by Kristin Henry
Our core effort for Reel Power 2012 was the Reel Power Film Festival (RPFF) – a series of targeted grassroots screenings and events to build solidarity among frontline communities and push for renewable energy alternatives. The films in the series offer new points of entry for difficult conversations about changes that need to be made at the local, state and national levels. Through grants to on-the-ground organizers and nonprofit groups, we connected to those leading change in affected communities and encouraged them to cross-pollinate their strategies for environmental justice.
Our goals for offering the Reel Power Film Festival mini-grants were to:
- Reach frontline communities where natural resource extraction such as mountaintop removal and fracking, or coal-fired power is made and the residents are leading the organizing efforts. We also included backyard communities where alternative energy solutions are being led by the residents.
- Select groups that were working on urgent issues and had tangible ways to engage the community in advocating for just and sustainable practices.
- Provide access to the collection of films for grassroots groups that needed funding assistance in order to be able to host the Reel Power Film Festival.
- Increase cross-pollination of organizing strategies across issue focus so that groups can learn from other struggle, build solidarity, and explore where they fit in the bigger picture.
Midway through the effort, I posted an update on the events to date, and would like to share more highlights below:
Green Paw Aggies, NC A&T Greensboro NC
Green Paw Aggies is a new organization at North Carolina A&T University that is working to engage students in the green movement and helping to make the sustainability efforts in the Triad more inclusive. They kicked off their RPFF with Gasland in March 2012 and plan to show Sun Come Up in March 2013. They are using the festival to engage their student government association, student activists, and local residents to get involved in issues of fracking, climate change and supporting sustainability efforts.
New Mexico Interfaith Power & Light, Albuquerque NM
NM Interfaith Power & Light works with nearly 200 faith communities throughout the state to oppose new coal-fired power plants and natural gas fracking in the state. They also assist faith communities to become sustainable and energy efficient by planting community gardens, installing CFLs and weatherization materials, updating furnaces, cooling systems and appliances to more energy-efficient models, and identifying funding sources for solar installations. NM Interfaith Power & Light partnered with Canterbury Campus Ministry, St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church and St. Mark’s on the Mesa Episcopal Church for the RPFF. During the month of October, they used Sun Come Up, Gasland, Split Estate and Dirty Business to motivate audiences to call on the Governor to support the pit rule, a law that requires oil and gas companies to line their pits of toxic waste to avoid ground and water contamination.
Preston Citizens’ Alliance for Resources and Environmental Safety (Preston CARES), Kingwood WV
Preston CARES is a grassroots organization in north-central West Virginia fighting the development of a waste separation facility and industrial landfill for hydraulic fracturing waste. They are also resisting the industry’s push to expand fracking into their community. They partnered with local groups including Whiteday Creek Watershed Association, Friends of Deckers Creek, and Friends of the Cheat to host the RPFF on Sunday, October 14th. Screenings supported their efforts to engage area residents on landowner rights, the public health risks and technology behind hydraulic fracturing, and the impacts of gas development on the land and water. Audience members shared what they had learned at an industry-friendly “Town Hall” meeting the following Tuesday. At the meeting, two people with fracking on their property spoke out to industry representatives to change the course of the one-sided pro-industry dialogue, asking hard questions and demanding that decision makers protect citizens and the environment.
Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS), Wise VA
SAMS works to stop the destruction of local communities from irresponsible surface coal mining and improve the quality of life in the coalfields of southwest Virginia. In August and September, they showed Split Estate, Gasland, Sun Come Up, Dirty Business, and Deep Down to encourage people to join efforts to stop the Coalfield Expressway – a plan to use mountaintop removal mining to flatten an area throughout Southwest Virginia to make way for the road while the coal companies keep the profits from what they extract. This taxpayer-financed road (a.k.a. strip mine) could potentially receive $2 billion in federal funds.
Sustainable Tompkins, Ithaca NY
Sustainable Tompkins is a citizen-based organization laying the groundwork for the transition to a resilient local economy. They are focused on energy efficiency, climate protection, green purchasing, sustainable community development, green collar jobs, sustainable enterprise, greening heath care, and economic/ecological justice. Their initiatives are on the leading edge of new systems for sustainable living. They launched the RPFF with Sun Come Up in Owego, NY early this month. They plan to use the festival to boost support for regional battles against fracking and to share positive stories about building a better future through truly sustainable communities.
The Texas Drought Project, Corpus Christi TX
The Texas Drought Project works to involve Texans in climate change issues through the lens of diminishing water resources. They used the RPFF in Corpus Christi in partnership with South Texas Alliance for Peace and Justice, Texans for Peace, the Clean Economy Coalition, and Corpus Christi Progressive Caucus. Special guests and experts participated: Sharon Wilson of Texas OGAP for Split Estate; Dr. Al Armendariz, former EPA regional administrator and now Senior Campaign Representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign for Dirty Business; Bruce Melton, Engineer and filmmaker on issues related to climate change for Sun Come Up; and Flavia de la Fuente of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign for Deep Down. At the screenings, audience members were invited to continue their interest and participation in the issues by joining demonstrations against Corpus Christi becoming a major terminal for coal export, a costly venture in terms of pollution and taxpayer dollars. They were also invited to participate in two town halls: one against a liquid natural gas conversion plant, and the other about fracking in the Barnett shale and the Eagle Ford shale.
The Future of Reel Power
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We’re excited to take what we learned in the past two years with the Reel Power collaborative and build on this work to strengthen the movement for climate justice and a clean energy future. Contact campaign director Kristin Henry for partnership opportunities or to host a Reel Power screening event: khenry [at] workingfilms.org.
February 13th, 2013 by workingfilms
photo by Matt Born
Published: Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 2:55 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 2:55 a.m.
WINDY POINT | These days, Robert West enjoys sitting in the sun at his cottage across the Intracoastal Waterway from Holden Beach. He watches finches at the bird feeder, delights in spotting deer in the marshes across the channel, and monitors boat traffic buzzing past his porch and dock. A passing barge makes a day especially notable.
Once a week, a nurse from the Brunswick County office of Lower Cape Fear Hospice & LifeCareCenter comes by to check on him.
It’s a quieter life than he spent during the 12 years he was building the Wilmington nonprofit Working Films into an internationally recognized force for change, using documentaries about social issues to support and encourage activist movements.
It was early August when West found himself momentarily at a loss for words. It happened again, and then again. His doctor said to come in immediately.
After an operation in September, he received the diagnosis: He had GBM.
West spent a weekend researching Glioblastoma Multiforme, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
What he found was not encouraging.
“It’s pretty clear this is a fatal cancer,” he said.
But West refused to give in to despondency or despair.
“This is the truth, and you have to live with what is true,” he said.
Eighty percent of people with GBM die within 12 to 15 months, he said.
“But the quality of life is actually quite good,” he said. “You’re walking, talking. You’re not bedridden.”
He feels lucky. His form of cancer will allow him several months, maybe a year or more, of good-quality life before it sets in. The end, when it arrives, will come in a matter of weeks.
West appears healthy. He’s off many of the medicines he had been taking.
He goes shopping and drives into town. He takes walks around the shady neighborhood off Boone’s Neck Road where he has settled in. The cottage is owned by a friend. It’s a place he has visited for years.
Friends come by for visits.
West laughs often. His eyes twinkle with good humor, as they always have in the years I’ve known him.
“This is not a journey toward death. This is a celebration of life,” he said.
It’s hard for people to talk about death and dying. But West welcomes the dialogue.
“I’m OK with it, and I’ve had a level of acceptance of what this journey is going to be like,” he said a few weeks ago as we set up the interview.
Accepting his fate made him feel healthier.
“You have a better quality of life if you’re not in some fight you’re not going to win,” he said then. “Having that clarity is very reassuring.”
He feels lucky in other ways. He doesn’t have children who need explanations.
He has no regrets about how he has lived. He has spent his time with “smart people,” the staff at Working Films and filmmakers who appreciate how new audiences can give their work greater meaning.
“I made a difference,” he said.
He has shed a lot of the things that cause us stress: “How am I going to live when I’m 70?” He smiled as he said that.
West has a strong living will and has made his funeral arrangements.
He knows death. He has sat at deathbeds.
“I have no huge fear of death,” he said. “I’m feeling very positive about the journey. It’s new for me.”
The south-facing cottage lets him bask in the sunshine from dawn to dusk. He keeps a log of daily happenings, noting changes in the weather or geese flying overhead.
He has started making drawings on an easel on the porch.
“My priorities of life have changed. I’m living life one day at a time,” he said. “My days are rich.”
He has been keeping a journal since the surgery that revealed his cancer. You can read it and perhaps leave a comment at www.caringbridge.org/visit/robertwest.
Column idea? Contact Si Cantwell at 343-2364 or Si.Cantwell@StarNewsOnline.com, or follow him on Twitter.com: @SiCantwell.
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February 13th, 2013 by workingfilms
by Shannon Rae Gentry
Wednesday February 6, 2013
Issues of global importance, race, gender, as well as economic and environmental justice have all been addressed by Working Films, an independent media organization focused on “linking nonfiction film to cutting edge activism.”
Founded in 2000 by Robert West and Judith Helfand, Working Films began in West’s home in Charlotte, N.C. and has since been based in Wilmington for more than a decade.
Before starting the organization, West said he wanted to help connect filmmakers, their films and the people who would want to help realize the social, health or environmental change their stories prompted.
“Audience engagement seemed like a real missing piece,” he said. “And that was really the focus of Working Films…”
However, last September, West was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM), a rare aggressive and terminal brain cancer.
Despite the shock this news brought to the Working Films community, West has been sharing his journey via the Caring Bridge health social networking website and in an interview, Monday, Feb. 4, said he remains positive about his future, as well as the organization’s as he steps down.
“My energy, while it has refocused, remains very positive,” he said. “Priorities shift, and even though I love this organization I really thought what’s best for me and for Working Films was to have an exit strategy.”
While West has played an intricate role in developing Working Films as a nationally and internationally known organization focused on social change, he said his efforts were not unaided.
“I’ve worked with this team for a long time, and we were never that much of a hierarchical organization,” he said.
“I have two strong leaders that have taken the helm, and I have stepped away with no regrets and no real worries that the organization will not survive and remain strong and healthy.”
As Working Films has often collaborated at the local level, such as with the Cucalorus Film Festival and its Work-in-Progress program, interim co-directors Anna Lee and Molly Murphy said they want to continue to bring the work they do nationally and internationally into play here in the area.
“We like the idea of rooting in our home state and having more of a presence,” Murphy said on Saturday, Feb. 2. “We actually just submitted a proposal to focus a state by state effort in N.C. around education and work to address climate change.”
Lee said they plan to move forward with the Working Films mission with the Reel Engagement Fund and project initiative in honor of West’s work, which focuses on a statewide approach and changes in policy.
“We wanted to honor that legacy. He has touched so many people’s lives at Working Films,” Lee said on Feb. 2. “People kept asking what they could do, and we wanted them to be able to channel that and support the organization as it moves forward … the ‘Reel Engagement’ work is going to be the core of the strategy moving forward.”
To continue on the path that West has set, using documentaries to make social change by sharing them with educators and communities, Working Films board of directors chair Reggie Shuford said on Friday, Feb. 1, that his primary role right now is supporting this transition as much as he possibly can.
“Robert has been such a visionary … and we are absolutely committed to making sure that his vision is achieved,” he said. “The primary things are ensuring fiscal and financial stability of Working Films, as well as making sure that its mission is achieved and the work is continued to be done at such a high level.”
Shuford is also the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania. As someone who grew up in Wilmington, Shuford said he is proud of the local organization’s achievements.
“I think it’s a hometown treasure. It has national and international reach [and] it’s been a tremendous ambassador for Wilmington,” Shuford said.
Shuford also said that he has absolute confidence in Lee and Murphy, who have developed with Working Films.
“I have seen them grow into focused, effective and capable leaders of this organization, and were before this situation occurred,” he said. “I can’t think of two better people at this juncture to assume that role.”
To make a tax-deductible donation to the Robert West Reel Engagement Fund or to learn more about Reel Engagement projects at Working Films, visit www.workingfilms.org
To stay up-to-date or contact Robert West, visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/robertwest
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